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Use These 8 Lessons to Make the Right Technology Decisions

by
Gayle Norton
Jun 13, 2013, 6:26 am ET

A study by Deloitte estimates that companies will spend more than $4 billion annually on talent management technology this year. Because the HR technology industry is …

  • Dominated by a handful of large players such as Taleo/Oracle, Kenexa/IBM, and Success Factors/SAP
  • Also heavily represented by hundreds of smaller specialty tech companies who are agile and focused on growth, most of whom have been in business less than 10 years
  • And changing rapidly changing in response to technological innovations (such as mobile computing and the cloud) as well as evolving reporting/compliance requirements

… buying decisions can be extremely complex.

At talentRISE, we are all too often contacted by clients who have made a less-than-optimal technology purchasing decision and are now seeking a post-purchase “fix.”  So, in this post, we want to share a few “lessons learned” to help others seeking to replace or upgrade current systems — whether an ATS, a comprehensive talent management system, or an HR Management System make the best buying decision possible and avoid buyers’ remorse.  

Lesson No. 1 — Know Thyself

Perhaps the single best piece of advice we can offer is to be sure that you thoroughly understand your needs in advance of assessing a single new technology or meeting with a vendor. This may seem obvious but, in our experience, businesses often rush (see Lesson No. 5 below) into technology buying decisions without reflecting on their overall people strategy first to ask overarching questions such as:

  • What are our current and anticipated future business challenges
  • What are our current and anticipated future people challenges
  • What impact does HR need to have? What risks are we, as a function, facing? Where is the upside?

Lesson No. 2 — The Cart Goes Behind the Horse

All too often, we encounter situations where a new technology drives process instead of the other way around. Understand what your optimal process looks like before you speak to a single technology vendor.   needs assessment that looks at least two to three years into the future is a must. Look at where you are now and where you want to be in the future. Redo your process; don’t layer an old process on top of new technology. You will just be automating a bad process that will soon have to be fixed anyway. We know that there are no crystal balls and for many organizations even a two-year look-ahead can be difficult. But simply going through the exercise will help you uncover anticipated future needs as well as areas ripe for process improvement.

Likewise, it pays off to conduct a process review that delineates all the steps your team takes now to accomplish a certain task. For example, in the case of onboarding, some companies go through as many as 30 steps from the day a candidate accepts a position to the first week on the job. All of those 30 steps may be absolutely necessary — if that’s the case and you are selecting an onboarding technology, then ensure that the product can accommodate all 30 steps. On the other hand, when you map out the process, you may find that half of the 30 steps are redundant or entirely unnecessary. In that case, you may not need to implement all of the modules of the onboarding program or you may even find that another, less complex technology suits your needs better. Regardless, technology’s role is to enable a superior process, not the other way around.

Lesson No. 3 — The Best Salesperson Doesn’t Necessarily Sell the Best Product

This is a lesson several of our clients have learned the hard way. Technology salespeople may know their product inside and out, but rarely do they have experience sitting in an HR seat. Exceptions, of course, do exist, but even the best-intentioned salesperson’s knowledge is usually limited to technology. And, of course, it’s his or her job to tell you their technology is the best suited to your needs! Few will admit that their product may not work within your environment or do exactly what you need it to do. Also remember that a brand name doesn’t always equate to a superior product — the technology vendor may just have a better marketing department and more marketing budget than the next guy. Healthy skepticism will make you a better shopper.

Lesson #4 — Talk to Your Buddy in IT

Internal IT departments are typically less involved in HR technology purchases now than a handful of years ago. That’s largely due to the advent of SaaS (or Software as a Service), which simply means that the product is hosted in the cloud or housed and updated somewhere else than on company-owned servers). While involving IT may be optional as far as making a buying decision, involve them in the vetting process because:

  • Many HR systems need to be integrated with other corporate-wide systems such as payroll. Know — upfront — whether that is possible with a minimum of effort.
  • IT can translate technical requirements and terminology
  • IT can help you assess and compare vendor features, costs, and implementation/training processes*

*One caveat is to make sure you have someone involved (from HR not IT) who understands what IT is saying and can translate into an HR/talent management language so everyone is on the same page.

Lesson #5 — Don’t Rush

HR has a lot on its plate and much of the work is reactive. Time is often of the essence. That, from our perspective, sometimes translates into a desire to want to check technology off the list as quickly as possible. Rather than take a “let’s get-this-over-with” approach, we advise clients to take as much time as possible. HR technology projects are often big in scale and typically only happen every three to five years. Just think about the increasing role of social media in recruiting, for example. Don’t rush into a new technology such as that without a well-thought out strategy. And that can take time — and someone who understands the language.

Lesson #6 — Band-aiding Is Not Always a Bad Thing

It may seem contradictory to the point made above, but we are also in favor of quick fixes. We often see areas for immediate improvement, whether in technology or in practices and processes. The quick fixes can make a big impact and raise the stature of your function immediately. For example — is your talent acquisition department properly structured? Has this been assessed lately or should it be looked at through a new lens based on the current hiring environment? If needed, changing the structure can increase recruiter focus, improve response times, and elevate the status of talent acquisition. This may also help you cut costs through more effective internal recruiting and decreased use of outside contingency firms.

Lesson #7 — Don’t Go It Alone

Whenever possible, get an external perspective from someone with no sentimental or political attachment to what was done in the past. Oftentimes we hear, “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Get the advice of an outsider who is impartial and knowledgeable on current technologies — and can guide you on your way to a good fit.

Lesson #8 — Measure, Measure, and Measure

Put service level agreements into place early on in any technology project. These need to apply to not just the assessment and implementation phase but also need to be incorporated into your buying specs. For example, if you are considering a new ATS, what metrics do you really need to impact? What metrics are you achieving using your old technology/old processes and what impact on them should the new technology have? How will you accurately measure them so you get the “real picture” on how they are working? For ATS, in particular, we are huge proponents of building in response times. After all, if key metrics revolve around how quickly candidates move through the pipeline, don’t you want to measure the length of time they spend at every phase?

These eight lessons are grounded in common sense, but have often been learned the hard way by big, medium, and small companies alike. Don’t suffer from buyer’s remorse. Instead, learn from others’ lessons and you will be far more likely to find a technology that is the right fit for your organization.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

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  2. Keith Halperin

    Thanks Gayle. An additional suggestion:
    Before you buy, have everyone on your team who would use the system try it out. If this is impractical, make sure the decision maker tries out all the functionality that might be used and see how user-friendly it is. There are far too many over-complicated, user-unfriendly pieces and systems of technology purchased by those who never have to use the damn things, and then we’re stuck with ‘em.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  3. Martin Snyder

    Wise words indeed.

    I might also suggest a bit of ethnography to size up your culture and your short-listed vendor’s cultures; if you are a buttoned down, process oriented organization, you will appreciate that in a vendor. If OTH you are a bottom liner or a risk taker or a risk avoider, finding vendors who share your values will go a long way toward your final satisfaction with a given solution set.

    Our culture is focused on personalized service, agility, and low lifecycle costs. That mix may not appeal to an organization with strong internal services, large cashflows, and aversion to fast change regardless of how well the technology itself may fit the need(s).

    Few know better the importance of culture match than recruiters and talent managers….

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