If that surprises you, you’re in good company. William Tincup and John Sumser, two of the best-known names in HR consulting, admit to being surprised themselves when they tabulated the results of a technology survey they conducted as principal analysts for their firm, KeyInterval Research.
In their report, The Ideal Vendor Relationship, they report that 78 percent of the 1,100 participating practitioners answered “No” to the question “Is your HR software crummy?” While that doesn’t necessarily mean they think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, it’s not the result the authors expected.
“Our working hypothesis was that most HR practitioners disliked the technologies they use each day,” write Tincup and Sumser. Instead, “Most practitioners are simply not complaining about the quality of their tools and technologies.”
Most of the survey participants — 87 percent — also report enjoying their tech vendor relationships. “This is not the story we expected to hear,” the authors admit.
What’s more, the majority of practitioners say their HR software often or always delivers what the vendor promised, a view that’s strongest among practitioners at the largest companies.
Those are among the most myth-puncturing findings of the report, and are the ones easiest to digest. They’re also the ones that will attract the most attention simply because they are so at odds with what we all hear at conferences or in posts and comments about technology.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s what the report is all about. The detail and analysis in the other 60+ pages provides valuable insights into the HR technology lifecycle — from the evaluation process through to implementation and operation. And equally telling analytical observations that address the reality of evaluating, implementing, and using technology.
For instance, 63 percent of companies have a specific process for evaluating HR software, many using an RFP. But with near unanimous agreement that vendor involvement — often very deep and involved participation — is necessary for effective evaluation, the reality is, as the authors write, “the software procurement process doesn’t exactly work the way it is advertised.”
“Policies that mandate pure rational evaluation and require ‘bias free’ assessments may not be possible or practical,” they note.
No one wants to choose the wrong vendor or discover features they want they didn’t consider, but with HR tech contracts averaging 2.6 years, switching providers is far less of an issue than it was just a few years ago when on-premises systems predominated. “HR is getting used to rapid turnover in suppliers,” the authors say, observing the sizable majorities that reported terminating an HR tech contract for cause or which would do so if the vendor relationship soured.
The report includes three successful case stories and one that ended badly. Unlike typical case studies of how fast, smoothly, cost-effectively, etc. a software purchase was, these focus on how the HR practitioner / leader worked with the vendor to develop an innovative and unique solution to a specific need.
Where HR tends to focus its software decision on cost savings, the case studies offer strong evidence in support of the proposition, “For HR and its technology to be focused on saving money when the organization is expanding is to lose any semblance of strategic relevance.”
Finally, the report concludes with an interesting ranking of software vendors in each of Tincup’s and Sumser’s software lifecycle categories.