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Denis Barnard

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Changing your HRIS software? Read this first


Choosing the wrong HRIS software can be one of the most time-consuming and costly mistakes you ever make. Denis Barnard reveals the questions you need to ask to guarantee the perfect system.

Whether due to company expansion, new management or simply time for a change, before long every HR department will be looking to upgrade or replace its existing HRIS software. But in order to get the right package you have to you know the right questions to ask. It sounds simple, but first up you need to consider the reasons for the change. Is it due to:
  • Your current application falling short due to obsolescence or withdrawal?
  • Having reached a poor stage of relations with your current vendor and not wishing to continue with them?
  • Or perhaps a new senior officer of the organisation has reviewed current capability and has decided that more advanced HRIS will deliver more benefits?
These are probably the most common reasons vendors encounter. In all cases I would urge this: review the position – maybe with an HRIS expert – and see what your options could be. It’s possible your existing package could actually do the job with more focus on what’s needed and some collaboration with the vendor. After all, no vendor will willingly lose a customer.
The case for sourcing a new HRIS will depend heavily on factors outside of the sponsoring department. HRIS exists to assist service departments such as HR and payroll to contribute effectively to their organisation (the need for time & attendance also has its roots in operational and commercial needs). For this reason alone, it is a good time to go back to the internal /external ‘customers’ and ensure that your thinking and expected departmental output is aligned with their requirements of you. In this way, you will strengthen support for your proposal when the time comes to pitch for the resources.

Determine the specifications

One of the biggest problems companies face when looking to change HRIS is that, often, they ‘don’t know what they don’t know’. The preliminaries are straightforward; HR, payroll, time & attendance. But what modules are required, e.g. absence, recruitment admin, employee self-service?
It is then very tempting to start thinking in terms of features in these applications. But this can lead to unrealistic wish lists. It is far better to look at the key current HR/payroll/T&A processes in terms of their effectiveness, efficiency and resources needed to keep them running. Only in this way will you fully realise the benefits of the incoming new technology, and get smarter processes into the bargain.
Replicating outmoded processes on new software is just a waste of money and resources. If you are short of in-house expertise and resources permit, use a reputable external person to check through those processes. Their view will be objective, and will highlight weak areas that were never questioned due to their longevity.
When that review is completed – and it should not be a lengthy exercise – you will then be armed with the prototype for your list of application features. Apart from the operational and administrational aspects, there are peripheral considerations as well:
  • Does everything have to be supplied by a single vendor?
  • What is the preferred purchase basis? (rental, capital purchase)
  • What is the preferred supply basis (hosted, managed, insourced)
  • What IT requirements are necessary to ensure compatibility with an incoming application?
  • How many users will I have – and who will be system administrators?

One stop shop

One thing to bear in mind is that there is probably no ‘perfect fit’ for you; as with most things in life, there is always a compromise, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of money customising the product. Customisation can, in many cases, indicate that a particular existing process is being replicated on the new technology. Look again at all your processes, work flows and procedures, to weed out inefficiency and introduce improvements, before bringing them on to the new software. Your research can be augmented by software exhibitions where you can see software demonstrated.
The public sector and many larger organisations in the UK use request for further particulars (RFP) or invitation to tender (ITT) procedures, where a project is likely to exceed a given value. I have seen the reactions to this from both sides of the fence. Purchasers often over-specify for fear of making a mistake, while it’s only the vendors who think they have a decent chance of getting the business who actually respond to them – they can take up a lot of someone’s time to actually complete.

Demonstration time

Once your research and product overviews have shortlisted likely vendors, the next potential minefield is the product demonstration. Demonstrators are indefatigable but a first demonstration should not last more than two hours, including a Q&A. Preferred vendors can always be invited back for a more detailed presentation on key areas of customer requirement.

Who needs to be there?

This is very much up to the prospective purchaser. I have sat in on presentations with audiences from two to 22, and I can say that the more people, the slower everything goes. It’s probably not worth dragging your procurement people along – their things can be more effectively handled offline.
IT has an involvement, of course, but with software developments nowadays, they may now be focusing more on the specification and maintenance of environments and peripheral applications such as Internet Explorer and MS Office.
Ensure that the key sponsor(s) is present, together with those personnel concerned with the strategic implications of the application, and key users who will be expected to make it work on a tactical level.

What questions do we ask?

Some purchasers like to spring questions on presenting vendors, others don’t: it’s all a matter of preferred style. My own preference is for the prospect to raise the key areas of concern beforehand, so that the vendor can be equipped to answer comprehensively.
There are many generic features involved with HRIS; look and feel obviously can differ, but most have an intuitive look to them with which most Microsoft application users could comfortably work.
When asking the demonstrator questions on usage, make sure that they demonstrate how it is done. It is natural for a salesman to say ‘yes we can’ and, indeed, most of the time that’s true, but there are occasions when the actual doing is a lot more complex in practice.
Listen out for answers that indicate that customisation will be required, or that a certain feature will be available ‘at next release’. Make sure that you are satisfied that this is not a grey area that will cause you problems later on.

Decision time

This is the stage where everything that has gone before comes together at one point. Questions you need to ask include:
  • Are you comfortable dealing with the Vendor on an ongoing basis?
  • Can the software do all the things that you want it to do?
  • Do you believe you will get the support that you require from the Vendor?
  • Will your people be able to make it work?
If you are still not sure, then run back over everything again. If you still have doubts beyond that point, you will have to go back to the drawing board. The decision-making is driven by a multitude of factors – not all of them attributable to logic. But, make the decision, and be confident in that decision. Most issues can be surmounted with a certain amount of good will on all sides, so take courage.
Denis Barnard is the CEO of the UK’s first HRIS comparison website,, which includes advice, tips and resources to help choose the best HRIS software. He is an expert on the implementation of HR and payroll systems and worked in the HR industry for more than 20 years.

One Response

  1. Other factors
    One of the fundamental questions at the outset has to be whether a single vendor is mandatory or multiple vendors are acceptible under a ‘best of breed’ approach. Should multiple vendors be the goal then integration & compatability issues subsequently flow from this decision.

    The next big decision is whether the system should be ‘in-house /desktop’ or hosted. Depending upon the answer to this other matters (i.e. rental, capital purchase) could become redundant.

    However, if the choice is hosted (SaaS/Cloud) it is probably worth paying particular attention to reporting and how to extract ‘ad hoc’ reports rather than the standard offerings. When using a hosted medium all reports should be available as down loadable excel files; although ideally Word & PDF formats as well.

    James Chrimes
    Managing Director
    SureBooks Online Accounting & Human Resources


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