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Six tips for choosing an HR technology partner

What you need to consider when choosing an HR software provider

Technology now underpins just about every HR process. So the relationship between HR and systems providers is critical to making sure that new initiatives – whether replacing an existing system or completely re-engineering the way HR works – are successful. Here are six top tips to help you ensure that you and your HR software supplier are a dream team.

  1. Define your strategy. No technology solution will be successful unless you know what you want to achieve and how you will measure success. Before you even approach suppliers make sure you have clear objectives. For example, 140-person technology company Ubisense set itself the goal of improving communications across its global workforce. “Our previous system lacked any means to connect and engage colleagues based around the world. We needed to create a much better sense of being one company,” says Ubisense HR director Nicola Clark. “We even considered hiring additional people to tackle the heavy administration required, which surely defeats the object of an HR platform.” Ubisense worked with Sage People to develop a new HR operations platform. Says Clark: “The user experience for our employees has improved massively and as a result so too has the engagement of the workforce with the HR team.”
  2. Know what tasks you want the technology to support. “Pull together a list of 80% of the tasks that you are doing, then talk this through with potential suppliers and see how these will work on a vendor’s technology,” recommends Jon Bryant, director of Aon Employee Benefits. “And make sure that you get answers that address your needs – providers will know their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and will try to push their own strengths.”

    It also pays to be pragmatic about demanding bespoke features. “Think about configuring rather than customising,” says Roly Walter, founder of performance management system Appraisd. “The chances are that the bespoke features may not be updated in the same way and to the same schedule as standard functions. Ask the vendor how they will support any non-standard features that you’ve requested.”
  3. Involve all stakeholders. Even if the changes you want and the technology that will drive them are technically an HR matter, other parts of the business are likely to be affected as well. Making sure that they are part of the development team from the start is essential. That way it’s more likely that you will identify and cater for any knock-on effects and buy-in to making the technology work will be much stronger. When Southampton Football Club introduced PwC’s Workday system in late 2017, then-project and change manager Teri Carpentier says that the 30-strong implementation team was made up of “people from Southampton FC and subject matter experts – such as finance, HR and payroll – who came together alongside their counterparts in PwC.”
  4. Check business need is driving technology, not the other way around. When the Co-op decided to re-engineer disparate HR functions into its OneHR system, the banking and retail group had to harmonise processes and technologies that had evolved in different parts of the business into a single, shared system. “Our merger with the United Co-op, and acquisitions such as Somerfield, had brought around 30,000 people into the business and our HR systems struggled to keep up,” says Fiona Inglis, head of HR – strategic projects at The Co-operative Group. Ioannis Boutaris, the Co-op’s then-HR technology and analytics manager, is clear that this was “not a technical journey, [but] a business change journey. If we had kept the same processes and services we would not have been able to achieve the [transformation] promised.”
  5. Make sure that what vendors show you is the ‘real deal’. “It’s very easy for vendors to tweak a lot of demo screens to show a customer exactly what they want to see,” cautions Aon’s Bryant. “Make sure that you see services in action – visit providers in their offices and see the actual technology working.” He also cautions against providers who promise the earth when it comes to future features. “No technology provider can absolutely guarantee future development, so approach this with caution. Smaller suppliers might have a little more control but they still have to consider security, data management and other factors.”
  6. Look to the long term. “A lot of IT is now delivered as software-as-a-service, so the relationship with the technology provider is more important than ever,” says Appraisd’s Walter. “In the past you just installed software, but now you are tying yourself to a company you will interact with hundreds of times a day.” Establishing whether a relationship will work long term is every bit as important as a list of tasks or a lengthy proposal request. “Finding a partner who listens and then delivers the right tools to fit your needs is essential,” says Dipa Mistry Kandola, head of flexible benefit services at LCP. “Culture and trust are just as important as the technology itself.”