[After many vendor briefings in Q1 2011, I published a series of blog posts summarizing my reactions to those briefings which really captured, as of then, how I evaluated vendors and their products/services. Rereading those posts after a two year hiatus, I was struck not only by their relevance to my current thinking about this topic but also by how much they needed and deserved an update. If you’d like to read the originals, they can be found here, here, here, here and here. But I hope you’ll be more interested in my current thinking because two years is a lifetime in our neighborhood at the intersection of HRM and IT.]
My first post in this reprised series focused on the importance of understanding the ambitions of HRM software/services vendors and the implications of those ambitions for buyers, investors, employees and the industry. The second focused on the different strategies of these same vendors, the many moving parts that must be addressed in those strategies, and the implications of the differences in strategy for buyers/investors/employees/the industry. In the third reprised post in this series I focused on some of the most important capabilities of vendor/provider software, always assuming that what you can’t see is as elegant as what’s visible. Now it’s time to wrap up this series with some final thoughts.
Although I’m painfully aware of how little I know and try hard not to suggest more knowledge than I have, one question I get all the time, via DMs on Twitter, via LinkedIn messages, remember email?, etc., is what impresses me about HRM vendors/products? What makes me think highly or not about the people with whom I’m meeting, their companies and their products/services? And why do some companies seem to get more of my attention and/or favorable opinion than do others? Putting aside those who accuse me of nefarious intentions and with a forthright acknowledgement that I know much more about my vendor/provider clients and their products/services than I do about others, let me try to answer that question here.
Well the first thing to say is that, as a solo consultant and definitely not a professional analyst, I simply cannot follow all the potentially wonderful HRM software and services companies out there. So the fact that I’ve never taken a briefing with your firm or with your favorite vendor should not be construed as meaning anything other than I just don’t have enough time to go around and still do my day job. That said, I tend to pay attention not only to the obvious suspects, to the larger and more extensively used HRM vendors/products/services, but also to the interesting, the clever, the latest undertaking of long-standing and valued colleagues, to other people and vendors who capture my attention by what they do and how they do it.
And suggestions for this latter list come at me from every direction. But I can tell you right now, for the record, that if a company of which I have no knowledge led by people of whom I’ve never heard reaches out to me via their agency/PR firm with a form letter asking for my time, the chances are close to 100% that I’m not going to make time for them. On the other hand, a friendly note from their CEO/chief architect/product or service visionary/etc. connecting what they do to something of interest to me (and those topics have been written to death on this blog, in my twitterstream and in the LinkedIn discussion group for HR Tech Conference), there’s a very high probability that I’d be delighted to meet you — even if I can’t do it right away — and I’ll certainly suggest other influencers with whom you might want to be in touch.
Returning to what impresses me, top of the list is that I love great software. Well thought-out architectures and object models that scale with volumes, new functionality that improves business results by effecting better HRM decisions and meets expanding geographic requirements, and lots more capture my attention. I value well thought-out UXs which incorporate a high degree of embedded intelligence and are appropriate to and variable with the work a user is doing. Real integration — not just interfaces/unification/single sign-ons/middleware management of the gazintas and gazoutas — of HRM domain model, architecture, processes, analytics, etc. is very difficult to achieve without fully organic design and development, so it’s increasingly rare in our industry, but I so value it when it’s well-done, especially as regards core HRMS and talent management. Also high on my list are solid foundations with clever extensions and clear thinking about the differences between the economic buyer and the real customer. New solutions to old problems capture my interest, but even more so do new solutions before others even grasp the problems. And for anything HRM, systemic effective-dating, to include the entire application, should go without saying. And of course I’m more impressed if you’re true SaaS InFullBloom than if you’ve rebranded your old single tenant, customizable code base.
I also love great people, regardless of their role in our industry:
- Smart, hard-working, disciplined thinkers who are paying or have paid their dues and really know what they’re talking about;
- Folks who are as passionate as I have been about the importance of human resource management in achieving business outcomes, ideally led by an excellent HR function but with or without them as necessary;
- HRM subject matter experts who don’t live in silos but understand and work hard at the interconnections, always with a focus on business outcomes; and
- HR leaders who are the very model of a modern etc.
Above all I value integrity — in people, in organizations, and in products/services. Does the vendor’s/provider’s leaders actually do what they say in their marketing literature? I know that they must focus on the bottom line (just as I do!), but do they believe that delivering great products/services to respected and well-treated customers via a respected and well-treated workforce enriches that bottom line? Nothing’s easier to change than marketing messages and media, but individual and organizational integrity can’t be faked or rebuilt easily once lost. While all of us, and our organizations, live in that grey zone between our ideals and our reality, it’s easy to spot the individuals and organizations who work hard to minimize the distance between those — and these are folks whom I value highly.
That’s pretty much it. But if you have visited Casa de Ranas, also known as Bloom & Wallace HQ, then you also know that I love bold colors, and room for the unexpected, the unplannable. That’s what impresses me. And that’s what I hope we can collectively continue to deliver. Otherwise, why bother?