[ I published the original version of this post on 9-12-2011, just in time for the 2011 HR Technology Conference, and I did an updated edition for the 2012 conference. I had planned to do another updated version for the 2013 HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas and the 2013 HR Tech Europe Conference in Amsterdam (which by now you all know are not connected), but then I found myself wanting not only to update the questions but also to provide my thoughts on the answers — and boy was that a dark hole from which I’m only beginning to extricate myself. So what you’re getting here is a mix: lots of questions with my current thoughts on the answers to some of them.
As always, in the spirit of full disclosure, you should presume that I’m working or have worked with many of the major vendors in our space whether they are mentioned or not, that my thinking is certainly informed by the smart people with whom I work across the vendor/thought leader/influencer communities, and that I have strong biases (on full view across this blog) about what constitutes great HRM and great HRM enterprise software. Given my already stated plans to wind down my consulting practice — but not the rest of my business, not by any means — I thought I’d step over the “trying to be ecumenical line” and cast caution to the winds with my thoughts on some of these questions.]
Unlike my good friend and fellow Enterprise Irregular Ray Wang, there are no Naomi clones. Just this solo consultant who’s been trying to save the world from bad HRM and bad HR software. And while I’ve been a pretty productive and hard worker, there were never enough hours to support every HR exec who called about their always interconnected, whack-a-mole HRM delivery systems issues. So I have referred a lot of business to capable colleagues, suggested useful reading/conferences/discussion groups/etc., and helped as many as I could directly. With the winding down of my consulting practice this year, there’ll be a lot more of those referrals. But knowing the questions is the first important step toward getting good answers regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself or getting (hopefully great) 3rd party advice
Toward that end, and presuming that you have studied my methodology for strategic HRM and HRMDS planning, I thought you might enjoy my list [updated as of 10/27/2013] of the HRMDS issues that have given rise to so many of these requests for assistance. Some combination of these issues almost always has been the impetus for that first call/email/DM/whatever from a global HR executive, and they also permeate the online HR technology conversations. Unfortunately, it usually takes a broader planning effort to make sure that sir/madam HR leader isn’t playing that loser’s game of whack-a-mole in resolving these types of issues. You know that game: no sooner do you put one issue to rest than two more rear their ugly heads, and soon you’re entangled, not unlike Gulliver, by a hairball of these issues.
So what are the issues? In no particular order, but now with some of my thoughts about the answers:
- Can we afford to/should we upgrade our licensed, on-premise ERP/HRMS? In most cases, IMO the answer is a resounding no. However, you might be the one in many for whom this is still a sensible course of action, at least until the newer true SaaS ERP/HRMS/TM (yes, with truly and deeply integrated talent management capabilities because core HRMS and TM are inextricably intertwined) have matured sufficiently for your industry/geography/business requirements. But if you do plan to wait, please keep an eye on the future because it’s racing toward you, and use this time wisely to rethink every aspect of your HRM policies/practices/data and coding structures/processes/business rules/etc. for the current era.
- Can we afford/manage the integration of separate talent management applications? Here too, in most cases, IMO the answer is a resounding no. But here too you might be the one in many for whom this is still a sensible course of action — and for the very same reasons and with many of the very same caveats as in #1 above. When you develop object models for talent management, the sheer number and complexity of the interconnections are revealed, and it is those interconnections which argue for more rather than less integration of the resulting applications and business processes. That said, some TM processes are less interconnected than others, so there are options here if — IF — you study carefully those interconnections.
- Are we better served by getting our talent management capabilities already integrated with our system of record’s (SOR’s) foundation from our SOR’s vendor than by piecing together/layering on a variety of separate talent management applications, no matter how supposedly integrated they may be? Yes, but only if that so-called integrated talent management software is really integrated rather than glued together with some complex set of “integrations” across disparate object models, architectures, and underlying assumptions about HRM. With so much M&A across the HR technology industry, not to mention separate development efforts at the same firm, many brands now own a hodge podge of HRM software, including talent management software. While many of these applications may be quite good on their own, most are not integrated in the deep, profound way that’s only achieved through organic development of an HRMS/TM suite based upon a shared set of object models, architecture and development environment. But, and it’s a huge BUT, organic development doesn’t necessarily produce great software. So we need both deeply integrated and great HRMS/TM. That’s the ideal, but all manner of approximations and combinations may work for you depending on your current HRMDS and your overall HRMS/TM strategy. Here too, modeling the domain leads to an understanding of what it is about core HRMS and TM which are inextricably intertwined and where there are less interconnected areas. But please note: if you plan to embed predictive analytics, calculated on the fly across a wide range of HRM processes, you’d better ensure that all of these are resting on a common object model, with a common approach to effective-dating etc. so that your analytics aren’t a house built on sand.
- Are the so-called integrated talent management capabilities from our SOR’s vendor truly integrated or are they in some stage of being interfaced and given a more or less common user experience? This is where those “killer” scenarios (and do search my blog on that phrase to find many posts covering the actual scenarios) come in along with your vendor’s own documentation. If there are integration processes/documentation/roadmaps etc., then you know a priori that you’re not dealing with the deepest level of integration only achieved during an organic build. Should you care? That depends entirely on where you need deep integration and where perhaps you don’t, and this is another great question best answered via using your own vision of HRM.
- Does our system of record’s (SOR’s) coding structures/data granularity/data accuracy/data-entry style self service/processes/business rules/etc. support talent management at the level we need? Let me say for the umpteenth time that you can’t do succession planning (executive or more broadly), position-based staffing, position-based organizational design (or even great org charts), workforce planning at any level of granularity, and so much more in TM if you don’t include a reasonable understanding and implementation of position in your coding structures. No pain, no gain. Organizations which continue to implement new software on top of outdated processes, data and coding structures, and business rules are fooling themselves. Yes, you’ll be able to deliver analytics of some flavor to mobile devices, but you won’t have valid analytics or know if you’re even asking the right questions.
- Are the right capabilities available in our SOR and/or have they been implemented properly? So many of the ERP/HRMSs implemented with the help of major SIs were customized within an inch of their lives, often at the customer’s insistence — “we’ve always done it this way” — thus becoming a nightmare to upgrade. And with that huge sunk cost, on-premise ERP/HRMSs are going to have a long tail. But there’s a potentially huge opportunity cost to not having up-to-date capabilities, of not being agile in the face of business change, of not being able to attract and engage workers with a consumer user experience, etc. That opportunity cost can and must be measured as part of making the business case for staying on or moving off of your current SOR; use TCO alone at your peril.
- How can we bring our data entry-style self service into the mobile and social world? The bad news is that if you don’t build it, they won’t come — or they’ll sidestep everything you provide in favor of the consumer apps they know and love. Today’s workforce, especially those special folks with scarce KSAOCs who fill the key roles driving business outcomes, expect high quality technology enablement of their business processes, to include a consumer grade (but industrial strength) user experience. And they vote with their feet.
- If we’re running on an ERP/HRMS, should we upgrade in place, implement that vendor’s next gen (when it’s ready, and whether or not it’s more or less next gen than we need), mix and match, or consider the options from other brands? I think I’ve already answered this, but let me say it one more time. Whatever else you consider, it’s absolutely necessary to take a hard look at all your options and not just those from your incumbent. This will be a new implementation even if you stay with your incumbent’s next generation, so you might as well take a look around before you make these decisions.
- Will our smaller/weaker but still independent core HRMS vendor(s) be able to make needed regulatory, architectural and functionality investments in their products? Will they be around long enough and with sufficient resources to deliver on mobile, social, global, analytics, gamification and so much more? This is an easy one because facts are facts. Just look at the track record of M&A in our industry, and you can see how many once independent players are now owned by aggregators, including private equity-funded aggregators. And while many of these products are still around, with some getting decent levels of maintenance investment, I believe it’s now clear that the weak are not going to inherit the software kingdom as we move aggressively to true SaaS.
- Lots of our vendors are describing their latest products as SaaS. How would we know if that’s true? Why should we care? Please, please read my posts on these points (just search for “true SaaS” to get them all) before concluding that if it’s hosted and subscribed you’ll be just fine.
- If our current vendors aren’t true SaaS as Naomi has defined it, are they likely to be viable long-term? Are there other workable definitions that make sense for some vendors? Sure. For example, one major vendor, Oracle, has a very different view of true SaaS than I do, and they have the long tail of their installed base plus almost unlimited resources to ensure that their point of view has legs. However, you should still educate yourself, if you’re a PeopleSoft or even EBS HCM customer, about the real compare and contrast between Fusion HCM and your other options. And that said, do read my posts on the business benefits of true SaaS as I define it to be sure that you’re going to get those benefits via someone else’s definition of same, no matter the size of their marketing budget.
- Is it the right time to make the leap to a newer, SaaS generation of integrated HRMS/TM which are building out talent management functionality very quickly as well as their global capabilities? It’s clearly no longer a question of whether but of when. All the major vendors of licensed on-premise HRMS/TM are moving as fast as their legs can carry them to take themselves to the cloud as well as to build out their cloud offerings, so they clearly are betting on a SaaS future (whatever their definitions). And there could be substantial $$ savings which would argue persuasively for a sooner rather than later leap. But our timing may be linked to an energizing event, e.g. the arrival of a new CIO who’s experienced with true SaaS and was brought in to move us there faster and/or the arrival of a giant bill from our vendor for extended support of an aged HRMS. Okay, enough with the opinions or this will be longer than anyone will read. You’re on your own from here folks.
- Should we stick to our older on-premise ERP/HRMS and add one or more talent management applications on top? With what approach to interfacing and/or integration?
- What types of social technology capabilities should we consider for HRM? Across our organization? Unleashed within what processes?
- Should we be looking for social tech within the foundations of our HRMS/TM unleashed where we want them or looking at specific social apps?
- Is it better to provide social technology capabilities that are specific to an HRM process or to provide broad access to those capabilities across HRM with a build it and they will come approach?
- What policies are needed to balance the value of social technology with protecting our intellectual property, personal data privacy, and organizational productivity?
- Should we be looking for mobile capabilities within the foundations of our HRMS/TM unleashed where we want them or looking at specific mobile apps?
- Is it better to provide mobile technology capabilities that are specific to an HRM process or to provide broad access to those capabilities across HRM? What’s this I hear about “mobile first” design, and why is that better?
- What policies are needed to balance the value of mobile technology, including “Bring Your Own Device” (so BYOD) with protecting our intellectual property, personal data privacy, and organizational productivity?
- Are there obvious HRMDS targets for outsourcing? Of course there are, so are we doing as much of this as makes sense for us? Subscribing true SaaS is a form of outsourcing but here we’re referring to outsourcing an entire HRM process where the provider delivers the results so an agreed service level.
- Are there areas within the HRMDS that just don’t make sense to do any way other than via outsourcing? Background checking, tax filing, payroll in countries where we have small populations, development of generic learning content and/or KSAOC assessments come immediately to mind.
- What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to present an integrated view of organizational HRM data?
- What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to provide embedded, actionable analytics?
- Are there areas within the HRMDS that just don’t make sense to do any way other than via tightly integrated components? Here core HRMS comes immediately to mind.
- What impact would using best-of-breed solutions for specific HRMDS components have on our ability to present an integrated view of organizational HRM data?
- What impact would using best-of-breed solutions for specific HRMDS components have on our ability to provide embedded, actionable analytics?
- What are the characteristics of an HRM process that lend themselves to either tight or loose coupling with our core SOR?
- Our ERP/HRMS is described as licensed/on-premise, and we’re paying 22% of retail in annual maintenance. Are we getting enough value to justify those annual payments?
- Will our vendor’s next generation be free to us because of those annual maintenance payments? Are they essentially giving away their cloud software, at least for a time, or providing major discounts in order to keep us in the family?
- Are there alternatives to making those on-premise maintenance payments? Are their other sources for basic maintenance, especially if we’re on an older release?
- Will our talent management software vendor(s) survive and prosper? What’s at risk if we’ve bet on a vendor that gets acquired?
- With all the consolidation going on in talent management, how can we determine if our vendors will be acquirers or be acquired? Does it matter?
- Is it more important for us to get talent management right than to invest further in our administrative HRM foundations or will poor administrative foundations cripple our talent management efforts?
- Do we really have to build/maintain the whole data warehouse apparatus just to get obvious analytics? To support actionable analytics at the “point of sale?” So embedded in employee and manager self service?
- Why can’t our payroll provider (yes, we outsourced that years ago) support the variety of workers, work roles, work schedules, total compensation plans, and other practices that we’re now using or need to use? What are our options here?
- What about our global payroll requirements? We’ve got large populations in a few countries and very small populations scattered everywhere else? Should we handle this ourselves?
- Are there truly global payroll providers whose capabilities are integrated and priced well?
- And what impact will the coming changes in health care, talent management, social learning, globalization, HR technology, workforce diversity, executive compensation caps, government austerity programs, [you name the issue] have on our aging, too many moving parts, never implemented well and/or too expensive to maintain HRM delivery system — and on our ability to deliver the HRM outcomes our organization expects?
- We seem to have a disconnect between our administration and strategic HRM data — could that be the result of disconnected systems, data definitions, organizational responsibilities, HRM business rules, etc.?
- What changes should we be making in our HRM policies and practices to support a more social, mobile and global workforce? Won’t our software vendors provide these?
- I keep hearing about social/mobile/global/embedded analytics/the importance of integrated talent management/[you name the hot topic here], but these capabilities seem to be add-ons at added cost etc. from our primary vendors. Is that right?
- How do I push more and more responsibility for HRM to managers and to the workforce without having a whole range of compliance/productivity/decision-making problems? How do I provide these users with enough embedded intelligence to enable effective decision-making? To enable correct and timely HRM transactions?
- Every time I ask for a briefing on the current state of our HRMDS, my eyes glaze over from the complexity and detail. How do I know if we have more moving pieces than we need? If we have the right pieces? If we’re spending the right amount to achieve our needed outcomes?
- How can we keep all the pieces well playing together? How much bailing wire and chewing gum does it take to keep everything running?
- Our CEO asked me if we have the HRM capabilities we need to help the organization deliver improved business outcomes. Frankly, I haven’t got a clue.
- How can I find enough resources to invest in strategic HRMDS components when everything’s being starved because of the black holes of administrative HRM, including compliance, which really don’t drive business outcomes no matter how well-done they are?
- Cloud/smoud — my CIO is deadset against it but all the hot new software is built for it. What do I do?
- I know we need analytics, but which ones? My team has proposed 217, all of which sound interesting and potentially relevant, but what I really need are the half dozen that would tell me how we’re really doing?
- Social sourcing sounds wonderful, and everyone’s doing it, but is it really applicable to our need for [place your scarce KSAOC list here]?
And now for a few of my personal favorites, those calls for help that I can no longer provide, just for laughs.
- We bought the software, signed up for maintenance, and have it loaded on our computer. But it seems to sit there waiting for us to tell it what to do. Is that right? Doesn’t it come loaded with “best practices?” We budgeted for a “vanilla” implementation on that expectation.
- My global head of talent is telling me that we must get all of our talent applications from the same vendor in order to get the deep process and data integration that he tells me integrated TM requires. If we do that, buy everything from a single vendor, will it really truly scouts’ honor be fully integrated?
- The last guy who’s able to maintain the extensive COBOL code we used to create our highly customized Cyborg/Genesys/Tesseract/Integral/MSA/[put your favorite truly over-the-hill essentially payroll but now doing everything imaginable application brand here, and with full knowledge on my part that all of these brands are getting some level of quite sincere regulatory support and other updates from their current owners] has gone out on emergency long term disability, and we never did get him to document that code. Help!
- My predecessor insisted that we needed an enterprise-level ERP/HRMS. Four years and millions of $$ later, we’re not implemented, the SI (systems integration) leader (the new one, his precessor was promoted) tells me that we don’t have either our organizational structure nor our jobs defined right to meet the analytical requests I’ve made of the system, the release we’ve been implementing seems to have been overtaken by the vendor’s newest release (and that’s the one that has the improved user experience that we really need), and now my new golfing buddy (who’s a partner at another SI) suggests that what we’ve selected is gross overkill for our 500 person, entirely US-based call center business for which our financials are moving “into the cloud,” whatever that means. When I told a trusted HR exec colleague about all of this, she said don’t make another move until you talk to Naomi.
All laughs aside, these are really tough questions, all of them. And you know that I’ve got a bunch more, along with my thoughts on how to answer them, across my blog. When you put these questions into the context of a specific organization, of your organization, answering them is worthy of your best efforts. So “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” then delve into the details to develope their own answers. If you are facing any of these questions, please do your homework and don’t be flimflammed. I’ll look forward to adding your questions to my collection above, so do send them to me.