This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 Issue of the HRINZ magazine.

It seems that every day we hear about another innovative, disruptive, cloud-based HR technology solution that does one thing, and does it beautifully. At the same time, businesses are changing how they pick their tools of the trade.  In this article, we’ll review the changing landscape and the power of choice.

Monolithic integrated Talent Management systems are dead.  Or so say leading HR technology spokespeople such as Josh Bersin who put it best in his article, “The HR Software Market Reinvents Itself”:

“While it now looks possible to buy everything from one vendor, none have every talent management feature with the same level of maturity.”

Certainly, companies can get sophisticated, feature-complete HR solutions from one of the industry’s big integrated Talent Management vendors.  This made sense when integration was painful.  Now, whilst choosing a single vendor provides uniformity, it can also limit companies from accessing a rapidly expanding list of cutting-edge and best-in-breed solutions.

What does the cutting edge look like?  Fitness and wellness management for employees, leveraging devices like FitBit and the Apple Watch.  Always-on learning and community-guided onboarding.  Mobile teams and self-managing talent pools.  Video interviewing, persistent assessments, augmented reality.  There are hundreds of companies building clever and elegant solutions that handle one part of your process in a new and innovative way.

It’s common for HR pundits and technology analysts to refer to these solutions as disruptive, not because they interrupt business but because they provide something so unique and powerful that it changes how we define our HR needs.

Now that companies have choice, how do you pick the right solutions?  Gone are the days of visiting the big vendors and simply replacing an entire HR technology stack.  You may read about a new app or tool that the industry is raving about, so how do you do your due diligence and determine if this new offering is right for you?

Here are a few important concepts to take into consideration when selecting HR technology in this new era of choice and openness:

  • Define your strategy.  Don’t let pundits, articles, or presentations decide how you want to run your company.  Don’t pick which box you fit in.  Define your own box.  Ask yourself the most important question in HR today, “What does it mean to be a person in your company?”  Wellness, fitness, ongoing learning, mobility?  Decide what you want, and only then seek it out.
  • Demand trials.  Gone are the days when you should blindly add a solution to your HR ecosystem.  Modern products should let you try before you buy.  Cutting edge companies are even letting you trial with YOUR data.  These are the companies you want to start conversations with.  If the provider doesn’t understand that each business is unique, keep searching.  Don’t make your HR culture fit into the vision of someone else.  Make sure they work within your organisational design.
  • Put employees first.  This should read: Put people first.  Let your teams self-manage whenever possible.  Employees should be able to kick off an interaction with HR in ways appropriate to your business.  Request leave on a phone.  Approve expenses on the go.  Share experience with onboarding employees.  Share jobs or recommend talented friends.  Again, it should fit your culture, but remember, a culture is never about dollars and cents, it’s about people and sense.
  • Look for openness.  We’re already seeing some of these new rockstar apps float to the top.  These are the ones that embrace openness, using APIs and open-source standards.  They hook into marketplaces so that they can be good citizens and work with technologies you may already have. Developers that are quick to be closed and tout words like ‘proprietary’ are usually hiding poor architectural design.
  • Pick what’s right for you.  Choice is power.  Make sure you use it.  Don’t rush to pick a solution.  Shop around.  It is the provider’s responsibility to put a good experience in front of you.  If you sense smoke or mirrors, move on.  This brave new world enables you to create an HR ecosystem of your choice, so if something doesn’t work, swap it out with something that does.

What about the application developers who are eager to stand out?  You may have a slick UI, a great new premise, but very few clients.  How do you gain footing in the marketplace?

  • Define your space.  Keep your message clear.  Don’t try to do everything for everyone.  Keep the mission statements of your apps short and simple.  If you offer a lot of services, make each one stand on its own.  Don’t try to be a fully integrated system.  If a client only wants your amazing CV parsing tool, don’t force them to adopt your job board posting application as well.  Keep everything encapsulated and be confident that once they’ve tried one of your products, they’ll want more.  In other words, if a part of your system can’t stand on its own, it needs to be reworked or dropped.
  • Be open.  Embrace APIs and open standards.  This will help you integrate with other amazing products.  Don’t necessarily see other companies as competitors.  Join the community and be good citizens in the HR ecosystem.  If you’re open and use APIs the industry will do development for you and help you get new clients.
  • Offer trials.  There are far too many amazing solutions to hope that a PowerPoint presentation or video will be enough to make a sale.  Design your software to start with a trial.  Sales will make themselves if users can try out and experience your stunning UI and revolutionary workflow.  Ideally, you’d let them use their existing data.  How do you do that?  By being open (see the previous point).  By using open-source APIs, you’ll know that you can automatically link into existing solutions.
  • Explore platforms.  You want to be open, you want to be a good citizen, but where do you start?  Which open-source APIs are right for you?  Find a platform or two to join.  There are a growing number of marketplaces aimed at helping get your solution into the hands of clients.  Some to keep an eye on are: Xero Add-on Marketplace, Azure Marketplace, ADP Marketplace, and Talent App Store. Be aware though that not all marketplaces are created equal.  Research and understand the continuum that exists between an online directory at one end, and at the other, a true peer to peer data sharing ecosystem where information can flow (and is visible) between your application and others.
  • Lead with customer testimony.  Nothing beats the testimony of a happy client.  Why?  Because they live and speak HR a lot better than you.  Focus on development.  Let your happy customers handle marketing for you!
  • Consider using microservices.  Keep your message clear by reflecting this philosophy in your system architecture.  Microservices help with scale, security, and integration. Follow the principle of doing one thing and doing it well – for example, if you find yourself spending development dollars on issues like user password complexity checks, you may be missing the big picture that your customer would prefer to use single sign-on (SSO) across all their HR products anyway.
  • Be bold.  Be proud of your solution and never undersell yourself.  Look at as a good example.  They do one thing, team chat, and do it extremely well.  They’re open and not afraid to tell you that team chat is the answer to everything.  Don’t worry about being like bigger vendors.  Be what they can’t be: specific, agile, and boutique.  

Believe it or not, you’re part of an HR revolution.  Not only are technologies evolving, but business philosophies too.  No one has to follow anymore.  Anyone can lead.  

Go to the market and find what you need.  Use the power of choice to pick the solutions that will help you make your HR vision a reality.

To learn more about exciting new options and the changing marketplace, consider searching the following articles:

  • The HR Software Market Reinvents Itself – by Josh Bersin
  • HR 2.0 is the poster child for the next wave of SaaS innovation – by Tarun Kalra
  • Plus announcements from the upcoming HR Technology Conference & Expo this October in Chicago where many new product trends and releases are revealed.


Author Profile:

Damian Newland is the Head of Sales, Marketing & Growth at Aotal; NZ’s leading provider of cloud-based talent management software, systems and solutions. Damian has spent 15 years working with HR technology vendors and supporting employers through HR challenges with the implementation and optimisation of HR technology.