Before You Buy an HRIS...

This paper has evolved from 20 years of helping HR professionals who were looking to find the right HR system for their company or client. This is not meant to be an exhaustive monologue on the subject, but rather a brief collection of ideas, concerns, and things to think about as you go through the process of finding the right system to meet your needs.

Overview of the Human Resource Information System (HRIS) market
As is true with any product, hr software is designed for an ideal or target user. Since it is basically used for keeping track of employees, for the purpose of this paper we will divide companies into 3 categories: Small (fewer than 100 employees); Medium (100 to 1000 employees) and Large (more than 1000 employees). The needs of each of these company categories are different as are the expectations of the user within each size company. One of the first key questions that needs to be answered is, “What is the target market for a particular product?” Not only will the price of the software help position the product but also the features, installation, training costs and length of time it takes to be up and running.
Don’t be fooled by price; a lower priced product will often be the “Right Product,” thus, creating a substantial savings in time and money. Don’t be fooled by a long list of features; the “Right Product” is the one that meets your requirements, not the one with the longest list. Don’t be fooled by a flashy presentation; the “Right Product” is the one that you and or your staff can easily learn and use, day-in and day-out, to help you do your job - not necessarily the one with the coolest screens, etc.

Determining what You really need
You know better than anyone what you want and what you need. If you haven’t already done so, make a check list of what you believe is the minimum set of must-haves, a second list of what it would be nice to have, and a third list of what you are sure you do not need. With these lists, you will be able to more quickly determine what you are looking for and know it when you see it. As you read about products, see demos etc., continually update these lists. You will quickly discover that they are a great aid in cutting through the marketing hype and flashy demos to discover if a particular product will work for you.
Data collection

Most Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS) have either a printed, or an on-line, help resource listing the fields of data collected or, better yet, screen shots of each screen used to collect information. Make a copy of each screen and mark every field on each screen with a colored pen or pencil: green for “Must Have” fields, blue for “Nice to Have” fields, red for “Don’t Care” fields. Also consider what is missing and note that on the sheet. Take a look at the layout, the titles of fields and the general appearance: Does it make sense? Is it convenient? One thing that has often bugged me about some screens is a field that is able to have 20 characters typed into it and then, when it is saved you get 7! Most people who fill out forms prefer to have visual clues; if the space will hold 10 characters, then I can’t type in 11 characters.

Make notes about what you like or don’t like, such as how easy is it to find an employee. Does the software have a control bar with little icons? If it does, are the icons each different enough to be useful? Some products have very busy little pictures that all look the same at first glance and can be hard to use for their intended purpose. With the !Trak-It products, we went to a professional to develop icons or symbols, each of which are distinct in color and shape to make identification unique. We then reinforce the icon-screen relationship by placing the same icon on the appropriate screen. It is the little things like this that often make a product faster to learn and more comfortable to use.

Spend a good deal of time with the product’s report generator. Look at both the standard reports and their selection criteria and the custom report writer. Before you start, again make your list or gather samples of reports and categorize them: Must Have, Nice to Have, Don’t Care. What you should find is that most of the reports you want should be standard reports such as EEO reports, Cobra Billing statements, I-9 lists, Vets-100, AAP work force analysis, phone lists, etc. If there are reports you need that are not standard reports, ask about who will create them if you decide on that particular product. If you are going to be paying $100,000 for the HR system, you should expect that all your reports will be customized to your specs. If you are paying $500, expect that you will have to do it yourself. For a system somewhere in the middle, expect that you may get some of your custom reports as part of the transaction but more than likely, you will have to either learn to do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you.

Custom reports
In our many years of working with HR professionals, we have found that there are often certain reports that are essential to the way the company operates which are not usually part of the standard fare of most products. So the key concern is, “What do I need to do to get these reports?” Sometimes it is just a variation of a standard report, in which case: Can the standard report be easily copied and customized? In the case of !Trak-It software, the answer is “Select the standard report and click the Customize button.” It is that easy. Many systems do not offer such a facility, yet in our experience 90% of all custom reports are a variation of one of the more than 200 standard !Trak-IT HR reports. If the custom report has to be developed from scratch, how long does it take to learn to use the report writer and how much do you need to know about the data and design to get a good looking custom report?

Ease of learning
Be concerned with the ease of learning a new HR system for two very important reasons. First, you are going to have to learn to use it while doing all the other stuff you need to do, so you probably want “easy and intuitive” to keep your frustration level to a minimum. Second, you may not always be there or you may be fortunate enough to hire or have an assistant. How long will it take them to learn the system?

Ease of navigating within the system
Every system is different, every system is the same. All hr software systems keep track of who your employees are and various data items about them and their tenure with your enterprise. All systems collect this information on screens that have places for you to type in the data. All systems have different ways to navigate around between the screens and the fields on the screen. The important things to check out are: Does the software call things what you would call them? Is a screen called a screen or is it a window? Or is it a panel? Or is it a refrigerator? This may seem trivial, but it is important when you are trying to learn to use the system. If the designer calls the pieces or parts of the system by uncommon or unfamiliar names, you will quite often find yourself getting lost and frustrated. In a well designed system such as !Trak-It HR, we conform to the system standard conventions for navigating the top menu bar and drop down menus, but we also have short-cut keys for speedy, direct access to most screens. We implemented the Guide or HR Assistant screen that appears after you log in and reappears after you’ve gone to a screen and close it. It’s your friendly assistant screen with buttons that enable you to jump to a screen or report with one or two mouse clicks. By having more than one way to get to a screen or function, !Trak-It HR lets you use the software in the manner that is most comfortable to you.

Ease of setting up - how logical is it?
All Human Resource Software systems take some setting up. There is the installation of the software on your desktop computer or on your network. Then there is the setting up within the system. Other than client-server systems, the installation should simply be inserting a disk or downloading an installer and making a couple of selections to have the HR system install on your computer. That’s usually the easy part. Setting up all the tables within the system can take a lot of time, but it is time well spent because it will make your life so much easier later on. Who does the setup? That is a question to ask. Whoever does it will need a lot of information from you (if you are not the one doing it) such as, what do you call your departments? What are your job codes; salary grades; benefits etc. It is important in any system to spend the time setting up these code tables before you start entering your employee data so that once you start, you can focus on the data and not have to decide what to call something. So in this area of focus, find out what you have to do to set up these code tables in the system with your names for things and your business rules for vacations and your benefits and their formulae. The HR systems for small companies usually have fewer tables; the ones for bigger companies have more and sometimes more complex tables. In your investigation, this is definitely an area to consider to be sure you can live with the way the table creation and maintenance have been implemented.

No man is an island and neither is your HR Payroll system. The two primary interfaces to an HR system are payroll and time clocks. If these are important to you, then be sure you identify and understand exactly what information in your HR system can be sent to payroll and your clocks and what information they can send to the HR system. Then find out exactly who has to do what to make it work. For example, !Trak-IT HR can import and export via our Link option to many payrolls and payroll services, but we have often discovered that payrolls can’t always do the same. So HR can export but payroll can’t always import, so unless you get another payroll, trying to link them together is futile. The same holds true with time clocks. If this is an important issue to your search for the “right product” then make your lists of fields in common between the systems and verify that the data can be imported and exported as you desire.

HR Software Vendors As you will discover, there are multiple vendors to choose from. As with any business relationship, consider the persons you are dealing with; they are the ones that you will be going to for problem resolution, questions, etc. If you have a personality conflict or you feel you can’t trust them or they don’t interact with you in an acceptable, businesslike manner, don’t buy the product. If you have a problem with the people, then sooner or later you will be unhappy with the product.

Customer support
You are the customer. How does each vendor support you when you have questions, when your system crashes or when your data disappears? Call their technical support. How long were you on hold? How knowledgeable was the person you talked to? How did they make you feel? Try out a vendor’s technical support more than once; people do have “bad hair days” and there are always new tech support people being trained. The things to look for are: Did you get right through to tech support or if you left a message, did they get back to you in a timely fashion? Did you get the help you needed? Did you feel good in the process? Be aware that some companies will give you a “special” pre-sales tech support number or code so you get priority before you buy, but once the sale is made you get queued up while the cobwebs grow.

Bug fix policy
All software of any consequence has bugs so you need to investigate for yourself how a vendor handles the problem when you encounter a bug or other glitch. Is there a work around? Is there a patch? Can they email it to you? Do you have to wait for the next release? When will that be? How much will it cost? Each vendor has their own policies in these areas; usually the small companies can turn around a fix and get a new version out to you faster than a large company.

Your hardware
The computer you plan to use the software on should be the one you test it on. Find out what the recommended configuration is, not just the minimum required. If your computer does not have enough memory, disk space, or speed, then upgrade your hardware as part of getting a new HR system. If you plan to run the system on a network, test it on the network before you buy.

Cost of ownership
The cost of ownership can be easily overlooked in the evaluation of a new tool which is going to make your life better. Let’s start with the obvious: when you narrow your choices down, or even before that, get a price quote for what you think you want. Be sure to ask the sales person to suggest what they think you should get. This “double quote” can sometimes point out something you overlooked or did not clearly understand about a vendor’s configuration and pricing. You might also quickly discover that you are comparing peas to watermelons. After you get a quote, go over it to be sure you understand each item and what is included and more importantly, what is excluded. Watch for any options - some vendors have an initial low base price and then have all kinds of optional modules that can take the cost way up. Make sure you understand how multi-user systems are priced; some vendors charge by the seat, while others charge a flat price for unlimited, simultaneous users. Make sure you know which you are being quoted.

Find out about training, where it is held, how often, how much. There is a big difference between systems in this area. On the low cost end, there is usually no training available; in the middle expect telephone training; on the high end vendors expect to bill you 3 to 5 times the cost of the software license in training and installation charges. This can be a real big “gotcha”.

Recurring expenses
So you have your dream system up and running. What is it going to cost you to get the latest updates, upgrades and bug fixes? What is it going to cost you for access to the technical support group? Remember, as new releases come out, things change and you may need help to adjust or understand the changes. Technical support is your life line to keeping your HR system functioning in your environment without adding any gray hairs. Another possible cost to consider is that of training a new person. You could get promoted or win the lottery. How long will it take and what will it cost to get your successor up to speed?

HR software is a wonderful invention that has made the lives of multitudes of very nice but overworked HR people less frustrating and more productive. You, too, can enjoy the benefits of a new HR system to help you get un-frazzled. By making lists and knowing what to look for, you will find the “right product” at a reasonable price.

Article offered by John Enyedy at  !Trak-It HR