A Few Human Resources Software Implementations That Went Very Bad!

With my prior business of ten years, I owned a Human Resource Software reseller business. We sold, supported, and provided consulting services on other human resource software vendor’s systems. I sold the clients from that business in the fall of 2008 to work full time on CompareHRIS.com. Looking back I can safely say that 90% plus of our implementations had no issues; oh, but there were those few that make me cringe to this day. I wanted to outline a few of the problem implementations with this article and hopefully save a few of our readers from the same mistakes I made.

“No, I’m the Human Resources Software Master” 

My first Human Resource Management software project was with a 150 employee not-for-profit that had purchased only our human resources software and five days of consulting services to setup the product and train the staff. On the first day, I asked who was going to be the “master” user of the human resource software system. I used the term “master” only because it was the default user ID for the sample data within the system. I would never use that term again. The director of IT and the Human Resources director got into a heated conversation on why each of them should be the human resources software “master” user. For whatever reason the term “master” created a testosterone power trip between the two of them. I’m not kidding. In fact, the conversation became so heated that the IT director walked out and quit.

The HRMS was not installed, I had traveled to another state, and I did not have network access to get the software installed. We ended up finding an ex-employee who was able to come in and assist with getting the product installed. Not using a term like “master user” was not something they covered in my certification class on the human resources software system. What’s the lesson to be learned from this one? I have no idea other than sometimes adults will not act as such. Sometimes implementation consultants walk into political issues for which they are unprepared. If you implement Human Resources Information System Software or any type of business software, don’t get caught up in this mess. Do your job, finish it, and move on to a, hopefully, more pleasant project.

Who’s to blame when things go bad with a human resources software implementation? 

A few years back, we were chatting with an approximately 400 employee nursing home who was interested in human resources software, Payroll, and time collection. We had the products and the experience to implement the HR Payroll software. For the time collection system, I had to reach out to a company who had a system that integrated with the other products. I never worked with this vendor but had known them for years, at least by name. My implementation expert had implemented time systems in the past but not the one we ended up selling to the prospect. The time collection system vendor assured us before the deal was signed that they would be able to work remotely with my consultant to make sure the product was installed without a hitch. On the first day, and a number of days into the project, my consultant pre-scheduled time with the vendor, drove several hours to the client site where the consultant would call the vendor at a scheduled time.  However, the consultant would not receive an answer or even a return call. I’d call, leave nasty messages, and still not receive a return call. It’s not good to have a $150 an hour billable consultant sitting around waiting for a return call. This is the sort of thing that makes clients, or anyone else involved, less than pleased.

We obviously went over budget, I ate a large percentage of the cost, and the time clock vendor blamed my consultant for the overrun and did so successfully. The time clock vendor was far more interested in deflecting blame than actually fixing the problem. If anyone was to blame, it was me since I was the one who selected the vendor in the first place. No big surprise here but I never worked with that vendor again. My obvious mistake was not adequately checking references on the vendor. Had I talked to other resellers who had used his service I might have been warned not to work with him. Looking back at it I can’t help but say my mistake was not one that should have been made by an experienced reseller. The project was eventually completed but not without a lot of yelling, nasty emails, and a lot of blame being slung.

If a blame game starts, someone needs to step in and put an end to it and pull the parties together to make sure a solution is created. It’s sort of like dealing with children; someone needs to be the adult. If you have a project consultant planning the implementation, that’s their job. If not, it may end up falling on either IT or HR to pull the parties together to come up with a solution. The cliché of letting cooler heads prevail is very true in this situation.

“It’s not our human resources software; it’s a conflict on the client’s network”

On a few occasions, we would run into serious problems getting human resources software to install on a client’s network and we wouldn’t know why. This can become a blame game ugly mess. The vendor blames the client’s network, the client blames the vendor’s human resources software, and the consultant is left to come up with a solution and, hopefully, not get too caught up in the blame game. On some occasions, we had no other choice but to come up with a solution because the vendor had a no return policy. In other words, if the client could not get the human resources software to install, even if it was a software issue, we would have to eat the cost. Obviously, that was a policy I was not real pleased with.

The best solution I have to this problem is let the consultant and your IT staff work together to come up with a solution. That’s what you pay those guys for. Realize this is one of those situations where the project will likely exceed budget but it’s probably not anyone’s fault. In fifteen years, I never encountered a situation where we could not get a product to install. We might have had to set things up differently than originally planned or had to use another server or dedicate a server to the application but we were always able to find a work around to the problem.

I was over my head in Payroll

I’m almost embarrassed to tell this last story. It might make me look like an idiot but at least I’m smart enough to learn from my mistake. It’s important to note that I never again implemented or personally performed any consulting service on any type of HR Payroll software after this incident.

About six months after I became a human resources and payroll software reseller, I sold my first big payroll sale to a 600 employee out of state credit union. This was also going to be my first payroll software implementation. I thought I was prepared because after all I had sold this system for five years; I had taken the certification class and passed a test with flying colors at the end of the class. Also, a few years earlier, I took a CPP (Certified Payroll Professional) class, though I never took the test. By those standards, I believed I was prepared for my first payroll software implementation. Oh, was I wrong.

I started with my comfort zone the first week and set up the Human Resource Software portion without a hitch. In the second week, I started setting up payroll, not my comfort zone. At first, things went pretty well but it soon became evident to me, and the payroll person, I had no clue what I was doing. There were areas of the setup that I just did not know how to handle. There were payroll compliance questions that came up that I did not have an answer for. For awhile, I tried to fake it but I was in over my head. It’s true that there is no substitute for experience. I told the client I would not bill for the days spent by me on the payroll software and I brought in an experienced payroll implementation expert to complete the install.

After she had successfully completed the project, I asked her “Just how bad was it?” I had known the consultant for years. She is the type of person that had the ability to offer the worst news or strongest opinions in an inoffensive manner.  She’s sort of like a technical Reba McEntire, complete with the red hair and the accent. On this project, however, she pulled no punches and told me to never install a payroll software application again and I didn’t. From that day forward, I hired experienced consultants for any and all payroll work.

I now tell prospects to not only check references on the human resources software but to also check references on whoever will be implementing the software.

Everyone has to have their first ten installs of a HR and Payroll product, just don’t let it be you.

When it comes to implementing human resources software, payroll software or any type of large business software application, there is absolutely no substitute for experience. Is five installs enough? The answer is maybe with a simple human resource management software system for a small organization but not with a payroll product or an HR System for a large company. Find out who will be in charge of implementing your system and ask for references and how many implementations they have performed. If their experience or references do not meet your requirements, request a different implementation consultant and check references for them. Without reservation, I can say that the majority of time that these projects go poorly is a direct result of the experience of the person implementing it.

I’m sure if I thought about it, I could come up with a few more examples but going down this memory lane is making me a little uneasy. I hope from my unease, you are able to learn from a few of the seemingly obvious mistakes I made. If you’ve implemented these types of systems, I’d love to hear your experiences as well.

About the Author

Clay Scroggin worked in the HR and Payroll software Industry for more than fifteen years. During that time Clay, and those who worked for him, assisted hundreds of HR professionals with their HR software sales and implemention needs. In 2007 Clay began working on Comparehris.com, a site dedicated to assisting HR professionals with their search, selection, implementation and use of HR systems. The site contains several tools to assist HR professionals, HR Articles and includes industry leaders such as Sage HRMS, Ceridian, ADP Workforce Now.