Your Step by Step HRIS Decision

Too many choicesHR decision-makers eventually make a choice to shift from a fundamentally unstructured manual
maintenance Human Resources office to a Human Resources Information System (HRIS). The move
will reward you twice:

1. HRIS lets you be the best HR professional you can be, and
2. HRIS offers the business and employees cost-effective abilities and worker-friendly automation.

How to Get There
Making this paradigm shift is a long haul. Having taken on the risk to convince leadership, you are
tasked with research, HRIS comparison, preparation, and implementation. Weakness in fulfillment
can risk your career.

1. First Round Research
A personal brainstorming session will usually come up with a short list of vendors. Networking with
colleagues should include organizations larger than yours, visits with peer operations, and live demonstrations. Well established resources include the compare HRIS Selection ToolSHRM, and
IHRIM.  It’s still too early to meet with vendors, however you need to start building your case to
present to leadership.

2. Review the literature
Research should shorten the list of potential vendors who will gladly supply product literature. HRIS providers can be assertive and should be kept at arm’s length until the approach is structured. The prospect can always master the situation by specifying the detail desired. The literature should reveal experience with like businesses, similar size companies with the same promise of growth, and so on.

3. Assess Current Technology
Legacy Human Resources professionals lack experience or training in technology platforms. If the small business platform consists of the HR desktop, there is no problem. But, once you add companywide networks, mobile access, and complex IT processes, this presents bigger challenges.
There is the arcane vocabulary of stand-alone, client/server, mainframe, SaaS, UNIX, SQL, DB2, and much, much more. HR can - and will - eventually have to partner with the company’s IT people. HR leadership has to understand enough to push back. Absent such immersion, HR stands to lose control while still remaining accountable.

4. Inside or Out
Some management voices may want the IT department to create its own system. This challenge could distract and drain the focus and energy spent up to this point. Any disagreement has the potential to be public and emotional if it is driven by someone’s personal agenda.
Small and mid-sized businesses rarely have the internal IT resources to pull off such a project. Even fewer have the HR personnel with the IT expertise to define what they want and need. Among the objectives should be a partnership with IT that understands such collaboration is in the mutual interest of HR, IT, and the corporation as a whole.

5. Personal Picture
The new system will have to deliver HR’s goals and promises - administer records, track recruiting, sort and store, and produce reports as needed. If this is the entire HR vision, you will find there is an inventory of relatively simple in-house software programs. However, the move to an interface with an external payroll processor may be the first small step towards satisfying future needs. To this extent, it is basically a purchasing decision which may not involve more than securing the CEO’s authorization.

6. Team Play
However, once HR convinces executive leadership and operations partners of the values in a deeper and broader commitment, HR becomes the project manager who needs a quality team to help with goals, selection, and implementation. The size of the team varies with the size of the organization, but it cannot ignore any functional or demographic constituency. The quality of the decision depends on the maximization of these interests.
The collaboration of users and stakeholders strengthens the decision, installation, and implementation. Collaboration shares ownership and accountability, reducing surprises and dissent. The scale of the project cannot distract from other performance goals. Its calendar, membership, and structure have to reflect other business realities. Overall, the project is time and resource intensive, so it should not wear out its welcome.

7. Goal Setting
HR should propose, define, and justify the project. But, the team must develop the goals that reflect and respect the self-interest of different operations. Without the goals identified, discussed, and compromised, solutions can be misdirected.

  • What do other silos expect of HR software?
  • What cross functions are valued and doable?
  • What technology delivers the best and scalable system?
  • What work processes will improve, disappear, and change?
  • What new metrics are possible?
  • What advantages will each functionality experience?

Senior management, front-line supervision, and employee groups need to be a part of the goal setting for maximum effect, input, and buy-in.

8. The Really BIG Picture
HR has the first crack at satisfaction. Any new system must handle and improve all HR operations – in benefits, recruiting and tracking, payroll, and archiving. But, a new system also might run HIPPA compliance, COBRA administration, follow risk management, manage affirmative action, and more.
Finance will have its interests in payroll and taxes. Operations has strong interests in performance and assessment. IT wants integration, not competition. And, the CEO wants current reporting on talent management and labor costs.

9. Future Picture
All stakeholders want to know how the new system will handle future demands. Any system needs to grow with information volume and as integration needs multiply. If the system succeeds, the demand for more applications will grow. The team must consider where the business will be in five years and if the figuration is ready for the growth.

The future also demands security. As the system grows, security exposure increases. Any system must grow organically and securely. This is especially true if improved employee and managerial access is a goal. HR policy can manage some privacy, but most data deserves and needs the best of data security controls.

10. Budget Estimate
The switch to HRIS can mean the cost of software, hardware, and implementation. It is now time to develop written specifications that include:

  • Database and software licensing fees
  • Software maintenance.
  • Servers
  • Employee accessible kiosks and other hardware
  • Network upgrades
  • Training and communication
  • Third party consultants

11. Propose the Specs
The written specifications constitute a proposal that frames the project goal, details the team contributions, describes the technical readiness, and promises the deliverability. The specs form a proposal to leadership decision-makers and to the vendors including:

  • Broad picture of the business
  • Specifications on the software need
  • Description of the employee population
  • Definition of the current and future system functionality
  • Itemization on pricing: licensing, maintenance, training, support, etc.
  • Demand for customer case studies, references, and recommendations
  • Overview of customer support options
  • Review of sample contracts

12. Shop and then, Shop some more
Now is the time to invite vendors to respond to your specifications. One size does not fit all. The vendor response must address the specs or drop out of the competition. While the final decision may be the HR leader/Project Manager, the decision must reflect the analysis by the team. The team’s matrix of likes and dislikes, doubts and concerns, positives and negatives is the authorization to go forward on price.

13. Interview References
Reference responses to the same team concerns build a decision-base. Visits and demonstrations at reference sites add creditability. No visit is complete without full discussion of implementation problems and resolutions. 
The final decision is the CEO’s. S/he must be comfortable with the price, the strategic need, promised delivery, and the level of disruption to current systems and operations. The pitch has to be built around the felt needs and return on investment in improved productivity and efficiency.

Carolyn Sokol writes about issues that may affect small businesses such as human resources, HR management software, and HRIS systems. She is a founder of and contributor to, both of which help match businesses to the right HR or payroll service provider for their particular needs.

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