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HR Software Questions You Should Ask Before Buying

April 1, 1998
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Featured Article
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SSESSMENT OF NEEDS:

HR professionals and software vendors alike agree that the first step in researching HR software is understanding your current processes, foreseeing your future needs and knowing what goals you would like to achieve with the software. Use the questions below to help with this process.

Bob Conlin
Director of Marketing, Cort Directions, Inc., Bend, Oregon

"The first question an HR professional should ask a software vendor is, ‘Do you understand our specific requirements and what it is we’re trying to accomplish with new software?’ You need to make sure the vendor is addressing specific needs, not showing you a laundry list of features and functions in which you may or may not have an interest."

Paul J. Farr, Sr.
Director of Human Resources, Community Health and Counseling Services, Bangor, Maine

"Does the software meet the detailed performance specifications that HR has already developed through the input of all who will use the product?"

Althea D. Heyneman
Customer Relations, Technical Difference, (the creators of People-Trak ), Bonsall, California

"Can this software affordably meet all my HR needs? Some software limits the number of employees who can be entered, so HR needs to plan for growth."

John L. Miller
Director of Marketing & Sales, Presenting Solutions, Oakland, California

"Will this software make or save us money?"

Bob Hampel
Human Resources Manager, Bexar County Government, San Antonio, Texas

"How well have you identified what your needs and wants are, and how well do you understand the current business processes? If you know the answers, then it would be just a matter of asking specific questions of the vendor."

Carrie Ferrer
Director of Human Resources, Sage U.S., Inc. (Sage U. S. Inc. is part of The Sage Group plc., a PC accounting software publisher), Dallas, Texas

"HR has an important role within a company to be a leader in maximizing revenue and decreasing expenses. Ask, ‘How can this software help our company achieve these goals by helping us become more productive?’"

John Enyedy
President, !Trak-It Solutions, Citrus Heights, California

"Software is designed for a target-sized company with a particular set of features—one size does not fit all. So determining the target-sized company and the client’s needs is important in determining if a software product is right for your company."

COMPATIBILITY:

There’s not much worse than investing time and money into new software, only to find out it doesn’t work with other programs you al-ready have in place. Following are questions software vendors and HR professionals suggest you ask regarding software compatibility.

Fred Giles
Vice President, Pinkerton Services, Charlotte, North Carolina

"Will the software work with my current hardware, network and data? This requires not only compatibility, but also the ability to be integrated into the organization’s mix of related programs."

Wendy Wilson
Learning Facilator, Office of State Revenue (NSW Treasury), Parramatta, New South Wales

"What types of platforms can it be run on? Is it Windows 95 compatible?"

Carrie Ferrer
Director of Human Resources, Sage U.S., Inc. (Sage U. S. Inc. is part of The Sage Group plc., a PC accounting software publisher), Dallas, Texas

"Is our existing technology compatible or would we be required to upgrade our internal systems?"

Wendy C. Tiller
Human Resources Consultant and President, Employee Development Strategies Inc., Plantation, Florida

"Is the software platform/architecture compatable with your organization’s IS system?"

Bob Conlin
Director of Marketing, Cort Directions, Inc.,

Bend, Oregon

"How will the software interface with other business systems? Human resources is not a stand-alone function—it should interface on an enterprise level with other systems, like payroll, time and attendance, point of sale, and so on. HR should think big picture when evaluating new software."

CUSTOMIZATION/UPGRADING:

Because no two HR departments are created equal, the consensus is that HR software must be customizable. Also, despite the best attempts at foreseeing future needs, HR requires software that can be upgraded as goals change. Here are questions to assess for these traits.

Jim Spoor
Founder and President, SPECTRUM Human Resource Systems Corporation, Denver, Colorado

"Explain to me what’s involved in adapting your software to fit my current business rules and methodologies. How easy is it to further modify the software as my business rules change?"

Ian Kessler
Manager of Human Resources and Staff Development, Investment Company Institute, Washington, D.C.

"How often do upgrades come out for the product? This may lead to trouble for customization that has been done."

Gretchen Artig-Swomley
President, SoftLink, Inc., Maplewood, Minnesota

"Ask about the number of functional options offered by the software package. This is an important first step in deciding if it’s right for your company’s needs. Can the software do what you need it to do? How well? Will more functions be added in the future? These are all appropriate questions."

Wendy Wilson
Learning Facilator, Office of State Revenue (NSW Treasury), Parramatta, New South Wales

"Can the system be customized to meet the organizational needs? Can we build and add new screens and fields? Are upgrades included in the annual maintenance contract?"

Carrie Ferrer
Director of Human Resources, Sage U.S., Inc. (Sage U. S. Inc. is part of The Sage Group plc., a PC accounting software publisher), Dallas, Texas

"We need to ask how HR can customize or integrate this software into existing programs (like payroll or HRIS) to further enhance our ability to positively impact the bottom line."

Paul J. Farr, Sr.
Director of Human Resources, Community Health and Counseling Services, Bangor, Maine

"How easy is it to update the software when new releases are issued and can the source code be added to for customization at later dates?"

Joseph A. Orban, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Product Technology, Workforce Development Group of NCS, Rosemont, Illinois

"Is the software released and what’s the version number? This will help avoid vapor ware, a slang term for the promoting/advertising of software before it’s available for use. Also, how long has it been on the market in its current release?"

REFERENCES:

Software vendors and HR purchasers of software both agree that the company from which you purchase is as important as the product. Here are the questions they recommend you ask your vendors and their clients.

Scott Scherr
Founder, President and CEO, The Ultimate Software Group Inc. (US Group), Fort Lauderdale, Florida

"Ask who the people are behind the product. Who developed it, and who implements and supports it? Developing and maintaining reliable HRMS/payroll software requires highly specialized expertise and the ability to re-main abreast of frequently changing regulatory requirements. When the software vendor focuses on developing only HRMS/payroll functionality rather than on a broad spectrum of products, you have a much greater probability of accuracy, timeliness and depth in the software."

John L. Miller
Director of Marketing & Sales, Presenting Solutions, Oakland, California

"Who else is using this software effectively, and what have been their results?"

Ian Kessler
Manager, Human Resources and Staff Development, Investment Company Institute, Washington, D.C.

"What’s the average size of customers? How many companies have stopped using the product in the current year?"

Mike Kovatsh
Human Resources Consultant, Kitchener, Ontario

"Who else is using the product? Get references. Check out their platforms. Go for site visits! Ask lots of questions!"

Gretchen Artig-Swomley
President, SoftLink, Inc., Maplewood, Minnesota

"It’s smart to ask other clients which aspects of the software they’ve found most helpful. Their experiences can help you learn more about the software and its features."

Bob Conlin
Director of Marketing, Cort Directions, Inc., Bend, Oregon

"Can you show me your software performing the tasks we’ve described as essential? If you see the software doing the things you identify as essential, you’ll feel more comfortable purchasing and implementing the system. Buying software that you hope will work can leave you frustrated with both your vendor and your software decision."

TRAINING/SERVICE/SUPPORT:

Software is useless if you don’t know how to use it—or fix it. Vendors and HR professionals suggest you ask the following questions to assess a vendor’s service and support abilities before purchasing the product.

Deborah I. Gosa
Administrative Secretary, Human Resources, Blackhawk Technical College, Janesville, Wisconson

"What’s the learning curve estimated to be, and what manuals are available for reference?"

Fred Giles
Vice President, Pinkerton Services, Charlotte, North Carolina

"How much will my staff have to use this software to become competent, and will special training be required? Also, evaluate their user-support capabilities to determine if your people will have access to live tech-support personnel, or be limited to e-mail support or even program documentation."

Joseph A. Orban, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Product Technology, Workforce Development Group of NCS, Rosemont, Illinois

"Are there any resources available to help solve problems, such as technical support, help files, manuals and at-home service? Is the support free or is there an extra charge? For how long after the purchase does the support remain available?"

Wendy Wilson
Learning Facilator, Office of State Revenue (NSW Treasury), Parramatta, New South Wales

"What type of service and support are provided by the software supplier?"

Scott Scherr
Founder, President and CEO, The Ultimate Software Group Inc. (US Group), Fort Lauderdale, Florida

"Ask what the company’s turnover rate is. When turnover is low, you’ll find knowledgeable, consistent help when you need it. Ask to visit the vendor’s headquarters. See for yourself who will be supporting you."

Wendy C. Tiller
Human Resources Consultant and President, Employee Development Strategies Inc., Plantation, Florida

"Does the vendor provide on-going technical support? If so, what is the annual maintenance fee and what’s included? If not, is there a third party that provides technical support? What’s the fee?"

John Enyedy
President, !Trak-It Solutions, Citrus Heights, California

"What do I do when I need help? The answer, in most cases, is to call tech support. The things to be aware of are: Is there a special pre-sales number that gets you faster response before you buy? Be sure to try out the normal number a few times to see how fast you get through and how helpful and courteous the Help Desk is. Remember, everyone has a bad-hair day, so don’t make a judgment until you call a few times at different times during the day."

Gretchen Artig-Swomley
President, SoftLink, Inc., Maplewood, Minnesota

"Before you commit to a package, find out the extent of services the vendor offers to its clients. If they can’t be there when you need help running a report, you might need to find a third-party vendor who can."

Paul J. Farr, Sr.
Director of Human Resources, Community Health and Counseling Services, Bangor, Maine

"What’s the remedy if we find that the vendor-supplied training is inadequate and not as agreed upon?"

HIDDEN COSTS:

Last but definitely not least, our vendors and HR professionals urge you to decipher all costs before committing to any software purchase. Ask these questions.

Mike Kovatsh
Human Resources Consultant, Kitchener, Ontario

"What are all the costs (up-front purchase/ lease costs, ongoing maintenance costs, and hidden costs of hardware/software upgrades, including staff to perform the upgrade)?"

John Enyedy
President, !Trak-It Solutions, Citrus Heights, California

"How much is it really going to cost me for installation and training to actually get up and running? Less expensive systems often are easy to install and use, and you can do it yourself, whereas some of the more expensive systems can require three to five times the license fee to actually get up and running. Be sure to check this out and include it in your budget.

"How computer/software literate are you and your staff? The more you can do for yourself, the less it will cost."

Althea D. Heyneman
Customer Relations, Technical Difference, (the creators of People-Trak ), Bonsall, California

"What’s the cost of technical support and software updates?"

Jim Spoor
Founder and President, SPECTRUM Human Resource Systems Corporation, Denver, Colorado

"Ask the vendor to outline the total cost of ownership of your software for the first two years, including all costs for hardware and software acquisition, implementation, conversion, customization, maintenance, training, HR staffing and IT/IS support requirements."

Workforce, April 1998, Vol. 77, No. 4, pp. 79-80.

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