Want Cloud HR Software to Be a Breeze? Follow These Steps

For the best possible outcome, plan ahead, get input from multiple departments and don't stint on training.

January 30, 2013

If you're contemplating moving human resources functions from homegrown or other on-premise software to the cloud, here's advice from managers who've done it on making a smooth transition:

1. Assemble a cross-functional team. Invite managers from multiple departments to help develop the request for proposal, review vendor candidates and create a timeline for how software will be tested and rolled out. When LCS adopted cloud-based performance-review software, the Des Moines, Iowa, retirement center management company's educational resources director specifically tapped some bad apples who hadn't consistently used its existing paper performance-review form to be on the implementation task force.

"By having them have a piece of the ownership, I got some natural buy-in for the process," says Cynthia Thorland, director of educational resources at LCS. "They couldn't say HR and operations decided it."

2. Put your house in order. How closely do employees follow company policies? If managers or employees frequently skirt policies for performance reviews, expense reports or other HR processes, it could make moving to a less-customizable, less forgiving cloud service that much tougher, says Dan McConnell, talent management product manager at Mercer, the HR consulting firm. Clients Mercer has helped move to the cloud "were forced to implement policy training after the fact." As a result, the roll-out took three to six months longer than anticipated, McConnell says.

3. Focus on your problem, not the technology. Software vendors may try to win you over with snazzy features, but bells and whistles aren't worth much if they don't address the issues you're trying to solve. Build a business case for what you need and why, and then use it to evaluate what's out there.

4. Get support staff from your existing vendor, information technology department and cloud vendor to work together. If you don't speak geek, they'll be able to talk code and let you concentrate on other aspects of the change. When San Diego State University's Aztec Shops campus retail and concessions operations moved payroll, timekeeping and other HR functions from Kronos Inc.'s on-premise software to the vendor's cloud-based service, project/payroll manager Leah Messenger got her IT guy together with the existing software support team and the new cloud team. "The implementation team of your original system knows the ins and outs of it, and they can help the cloud team keep that integrity," Messenger says.

5. Don't change everything at once. When LCS switched from using paper performance reviews to SilkRoad technology Inc.'s cloud-based WingSpan software, the vendor's reps advised the company not to change its 16-year-old performance review form at the same time so as not to overwhelm managers and employees. "We didn't listen," Thorland says. Post-implementation surveys showed that employees hated the new, more complicated form.

6. Don't stint on training. Instructing employees and HR staff on how to use new software could cut down on implementation time. Mailing-equipment maker Pitney Bowes Inc. offered extensive manager and employee training as part of moving from Microsoft Excel and paper-based expense reports to cloud-based software from Certify. At launch, more than 2,000 employees attended approximately 30 Certify-led live webinar training sessions. The vendor held another 30 webinars for anyone who approved or processed expense reports. Staff who missed live trainings could see recorded sessions online, watch training videos embedded in the software, ask their managers for help or ask questions in a user-help forum on the company's Yammer page. After the new software debuted, the loudest complaints came from—can you guess?—people who hadn't taken any of the training sessions, says Joyce Taylor, a billing manager in Pitney Bowes global accounting operations.

7. Prepare for pushback. Switching to the cloud could lead to interdepartmental strife if IT positions get cut as a result or tech support staff need to be retrained to keep their jobs. It can also cause problems if a company is moving to the cloud at the same time it's undertaking other projects that will compete for resources and attention. "Change management is so important to start in the beginning, and something a lot of companies don't do," says Michael Krupa, a partner and technology strategist in Merce's talent business.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor. Comment below or email