Three secrets to HR system implementation and selection



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7 mins

Choosing any HR system is a big decision. Make sure you get your HR system selection and rollout right with our top three secrets to a smooth launch process

HR technology is time-consuming to choose and implement, and requires a significant financial investment, too. Selecting the wrong HR software – and launching it badly – is therefore an expensive mistake to make.

Make sure your next HR system selection project goes smoothly with Ciphr’s top three secrets to successfully selecting and implementing an HR system.

1. Calculate the total cost of ownership

While much of the focus of IT projects is often on the cost of the initial software licence, the true cost of ownership spans the entire lifecycle of the product. The total cost of ownership for an HR system is likely to include:

  • Licence fees, which may increase annually
  • Implementation fees (ie the cost to tailor a system to your specific working environment). These fees will be influenced by numerous factors, including:
    • How much you choose to change the system – most organisations adapt new IT systems to the way they work, and how much it costs to do so will depend in part on the way the system was designed. In particular, it’s important to establish how much your needs can be met through configuration (eg changing fields and screens) rather than customisation, which involves changes to the underlying software code. Extensive customisation can be expensive and may complicate future upgrades
    • How much integration work is required to connect the central HR system to other HR, L&D and business applications, so you can create an integrated HR and payroll system, for example
  • Training costs, which can come under pressure when budgets are squeezed. But opting not to invest in staff training is often a false economy, because training significantly affects HR administrators’ buy-in and efficiency. Your HR system provider might offer unlimited HR user training for a fixed fee, which can work out as more cost-effective than ‘pay as you go’ training courses
  • Costs for ongoing technical support

2. Opt for a phased rollout

The ‘big bang’ approach to IT rollouts has fallen out of favour recently, with many organisations preferring to phase in new elements of HR systems over a defined period of time rather than launch everything at once.

This gradual approach allows organisations to pilot new modules within the HR system with small groups of users so they can iron out any technical problems, as well as identify any changes to existing processes that might be required as part of the wider HR system implementation. You might also choose to introduce the elements of the system that tackle the biggest pain points first, enabling you to get some ‘quick wins’ under your belt before moving on to the functionality that requires more implementation work and has a longer-term pay off.

Prioritising which elements of an HR system to introduce first can be tricky; conducting your own internal research will shed some light on what you should focus on first. Consider:

  • Surveying staff in the HR, payroll, and L&D functions, as well as line managers in other departments, to uncover their biggest bugbears. Identifying problems and bottlenecks not only helps you to build a roadmap for implementation, but also helps to establish the business case for investment, as well as generate buy-in from crucial stakeholders
  • Conducting resource analysis. Which transactional activities take up most time in the HR function during a ‘normal’ week? Which are the easiest to automate?
  • Analyse support queries. What are the top 10 most common enquiries, and which of them take up most of HR’s time? How many of them could be solved simply by posting an FAQ on your intranet or HR system?

Opting for a phased rollout also enables you to tailor your project plan as the needs of your organisation changes. For example, you might not need a learning management system right now, but 12 months on from initiating an HR system project, your company might have grown to a size and complexity that requires an integrated HR and LMS system.

3. Engage with users and prioritise functionality they care about most

One of the most common causes of failure in IT projects – including HR systems projects – is a lack of buy-in from stakeholders throughout the company. This is a particular risk for self-service HR system projects, where the whole rationale behind implementation is to reach out beyond the HR function and encourage participation at every level of the organisation.

There are a number of well-established techniques to encourage adoption, including:

  • Involving representatives from relevant parts of the organisation. Self-service projects shouldn’t get bogged down in lengthy consultations, but building an inclusive steering committee right from the outset helps broaden buy-in
  • Harnessing critical users and enthusiasts at the start of the project and letting them shape your plans. These ‘power users’ play a big role in evangelising the concept and assisting with the rollout
  • Focusing on the people who matter most in a change management process – not those with the loudest voices. Management consultant Michael Hammer argued that in any change management project 20% of people will be enthusiastic, 20% will fight it and 60% will be undecided. Most organisations focus on the 20% who resist it – but the battle is really won by convincing the 60% who are on the fence
  • Carrying out usability testing
  • Generating quick wins that bring tangible benefits to end-users and senior managers, as well as to the HR or finance department. Encouraging staff to update their personal information and emergency contact details online not only helps your organisation to comply with the requirements of the GDPR, but is also an effective way of increasing adoption rates. Switching to online payslips or managing absence through the HR self-service portal can have a significant impact on usage rates as well

The order in which self-service applications are implemented can be crucial. Allowing employees to change their name and address, for example, is relatively simple, but it’s also quite low value, since workers tend to move house fairly infrequently. Distributing payslips online, in contrast, is a simple one-way transmission process, yet it has tangible benefits for all staff – including HR and payroll teams.

It’s also important to bear in mind that different employees have different priorities: these drivers will need to be aggregated and weighted. For example, speed and process efficiency will appeal to some, while others will appreciate 24/7 access to the HR system. Organisations that conduct extensive surveys of their workforce before rolling out a new HR system are often surprised by the findings, so this kind of preparation is critical for delivering long-term results.

Finally, while these issues are important for securing buy-in, organisations should also prepare themselves for the opposite reaction: overwhelming enthusiasm. Many self-service adopters have found that once employees and line managers begin to see tangible benefits in one area, demand for new services rapidly escalates faster than they can be delivered.


Getting your HR system selection and implementation right takes a lot of planning work upfront. Fail to prepare, and you should be prepared to fail, as the old saying goes. Understanding your organisation’s needs (now, and in the future), and stakeholders’ requirements, is crucial if you are to avoid making the most common HR system selection mistakes and choose the best HR system for your organisation. In fact, why not check out our HRIS requirements checklist to help you get started?

If your considering choosing HR software, want to benchmark your HR software against the market, or simply want to find out how Ciphr’s integrated HR, payroll, recruitment and LMS systems can help your organisation meet its goals, contact us now to arrange a demonstration of our solutions.

This article was first published in August 2018. It was updated in November 2022 for freshness, clarity, and accuracy.