23 October 2018

Q&A: “You can’t choose HR software just by asking for recommendations on LinkedIn”

HR technology expert Kate Wadia tells Ciphr why choosing a solution requires more work than simply asking your peers what they use, and the five signs you might need different HR software


Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery.


HR transformation Technology


HR technology expert Kate Wadia tells Ciphr why choosing a solution requires more work than simply asking your peers what they use, and the five signs you might need different HR software

When Kate Wadia, now managing director of Phase 3 – a specialist HRIS consultancy and services firm – was first tasked with leading an HR systems project as part of her in-house HR role, she “thought that was something you just did as an HR person. I found it wasn’t quite so easy; it was a desperately dark art”. So Wadia set about teaching herself about technology in her spare time – eventually setting up her own user groups and joining the team at Phase 3 in 2014.

Wadia tells Ciphr why HR professionals need to look beyond glossy tradeshows in their quest to find the right HR software, how to tell if you need to upgrade your tech, and why tender processes don’t always lead to the best result. 

How can an HR team go about identifying a need for HR technology?

These days, I think the need for technology is kind of made. Organisations still have to translate that need into a real business case, which is where a lot of help and support is needed – in quantifying that need on paper, and making a tangible case in your own context. That remains a difficulty. But the actual pain of manual systems or old legacy systems, or of convoluted integrations or customisations, tends to create an impetus to go out there and look for a product. 

What are some of the signs that an existing HR solution is no longer fit for purpose?

Rapid organisational growth is going to be a driver for systems change in many, many cases. If you still have an on-premise solution, then the move to cloud is pretty obvious these days for many, but not all, organisations. Indeed, if your system is not operating on some sort of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) or PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) model, then you probably need to be looking at those kinds of shifts in your licence model.

Other signs might be the pain of outdated systems in your office: manual processes and payroll teams spending hours and hours doing manual calculations, for example; if you have disparate data sources with lots of spreadsheets floating around; or none of your communications being done in-system. Too much customisation of process and of a system might also lead to increased system decay and unsuitability. In some cases, there might even be an irretrievable breakdown in your relationship with your software provider. 

What are the best ways of understanding if a product might be the right fit for your organisation?

It’s well worth going to exhibitions and tradeshows because you get a feel for the current themes, and the choice that’s available on the market. What you don’t necessarily get at these events is a thorough representation of that particular product, especially when it comes to personnel; if you think about the types of people at those events, firstly, they are just one individual, and, secondly, they are unlikely to be working on your project.

You are much better off looking at objective sources of information – such as referrals, testimonials and reviews – and getting under the skin of the actual products.

It’s also vital to work from your own particular requirements. I would never recommend the sorts of conversations I see on LinkedIn: asking your peers “what system do you think is best?” I’m an expert in this field and I can’t recommend one to someone on LinkedIn or in response to a ‘quick’ email. System selection just doesn’t work that way. It is an area where there is under-investment by many organisations. 

Who are you seeing leading in-house HRIS projects: HR, IT or procurement teams?

Who owns the projects of choosing and implementing an HR product is a really interesting question. One mistake we at Phase 3 quite often hear about is a project being far too IT dominated, or procurement dominated. I think the procurement teams can help a great deal, because they tend to have the type of skillset that HR people aren’t terribly good at. But I think if the system is to be a people system, the project needs to be led by the ‘people’ people. 

What are some of the key causes of failed HR systems projects?

Scoping matters hugely. You have to understand expectations on all sides, which can be difficult if you are a less technical person who is owning the project. There will be a lack of familiarity – with the nature of different types of consultancy and what support you can expect; with what to expect of certain system modules; with how difficult different bits of the project work are; with the costs involved; and with the timeframes. The deeper an understanding you can have of your requirements, and what you’re expecting to achieve, the better. 

Are tender processes useful for helping to understand the scope of a project?

They can be enormously valuable, but they need to be well managed. Too often I think they are managed to a generic formula that’s intended to suit the broader concept of technical implementation – rather than people technology specifically. More important information in your tender than a 400-item checklist should be your particular context – the things that differentiate your organisations’ needs from those of other ones.