Monday, June 11, 2012

First 2 (of 5) Often Overlooked Questions to ask your HR Technology Provider

As mentioned in my last post ... based on procuring and implementing the solutions of over 20 HR Technology vendors as a global HRIS practitioner (in the 80's and 90's), and then moving over to the solution provider side in various executive roles, I would urge all companies evaluating HR technology vendors to ask the following 5 often overlooked questions.

The first 2 of the 5 questions below are discussed in this post ... the next 3 in my subsequent post.

(1) Can you provide some data on how you've executed in recent years against your product roadmap?

(2) How do you define the word 'solution'?

(3) What are the various ways that you specifically ensure customer success?

(4) Which of your product capabilities would you say are "truly game-changing" if any, and can you provide examples of customers that have experienced this type of business impact?

(5) How do you deal with a situation where a large and strategic customer requests product changes or enhancements that would likely not be applicable to -- or leveraged by -- many other customers?

Can you provide some data on how you've executed in recent years against your product roadmap?

Product Roadmaps should be viewed as a general indication of the solution provider's R&D (not just product) priorities -- and associated timing of having those releases commercially available.  Most vibrant solution providers will (or at least should) be allocating a percentage (e.g., 10-15%) of their business analyst, development and marketing resources to researching totally new products, technologies, solution concepts, etc.  As customer and market demands change -- and business / economic conditions ebb and flow, Product Roadmaps are of course adjusted.

This is not a negative reflection on the solution provider --- IF --- adjustments can be explained in a way that don't raise other questions.  For example, if the solution provider consistently relies on explanations along the lines of "we under-estimated the complexity of the new functionality", that raises questions about their ability to estimate their development and testing efforts -- a core competency for development organizations.

Roadmap adjustments are totally normal, particularly if they are modest in nature; e.g., 1 or 2 quarters -- vs. a 2-year adjustment; although even a 2-year adjustment in a particular component of a release can have a legitimate explanation ... such as some other market-driven priority took its place. 

The key point here is that the absence of a Prodct Roadmap and supporting/accompanying set of processes for producing one that represents the "intersection of customer/market benefit, vendor benefit and true product innovation" is a much more telling and concerning issue than one that is adjusted after being published.

How do you define the word 'solution'?

Anytime an HCM / Talent Mgt software provider equates the word 'solution' with one thing -- e.g., "technology or software for automating a particular process", that is a preliminary indication that you are likely dealing with a vendor that is minimizing the many other critical components of a holistic and well conceived solution.  These include consulting and guidance as needed, data model construction and implications, process changes and best practices to be considered, analytics frameworks, integration with other systems and data repositories, change management and appropriate training (and marketing) to drive user adoption, addressing competency issues as needed, etc. 

A solution provider that doesn't have these other components of a total solution (i.e., for solving a business problem) on their radar, or in their customer interactions, has perhaps not evolved to the extent that the customer requires.  However, this dynamic can also be a function of the limited bandwidth of a smaller supplier -- in which case discussions should still be held with the customer to ensure all of these components are somehow accounted for in the implementation plan and have owners attached.

Steve Goldberg
HR Technology Advisor
June 2012

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