An Inside Look at HR Tech Success

Here are the internal issues organizations must address before achieving long-term success with an HR technology solution.

Last month’s column focused on the “success” theme while looking at the considerations and questions you should ask of prospective HR tech solution providers prior to purchasing any HR technology solution. This time around, we will look at some of the internal factors that are vital to customer success in HR tech.

The organizational elements of success with HR technology will be highlighted this September at the HR Technology Conference and Exposition® in Las Vegas, and the combination of information and best practices on these “outside” (or provider) elements–along with the “inside” (or organizational) elements–will provide HR and HRIT leaders with the foundation for overall HR tech success.

Here are a few of the key internal elements that organizations must address when planning, executing, evaluating and achieving long-term success with HR technology.

Creating the business case

Almost every organization’s HR technology initiatives require internal justification, a budget and executive support, and the means to define and secure these commitments is usually the business case. But for many HR leaders, preparing a technology-centric business case meant to form the basis for HR technology investments is not always easy.

Here are a few of the key questions that the HR technology program business case should answer.

The purpose: What specific business problem needs to be solved?

The importance: What is the negative impact or value of the missed opportunity by not solving this problem?

The benefit: Stated in quantitative terms, what happens to the business if we do solve this problem?

Potential approaches: What are some plausible ways to address the business problem?

Recommendations for action: What are the specific recommendations for next steps? Give special attention to how HR technology will support/drive the business problem’s solution.

Managing the vendor selection

Once the organization’s business case has been approved, perhaps the most interesting and difficult process begins: making a technology and vendor selection.  Successful organizations process through and address many of the following considerations when making such selections:

Identify “must-have” business requirements. Recognize the necessary business-critical capabilities–ones that directly impact the business problem your business case defines–so that you can ensure they can be supported by the selected technology solution.

Be honest about “nice-to-have” requirements. Take care to understand the difference between critical system capability and other functionality that some users may love but are not fundamentally important to support business processes and solve business problems. No HR technology solution will meet 100 percent of a company’s requirements. The key is knowing that not all requirements are the same.

Understand the internal factors for success. Who will be the users of this solution? What specifically are their needs? How is their ability and capacity to embrace and adopt new technology? Not all technology solutions are a “fit” with all organizations. Make sure your unique and specific organizational attributes are aligned with the technology provider.

Gather your candidates. There are increasing sources for HR leaders to create lists of potential solution providers for their HR technology evaluations. From traditional research reports, crowd-sourced software review sites, recommendations from peers, to previous experience with specific solutions, there is plenty of market information available. At HR Tech, we will help you understand how to make sense of all this information to help you narrow down the list that gives your program the best chance for success.

Assess the providers. Once the short list of technology providers has been created, HR leaders should approach assessment and evaluation in a thorough and consistent manner. Key considerations in this process include the ability of each provider to meet your prioritized requirements, how each solution matches or fits your organization’s user profiles and culture, how the provider aligns with your goals and vision, and finally, how you assess the provider’s willingness and ability to be a true business partner, not just a technology supplier.

Organizing and running the implementation

In last month’s column I made a reference to the idea that every successful HR technology project is very similar, and the ones that fail do so for their own reasons. Nowhere is this idea more relevant than in the HR technology implementation process.

We will dig into the details of best practices for HR technology implementation in September, but to give you a launching point now, here are some of the key success factors that are generally applicable to all types of HR technology implementation projects:

Understand it isn’t (totally) about the technology. A fundamental failing of many unsuccessful HR technology projects is that they focus primarily (sometimes exclusively) on the technology itself, and not enough about the people in the organization, and how they and their work processes will be affected by the new solution.

Build the project team carefully. While there is no magic formula for project-team composition, there are some guidelines that HR leaders are encouraged to follow.

First, for projects that will require substantial effort and time commitment, try to release internal team members from their day-to-day assignments so they can concentrate on project tasks. In my experience, the “day job” always takes precedence over the project tasks, especially for key resources.

Second, make sure the most impacted user groups are well-represented on the project team. For example, if the project will impact the front-line workers in the field, make sure you include representatives from this group in project planning, design, and testing.

Finally, define and stick to a well-understood and accepted process for raising project issues and how they will be resolved. Too many HR tech projects stagnate due to unclear roles and slow decision-making processes.

Engage the right sponsors. In the business case, you likely identified the executive sponsor(s) whose support would be needed to ensure success. Make sure these sponsors remain informed, engaged and visible throughout the project’s life cycle, as when times get tough along the way (and they almost always do), these sponsors will be needed to secure resources, rally organizational support, apply pressure to your solution provider and serve to inspire the project team.

Be realistic. One of the first technology project specific terms I learned was an idea called “scope creep.” This is the tendency to extend the project goals–either to implement more applications or engage more of the company’s users than planned for at the outset, to try and derive more immediate value and faster project ROI. The problem is that, while tempting, increasing or expanding the project scope almost always results in suboptimal outcomes. The project team feels stressed, things can be missed, and cost/time overruns are typical. Be realistic at the outset of the project and keep true to that reality.

Celebrate the wins. While the “go-live” date isn’t really the end of the project, make sure that once the project’s key milestones are met, you take time to reflect upon and celebrate the project team’s success to date. Often large, enterprise HR technology projects ask for many team member’s extra effort, sacrifice and even double duty if they are still expected to carry out their “real” jobs while simultaneously working on the HR technology implementation. Recognizing their efforts and acknowledging their success is the best way to keep up the enthusiasm for post-“go-live” support, user adoption and continuing project phases.

Change management and user adoption

Last month, we touched upon the fact that once the new system reaches its go-live date, the project isn’t completed, and in many ways, it is just beginning. Each HR tech project can only provide solutions to the business challenges described in its original business case, and projects only show a ROI once users begin to adopt the new system.

The keys to increased user adoption include an effective and frequent change- management and communication strategy, including a clearly defined “What’s in it for me?” proposition for workers. It’s also critical to offer clear and easy-to-use mechanisms to give users help and support. And, of course, it helps if the HR tech itself is compelling and maybe even fun to use.

At HR Tech, we will share more best practices for encouraging user adoption and provide tools to help HR leaders realize the benefits and financial ROI that the organization has planned on when launching the HR technology initiative in the first place.

Steve Boese, HR Tech Conference chair
Steve Boese
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at