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Five Easy Steps to Choosing the Right HR Package

Most HR managers agree that purchasing a feature-rich, easy-to-use HR automation program is a smart investment. Automation can eliminate hours of time spent each month tracking performance reviews, vacation accruals, benefits, compensation, applications, and other items. In addition, automated reporting cuts staff hours even further; provides management with timely, accurate reports it needs to operate efficiently; and makes HR a vital, visible part of the organization.

Finding the right software package, and the right company to help you through the conversion process, is a critical step in easing into automation. Laying out a systematic game plan that leads you through the process should include:

1. Determine the needs, requirements, and desires of your company ¾ including budget parameters.

2. Research the available software packages within the price range and request demo software on each likely package.

3. Test the software against your company’s requirements.

4. Ask questions about the package, support, implementation, and pricing.

5. Make a decision .

Determine company needs
The rule here is "know your company." The more you understand about the company’s current needs, its growth rate, and its strategic plan, the better able you will be to match a software program to those needs. The first things to consider are company size, growth, and turnover rates. Most important, find out what other software your company is using for payroll and other internal functions to ensure anything you purchase will interface easily with existing programs. Also, know your company’s database and multi-user requirements.

By talking with others in the human resource department and company management, you can put together a comprehensive list of needs by priority. The category of "nonnegotiables" may include budget concerns, compatibility with existing software, and certain critical functions. When you begin your search, you should immediately disregard those programs that do not meet those basic criteria.

Research available software
The second step is to find out what’s available. Laila Allen, an HR professional who has helped companies automate their human resource function, prefers using a three-pronged approach. "I start by looking at recent HR publications to determine what issues are being discussed and who is advertising products that seem to meet my needs. I also ask other colleagues and search the Internet for other product offerings. When I have compiled a list of potential products, I begin contacting all the prospective companies to request software demos."

This is a time when you should weed out any products that do not meet your nonnegotiable requirements for price, function, or compatibility.

Test driving the software
Generally, you should test for six things: actual ability to integrate with current software, ease of learning, simplicity of data entry, function performance, flexibility, year 2000 compliance, and reporting capabilities. If you have a critical need, be sure to test that section of the software most thoroughly. In addition, you should spend some time trying to create custom reports and personalize the system to make sure it will conform easily to your real-world needs.

Another area to look at is flexibility. If your company is growing, it is critical to assess how easily and how far a program can expand. The last thing you want to do is upgrade to a larger, more powerful system shortly after having completed the conversion process.

Last, it’s very smart to test the software company’s support to see how well the products are supported. According to Allen, "Sometimes I was able to call them directly, other times I had to go through the sales person. Talking to the help desk is very valuable, since that’s the group you’ll be dealing with after the sale."
As you test each product, make a checklist of the key plus and minus points for every program ¾ and always look for the best price/performance ratio.

Ask questions
Verify your findings by talking with each of the references supplied by the companies. Where possible, speak with the person responsible for actually implementing the program. That will quickly reveal a depth of information about the program that you might otherwise find out the hard way.

When talking with the software salesperson, look for areas of potential concern. For example, Allen found that when she asked about future enhancements to the program, sales people often told her what was missing from the current package. In addition, ask questions of the technical support staff such as "What is the most common problem people run into during implementation?" or "What functions of the program do people most often ask you about?"

Pricing is another area that may require probing. Software companies typically meet the varying needs of companies by creating software modules. Also, technical support is sometimes included with the package and sometimes offered at an extra charge after a certain amount of time. Avoid pricing tiers based on employee counts as rapid growth will force you to upgrade prematurely.

Finally, there’s the question of implementation. Some companies provide onsite support, others offer training classes, and still others provide only a phone number to call. Of course, the more attention available, the easier it will be to make the transition. On the other hand, each level of implementation support will likely reflect on the real price of implementation.

Though often presented as a tedious and difficult process, implementation is frequently very simple. Remember, you are simply automating something that already exists, not recreating the department. As a rule, the better organized a department is, the easier and faster it is to automate.

Make a decision
While this five-step process may seem lengthy, making the decision follows naturally from the steps. By the time you reach this point, the winner is usually clear. And by following the steps you may save considerable time during the conversion process because you gain familiarity with the products and the process of automating. You will also have an established relationship with a company before you begin the conversion and can make training arrangements to get started right away.

Jim Witschger is the founder and CEO of Technical Difference, creators of PEOPLE-TRAK™ software, a human resource software program designed to offer companies a feature-rich, affordable alternative to high-priced programs. Witschger has 10 years’ experience working in the human resource software field and 19 in software research development.

Reprinted from December, 1998 Workforce Extra

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