Employee Benefit News: What fundamental advice do you give companies looking for a technology consultant?
Manning: More companies today are expecting that the consultant they pick is going to be a partner in the long-term. So they need to ask: Do they share my company values? Should there be uncertainties or change, can they evolve with us and partner with us, as opposed to more of just a transactional service level agreement? It’s important because these are bigger commitments that are supposed to be enabling business strategy.
EBN: Has the typical purpose of an engagement with an HR technology consultant changed in recent years?
Manning: Yes, a lot of the work has shifted quite a bit with the move toward software as a service, and operating in the cloud. In the past, enterprise software often required a systems integrator to implement the technology. They had to understand what your particular business complexities and customizations would require. But with the move to the cloud, all of that started to become configurable, so system developers would build the software for everyone that was using it and then, over time, add new capabilities and options. But now you can’t do that much customization, so the needs are different.
EBN: Of course HR leaders still need support on system selection, or choosing a platform if they’re zero-basing their HCM strategy, right?
EBN: But if I’m open to considering all platform alternatives, I wouldn’t want to work with a consultant who’s in a marketing relationship with one of them, would I?
Manning: There are consultants that only do sourcing and selection — and will not be involved in the implementations — to preserve that objectivity. And then certainly there are plenty that do the implementation work, and some of them will do other work around that like transformation of your processes or your HR operating model.
EBN: What about getting help more at the nuts-and-bolts level?
Manning: A lot of companies that moved to the cloud thought that the software provider was going to be doing a lot of the HR IT administration. They do certainly host servers and do some of the logistics of simply uploading the code, but you still do have to manage the applications. So now some of the consulting firms will also do application management services. After the initial implementation, after the go-live, they will — for their own type of subscription fees — be engaged with the updates that can come every month, you know, certainly every quarter or twice a year.
EBN: That must come as a bit of a shock.
Manning: That’s right. The provider will push the software out there, but it’s still the primary responsibility of the customer to understand what capability is coming down, understand how it needs to be configured for their organization, its policies and its risk profile, and its needs for new capabilities. There’s regression testing that has to go on, integration testing and updates.
EBN: But I assume companies can get help with that from external sources if they want…
Manning: Yes, this has given rise to another area of consulting, which is application management services.
EBN: What typically prompts an HR executive to pick up the phone, call a technology consultant, and say, “I need help” or “I need a new system. Where do I start?”
Manning: What we have seen over the last decade or so, is a lot of companies either didn’t have a single system for their HR department, they didn’t have one that was user-friendly or really lent itself to widespread employee self-service, or they had multiple different versions because of things like M&A or just different countries choosing different payroll platforms, or other things related to talent. And so the tipping point I’ve seen generally is a senior executive can’t get an accurate head count, or they can’t do workforce planning as dynamically as they want.
EBN: What happens next?
EBN: Do you have any suggestions for HR executives who are having a whole new system foisted on them, perhaps because some other part of the enterprise is changing platforms, to make the transition as painless as possible?
Manning: I’ve talked to a lot of HR professionals that are dying to have an executive come in and champion a new HR tech strategy, because the old strategy has been so siloed and piecemeal. And to the extent that the CEO can really be crisp and clear about what they are trying to achieve, that can be very helpful. So if the goal, for example, is to get better data and analytics, that really helps you home in on the criteria to look at and the types of tools in the new system look at. Ideally you get to participate in the system selection decision-making process and start with the big picture.