To standardise or not to standardise – that is the question (Part One)

A look at Cloud solutions and their new world conundrum

by Mandy Chapman

Process and Technology – a partnership made in heaven? I believe so, but there is another element to this trio (a third leg to the stool) that is so often forgotten when HR start to talk about transformation. The Human. There is a human being at the start and end of every HR and business process – and lots in the middle.

Don’t forget the Human

Take recruitment as a good starting point. Most people agree that the candidate experience needs to be at the centre of your hiring processes but you may have heard the story of the HR Director who dies and is given the choice of going to heaven or hell. If you have then you will understand that the warm candidate can quickly become a disengaged new starter if the initial sentiment doesn’t continue after day one.

Considering all of the components of a good employee experience, our recent work shows that in the majority of HR technology projects, the harsh reality is that both process and people are quickly being pushed aside and replaced with ‘out of the box processes’, ‘standardisation’, ‘vanilla systems’ – all in the name of modernisation. And this has had some real consequences for business. Gone are the days of over-engineered, highly customised systems being reinvented from the ground up by every customer. A new day of standardisation and innovation has dawned. But does this new reality really mean that business is better off? Are these new terms helpful or are they creating our future business problems?

The balance between process, technology and the human interacting with them, is now more important than ever. The shocking reality is that many businesses have inadvertently lost sight of their business needs, their employee experience and their long-term objectives, in favour of digital simplification – whizzy new tech is often layered on top of old, out-dated processes, a disengaged workforce and a smorgasbord of other tactical business systems interfaced to create tomorrow’s HR tech car crash.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in strong favour of simplification but only where it is sophisticated enough to deliver the solution that solves the business problem. I am also a strong believer in not over-engineering or over-customising a tool, however I also believe that technology will only help to resolve a business problem where the issue is well understood and the solution measured against its stakeholders’ current issues, barriers, requirements and desired outcomes.

But shouldn’t we ignore requirements?

This brings me to another confusing Cloud trend – dropping the need to understand ‘requirements’, which I feel has become a bit of a dirty word in the HR tech space. I believe that this is where modern HR technology projects become fundamentally flawed. Instead of asking the business what it needs, the vendor will tell them what they get. Now, for some this may sound great. “The vendor knows best practice so we should adopt their processes rather than adapt the system”. What many people fail to realise is that few vendors will provide an end-to-end business process. Vendors only provide applications so any ‘out of the box’ processes will be limited to system processes, not business processes. It is also true that many vendors have built their Cloud solutions to be highly configurable so in many cases, ‘out of the box’ doesn’t exist anyway.

Meet the ‘Standardisers’ and the ‘Customisers’

There is a wide spectrum of how ‘standard’ an HR and payroll implementation can be. On one end of the spectrum, there are the ‘standardisers’ – those radical customers who will go standard all the way. The risk? Processes that aren’t fit for purpose and introduce manual effort, workarounds and cause teams to spend years designing and configuring processes after go live to address their business needs. We have observed many organisations where the agreed approach of their project was standardisation. If not managed carefully, this can result in huge amounts of re-engineering to accommodate the required processes. This can also be disastrous for user adoption and realisation of business benefits.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, are the equally radical ‘customisers’. These organsiations decide that their businesses are so unique that they cannot possibly take anything off the shelf. These organisations don’t conform to the standardisation approach, but instead opt to design, configure and customise the solution to within an inch of its life. The risk? In modern Cloud HR applications, there is a ‘conveyor belt’ of innovation and once you have jumped on, you cannot easily get off. Not being aligned to the Cloud innovation message, these ‘customisers’ dramatically increase their cost of ownership, complicate and over-engineer their processes, introduce complexity and resource up internally or through third parties to manage the ‘cottage industry’ that they’ve created. Organisations on this end of the spectrum seldom meet their business case and often cause significant business issues just by trying to operate their new ‘bespoke’ technology.

So, what can we learn from these early adopters of Cloud? Tune in next week for part two of our paper on “To standardise or not to standardise – that is the question”.

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