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Dave Foxall 4 Factors to Decide Whether You Need an HRMS Consultant

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 By Dave Foxall

How to Know if an HRMS Consultant is Needed

Selecting and implementing an HR management system (HRMS) is no small task; and there are countless organizational and technical issues that must all be addressed before a successful conclusion can be secured. These issues, partnered with the ever-expanding variety and complexity of HR software have created a specialized need and market for subject matter experts in the field—experts that have the requisite knowledge and experience to be able to provide insights and actionable advice on everything from pricing models to point solutions. However, given that cost reduction is still the number one reason for introducing an HR software solution (according to Aberdeen Group's "The Future of Core HR"); the undoubted benefits of a consultant's services must be weighed against the additional project cost of engaging them. When making the decision whether to go it alone or enlist the help of an HRMS consultant, there are a number of factors to consider. Here's our list of the top 4.

HR Consultant Factor #1: An Understanding of the HR Software Market

First of all, to make the right HRMS selection decision, an organization must be able to understand information pertaining to the HR software market. For example, even something as simple as industry terms can be difficult because HR software has (like many specialized languages) terminology that can be confusing. Indeed, as HRMS Solutions Inc. point out, "Here is an example of words that have similar meanings: 'SaaS', 'Software-As-A-Service', 'Cloud Computing', 'Hosted', 'Subscription', 'ASP', 'Application Service Provider', 'On-Demand', 'Intersourcing' and 'Pay-As-You-Go'." While each of these terms have had overlap in their use, and some may have even seen a decline in usage as the market has evolved, the fact remains that they are still largely trying to describe what is often the same thing. Confusing? Yes. Unmanageable? Hardly. Further, the terminology must be understand not from some sort of definitional basis, although that's part of it, but more so to understand the benefits, risks and differences among the alternatives. Just take some time to educate yourself about the market and the terminology, and the navigation of the offerings becomes much easier.

HR Consultant Factor #2: Experience With HR Technology

The expectation is that an HRMS will have long-term benefits and therefore a long lifespan, meaning that for most organizations a full-fledged HRMS software selection and implementation may even be a once in a career event; and certainly not a project to be repeated often. By its very nature then, this facet of the process makes it unlikely that internal staff will have explicit hands-on experience with a specific type of software or project (especially in "rip-and-replace" scenarios). Outside expertise however, often has the luxury of working on numerous and varied HR systems. In fact, research from Phenix Management International found that, "There are many consultants…who have been through the HRMS selection and implementation process literally dozens of times." Given these figures, an integral part of an organization's decision must include an honest examination of what relevant expertise and experience exists in-house.

It should also be noted that given the current economic climate, few organizations are over-resourced, and many are actually dealing with staffing shortages. As such, sometimes the most compelling reason for hiring an HR consultant is that the alternative decision would take valuable staff away from day-to-day operations and service provisions—regardless of that person's level of expertise or experience on a particular solution.

HR Consultant Factor #3: A Broad HR Automation Skillset

An HRMS software project will require both system skills, project skills and people skills; during the course of business case through to go-live, either a consultant or in-house manager will need to: audit existing HR processes and identify priortized and future needs; create a detailed technical specification or RFP (request for proposal); manage the vendor selection process in an objective and measurable way; engage employees in the project and handle organizational change management issues; coordinate the supporting training strategy; and take responsibility for any arising technical requirements and issues.

Further, an HRMS is a multi-faceted piece of application software, capable of literally hundreds or thousands of functions and features. And as a survey found: the top ten most popular functions serve to show the breadth of features that these systems have available:

  1. Job and Pay History 85%
  2. Ability to import/export data 85%
  3. Ad Hoc Report Writing 82%
  4. Email Alerts 79%
  5. User Defined Fields 73%
  6. Attendance and Leave Accrual Tracking 72%
  7. Employee Self Service 71%
  8. Benefits Open Enrollment 69%
  9. Online performance management 69%
  10. Payroll 58%

Given these stats, HR software selection and implementation requires a clear understanding of all functionality, how those functions can interrelate and, ideally, specific knowledge of the particular product being installed; a tall order for anyone and an extremely broad skillset.

HR Consultant Factor #4: HR Software and Stakeholder Objectivity

Given the variety of stakeholders in an HRMS project, from C-level to data entry clerk, whoever leads the exercise must be perceived as credible and – on certain issues – able to put forward a view that is biased only in respect to the organization as a whole and not to any particular department (HR, IT, etc.) As Phenix Management's Al Doran asks, "Are there diverse opinions between management groups on the direction, relative needs and priorities for systems development and implementation?" and "Does your current project manager have the credibility with top management, divisions and departments to ensure ready acceptance of the actions required to select the best system?" The answer to the first question is almost invariably 'yes', in which case the project manager's credibility (consultant or not) and objectivity becomes a critical success factor.

The Bottom Line on When to Hire an HRMS Consultant

HR consultants can be expensive, however, leveraging their expertise for non-routine projects or specialized skills is generally a far superior option to trying to build in-house skills that will not get frequent use. Depending on the circumstances, a compromise may be the best option. It may be that some, if not all of the above factors can be dealt with by an internally-appointed project manager, with an external consultant engaged to manage specific phases or issues within the wider project.'s Clay Scroggin asks: "How complex are your requirements for an HR system? If you are looking for a basic entry level HR system for less than a 100 employee company, you probably don't need an HR consultant to help you pick a system that will match your needs and budget. If, however, your company has several thousand employees and you are looking to integrate time and attendance, HR, payroll, and talent management systems, the obvious answer might be that an HR consultant can greatly assist with your HR system selection, implementation, or improvement process." End

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HR consultants can be expensive, however, leveraging their expertise for non-routine projects or specialized skills is generally a far superior option to trying to build in-house skills that will not get frequent use.


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