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Understanding the HR software market

If you've read my previous blog post, you'll have read how I came back from the HR show in London with lots of potential software vendors to help my client.

It was clear that, as with any industry, the software ranged from specialist packages meeting a specific need, to general purpose software covering many areas.

We also identified that most of the software vendors at the HR software show were focused on larger companies. In hindsight, this was obvious - the show is run by the CIPD - Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Therefore many of the attendees to the show were HR managers or worked in HR departments. To have an HR manager or HR department, an organisation tends to be at least medium sized, and usually large.

And of course, most of the companies with money to spend on software are larger companies.

The owner or senior managers at a small business would be much less likely to be able to spend a whole day or two at the CIPD HR show.

Nonetheless, some of the features that my client was looking for were features that a large company would need. Not many SMEs would recruit 100 - 150 staff per year. This client did that because they were a seasonal business, so they recruited that many people each year.

The show, and the subsequent analysis was very useful, We identified that the HR software market is very large, and that there are many subsets. The broad categories of software fall into:

  • Full HR packages that try to do everything (which could either run on premises, or in the cloud). Examples from the list from the last blog post include Cascade, Elements, and Carval

  • Payroll software, or in many cases payroll agencies (this is an area that SMEs are often already used to outsourcing to an agency)

  • Recruitment software, which has it's own term "Applicant Tracking Software" shortened to ATS. (this split into 2 threads - ATS for large companies, and ATS for recruitment agencies). Examples from the last blog post include ePloy, iCIMS, and Workable.

  • Roster software

  • Time recording/clock in-clock out systems

  • And then there were some HR systems that were part of a larger package/solution, such as Zoho, Access HR, Advanced Software, and Sage HR.

The HR manager at my client had thought that just "buying some software" like she had used at her previous large employer would solve the companies HR challenges.

What became clear was that the "full packages" were both too expensive, and too complex for an SME.

It was also clear that the full HR packages for a large company did not do some of the things that my client wanted. So even spending £20k wouldn't actually get them the solution that they wanted. But at least now we understood pretty much how the market broke down into subs-sectors.

Also, because the packages were quite mature, they had many features and add-on packages, because the software vendor's model was to sell the core system, and then sell add-on modules as necessary and aim to solve all HR issues from their platform. They didn't necessarily have an "open" approach, or an "API" to make it easy to integrate other features where necessary.

As usual, throwing money at software is not a magic bullet. You need to work out what is currently working well, and what can be improved. And then define the requirements around what you want to improve.

So 3 things were needed, which I'll explore in future blog posts:

  • define our the requirements really clearly. What works that you don't need to change, and what are the things that you need to improve. And how valuable are those improvement?

  • identify any HR systems aimed specifically at SMEs that weren't at the HR software show

  • in my client's case, as we were defining the requirements, we identified that we'd need to investigate 2 specific sub-sectors in more depth - the Applicant Tracking Software (recruitment), and rostering systems.

I'll work through each of those in future blog posts.

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About the Author:

Dave Abraham is an independent consultant, working with a number of small businesses. Working at a strategic level, he looks at the strategic direction of the business with the directors, and helps the business improve processes, people management, and technology to help the business grow for the benefit of the staff, customers and owners of the business.  A core theme in recent years has been helping small companies improve how they nurture, grow, recruit and develop their staff, as it has such a massive impact on how a small company can go from surviving to thriving. 

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