Frequently, employers find themselves charmed into purchase decisions based on how the software looks or performs, not on the problems it solves. This approach lies in mistakenly thinking of technology as a “what,” instead of a “how.”

Insights from Gallagher’s HR & Benefits Technology Practice

“Relax, take a deep breath and keep your eye OFF the bright shiny ball.”

This may sound like odd advice for employers looking to buy HR and benefits administration technology, but it’s one of the best pieces of advice an employer can receive. It is also one of the most frequent pieces of advice Gallagher’s HR & Benefits Technology team offers, as it’s very easy to get hypnotized by the “bright shiny objects” associated with the vast amount of technology available to support organizational strategy, automation and compliance.

Most basic technology is not particularly interesting. Functional? Yes. Efficient? Yes. Cool and exciting? No. So, it’s easy to understand the allure of the growing number of attention-grabbing features included with new solutions. Many of these flashy elements are very helpful and deliver significant value…if you need them.

And there’s the rub. Frequently, employers find themselves charmed into purchase decisions based on how the software looks or performs, not on the problems it solves. This approach lies in mistakenly thinking of technology as a “what,” instead of a “how.” Following is an abridged version of the advice Gallagher’s HR & Benefits Technology consultants offer employers interested in purchasing technology.

Technology is a “how,” not a “what”

First, define the “what” you’re trying to accomplish before looking for the “how” (technology). Take the example of time tracking software. What’s your goal? Perhaps you’re looking to automate time tracking while at the same time comply with regulatory reporting, or to determine if it’s cheaper to hire another person than to pay overtime. Or, maybe you want to use the time to understand worker productivity, or if employees are spending time on activities that support business goals.

These are very specific and different objectives. And while there are tools to accomplish each, without first defining your needs, it can be easy to make a purchase decision based on a far less strategic basis — including attraction to a bright shiny ball.

Defining your “what”

Sometimes your “what” gets defined for you, e.g., a new state or federal law regarding time reporting. More often, however, it will require critical thinking about the challenges you’re trying to solve for in your business. Your employees are your most important asset but don’t approach this exercise as solving for HR challenges. Think about the company’s objectives and the CEO’s agenda. Employees will figure largely in any strategy to deliver on that agenda.

Following is a list of core workforce management areas and examples of a related “what.” These “whats” may not be your “whats,” but they should spark your thinking about your organization’s strategic objectives and how HR and benefits administration technology (the “how”) can support those objectives.

  • Talent Acquisition: Hire faster or hire better.
  • Onboarding: Shape new hires’ experience during the first three months of employment to increase the rate of retention.
  • Core HR: Monitor compliance reporting, e.g., EEO-1, visa expiration, Americans with Disabilities Act, etc.
  • Performance: Change the performance management process from an annual review to continuous feedback.
  • Succession Planning: Identify future positions that will need to be filled and a pipeline of qualified people.
  • Compensation: Understand if you have a pay equity problem.
  • Learning: Determine the need for re-training or upskilling associated with increased automation.
Getting to the “how”

Defining the “what” will lead you to the “how.” The increasing sophistication of industry technology and ease of integration with existing or other new tools means that it’s possible to identify technology solutions that address multiple “whats.” Further, it’s likely many of these solutions include bright shiny balls, which you are now free to look at and enjoy.

About the Author

Rhonda Marcucci, together with practice partner Ed Barry, co-leads a team of HR and benefits technology consultants who provide unbiased, well-researched and client-tailored HR and benefits administration technology consulting including sourcing advice and service provider capability audits. Her extensive and broad-based experience in finance, accounting, administration, strategic planning, information systems, sales and marketing, and operations is instrumental in helping clients identify a comprehensive strategy and execute against it.

Consulting and insurance brokerage services to be provided by Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. and/or its affiliate Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. is a licensed insurance agency that does business in California as “Gallagher Benefit Services of California Insurance Services” and in Massachusetts as “Gallagher Benefit Insurance Services.” Neither Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., nor its affiliates provide accounting, legal or tax advice.