Top 7 HRIS Cloud-Based Lessons Learned

By Sheila Alishouse

Cloud solutions for HR Information Systems are quickly becoming the norm for large and small enterprises. Most major vendors specifically tout their user-friendly interfaces and even recommend a light touch to training end users as a result. However, our experience at Strong-Bridge Envision is quite different. After all, human beings still need to learn a new way of working in these implementations, regardless of how slick the interface may be. Through our many implementations, we have learned several key lessons that may help you think through how to successfully deploy a cloud-based HR solution.

1. Underestimating the need for change management (AKA: change leadership)

Organizational Change Management (OCM) is still very important to a smooth implementation. Not investing or under-investing in change management can be the difference between success and failure. OCM is an intentional process that helps uncover the real impacts to end-users and administrators of the system, while ensuring crisp communications and solid training. Without OCM, there are often few checks/balances in place to ensure that the implementation team wears the shoes of other key stakeholder groups and that the business is ready to adopt the overall solution. Start early by assessing your internal OCM capability to determine if you need some external help assembling a fail-safe strategy and plan.

2. Not challenging the vendor to tighten-up testing

Often, cloud-based vendors provide an iterative process for testing. The problem isn’t the iteration; it is often that the test isn’t as complete as it needs to be. We recommend a comprehensive, end-to-end testing methodology that validates an entire application workflow from start to finish by simulating real user scenarios. Only then will you really be able to see how the system is treating your data within your process.

The vendor’s approach is usually specific in telling the organization “you own testing.” While this is correct, it also opens a door that some vendors quickly walk through to avoid taking responsibility for implementation problems because they weren’t caught in testing.

For example, we have seen vendors tell their clients that they do not need to test an entire data set, but rather a select sample. This is a mistake. Remember, your vendor’s implementation team is on a timetable too, so sometimes it can be enticing to take a short cut. Do not allow this to happen; you need plenty of time to test full data sets with financial institutions, taxing in various states and localities, and withholdings and deductions with multiple partners (e.g. 401K partners). Make sure you are pushing for a complete testing process that includes telling your cloud-based HRIS vendor what testing process they need to comply with. After all, you own the testing and the results!

3. Lacking a defined current and future state process mapping

Modern day cloud vendors use workbooks to identify configuration needs and process needs. However, they are often not sufficient in identifying where processes may already be broken or not working. If the organization does not take the time up front to understand current process and then design a future process that makes sense, that same broken process will still be a problem in the new system— only now the new system will be blamed for this process failure hurting project credibility and adoption. Plan for a quick-start six-week current state process mapping activity at the beginning of the project so the entire project team, including your sponsor and vendors, understand the many implications before design begins. Without this step, there is a significantly higher risk of project complications including extended timelines and budget overruns.

4. Assuming that training the internal team can all be done via web-based, on-demand learning

Although in concept this seems to make sense, in practice it has significant gaps. On-demand learning assumes that people will take on the training and the retention of that learning is at least on par with what they do every day. However, Our experience suggests that every day realities for HR Generalists, Payroll Managers, and Timekeepers using your processes in your company are not built into the generic, Pollyanna system-training model. And by the time your people begin using the system, it has been weeks or months since they took the on-demand training and have little retention.

We recommend a more customized and blended approach. Yes, on-demand learning is a great start but make room to incorporate just-in-time learning, SME (Subject-Matter-Expert) small-group learning, reporting, and trouble-shooting courseware as well. This is more practical for everyday needs and SME’s can also be defined to answer difficult and one-off questions at go-live.

5. Having no separate testing environment

This was shocking the first time we saw this with our clients, but we see it all the time now. Many cloud vendors have told clients that there is no real reason to use a testing environment (or training environment) because of the way their technology works and the fact that they configure in production and therefore test in production. While in theory this seems somewhat logical, it only works if a big bang implementation is planned.   However, big bang may not feasible for your business. So, a phased implementation means that configuration is changing in a production environment and is being tested there as well. The risks are significant.

At one client, a configuration change was made to a global setting as part of testing and 250 people were overpaid in a live location! And yes, the project team felt the brunt of that issue. Be thoughtful about your implementation plan and tell your vendor that you not only want a testing/staging environment, but that you will pay a nominal fee for it as well. It may cost a few hundred dollars, but it will be well worth your investment.

6. Assuming current staff have the skills and time needed to implement on their own

There is no doubt that your staff will learn a lot during this process. However, in most organizations, a payroll or HRIS staff does not implement new software more than a few times in an entire career. We’ve seen some of our clients seriously underestimate the skills and time required, which has caused not only implementation problems but also credibility issues in the organization.

Start early with identifying the skills required and develop a formal development plan for your staff so you are equipping them along the way. Also, be mindful that an implementation is a full-time job— just adding it to your teams’ plates is not healthy for them or the program. Plan to bring in people that have done this work repeatedly; their experience can provide a more objective stance to advocate for you with the vendor, equip your team, and ensure that the big barriers to success are identified and mitigated.  It’s likely not as expensive as you might think, and you will not only sleep better, your team and sponsor will thank you for it.

7. Lacking a strong internal business sponsorship

We have yet to meet a CHRO that does not understand the need for strong sponsorship; and they are often the sponsors that these implementations need. However, it goes beyond the CHRO as well. The most successful implementations have CEO and COO sponsorship too. Let’s face it, the COO owns most of the people that will be impacted in the organization, and when he/she comes out in support of the program, people tend to listen. Aligning this sponsorship support and making it visible and active is critical to successful adoption and program credibility. Your OCM leader should be helping you achieve this alignment and visible support.

A successful cloud-based HRIS program can be a career builder and is often a huge step for most companies. With a thoughtful and experienced team, these programs are highly valued by organizations as they make it possible for operational leaders to run their businesses more effectively by having more transparent data like labor dollars, scheduling, and headcount at their fingertips. It also allows HR Leaders to share critical people data to assist the business in making faster and better business decisions. However, these programs can also become very complex and are usually emotionally charged. Take the time to build the right strategy that fits your organization’s goals and culture. A strategy that incorporates aligned sponsorship, strong OCM, dedicated skilled resourcing, business process focus, relentless testing processes, and customized just-in-time training will help you and your teams’ succeed.