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Best in Breed vs. Single Platform Systems

Troy Barnett, Director HR, Under Armour

There are many articles debating the merits of which philosophy is better when structuring and building your HR technology  strategy. Best in breed or single platform systems? I, myself, have read multiple articles on each trend and every time I  read one of those articles, I find my position swaying in favor of the article I was reading. I am also easily influenced by  the first fast food commercial I see and I feel my stomach clinging to my back, but I digress. As I continued reading and  analyzing these two philosophies, I am of the opinion, it is not the philosophy you choose, but which philosophy fits your  business culture, structure and growth. Taking the approach out of the picture, there are few areas you should review before  deciding on, which path is best for your company: Blueprint, Growth, Culture and Support. I believe taking a step back and  understanding your company makeup will help you set a direction that can be articulated to senior leadership and to the guys  in suits and ties who are responsible for funding your strategy.

"Do you have a blueprint of your HR landscape? If your first response is “I think so” then you probably do not have one"

Blueprint: Do you have a blueprint of your HR landscape? If your first response is “I think so” then you probably do not have  one. You will be surprised at the number of companies who bypass this crucial step and are dependent upon legacy knowledge  of individuals who will disappear when they find a better job or hit the lottery. How can you build something when you
have no idea about the foundation you are currently on? Your blueprint document should outline all your systems, integration  points, vendor information, and Service Level Agreements with escalation points. System diagrams illustrating current and  proposed information flows are crucial to your decision. I blueprint landscapes because I am a visual learner (See fast food reference above). Understanding the HR landscape cannot be understated.This blueprint must outline the gaps and pain  points to the systems and processes you currently have. The blueprint, with imbedded attachments and diagrams, will be 40 to  50 pages depending upon the complexity of your landscape. It will be a living document that will need to be updated and  maintained as your environment changes.

Growth: Is your company in growth mode or mature in their growth model? Remember, the adopters of your processes and systems  will be the employees of the company. You can never introduce, implement or change a process that will disrupt, hinder or  alter growth potential. You have to be strategic in what systems you choose, the modules you turn on and when choosing the  implementation timelines. I like to use the term be “Strategically Collaborative”. (I should copy right that!!) It means you  must understand the company strategy, growth projections and future investments which are the life of the company, then  collaborate with senior leadership on what can be provided from a systems and process perspective to aid in accomplishing  that strategy. This will help you garner support financially for which strategy you choose and give you vocal support from  senior leadership. You must also understand the busy seasons for growth within your company. Those are not good times to  implement new systems processes or procedures. Understanding those timelines within the company will help you figure out how  much time you will have to implement a system or change and receive company support without impacting business.

Culture: What is your company culture? Is it fast pace, aggressive, stop on a dime and change direction at a moment’s notice? Does it thrive in chaos? Is it steady, even keel, predictable and monotone? This will help you determine your strategy.  Systems are not cheap. So you want to make sure the change is adopted and embraced, therefore it must fit the culture you are in. If your company is brand focused and holds its image close, you need to make sure your systems allow for branding, flash  and high resolution imagery. If you are highly regulated and have legal breathing down your neck every time you want to make  a change or implementation, you need to make sure your system is flexible, highly customizable and does not paint you in  corner with its design.

Support: This may be more important than all of the above areas even though it is mentioned last. If your car spent more time in the shop than in your garage, I am sure you would replace it quickly. Well, systems are not so easy to replace. You must  take time to investigate the support model. Don’t take their sales rep’s word for it or the word of the leadership person  that accompanies the sales person. The leadership person  from the vendor will be the one nodding and agreeing with whatever  you say, with the half grin on their face, knowing what you are asking for is not possible. Think back to your last sales  visit, you have seen them before. Do your research, post questions on technology sites and forums, do independent  reconnaissance by making calls to their current customers.

This information will help you choose a partner and not a vendor.  Vendors take; partners give and collaborate. What is the structure of their support team and where are they located? How many levels of support do they have? What is the escalation path  and SLA structure? What’s the support to customer ratio? Get  creative and tie refunds back to missed performance and downtimes. Support will directly affect the system and process  adoption within your company. Best in breed vs. single platform is not the issue. With the IT landscape constantly finding  ways to integrate, synergies with either direction can be realized. Systems and processes should be chosen to enhance,  streamline and improve the way you do business. They should never make you change the fabric or DNA of what has made your  company successful. Take the power back from the systems so they do not dictate to you what is best. Understanding your  landscape, growth, culture and potential systems support model will help you formulate a direction that you can stand behind, knowing it is best for the continued success of your company.

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