Last month I stumbled across William Tincup’s article ‘With Workday, Where Am I Wrong?’ It was a brutal teardown of Workday and HR platform providers at large. Some highlights:

“…if you [Workday] are the darling of our industry you might want to consider releasing best of breed products rather than what you’ve released…”

Ouch. He goes on…

“…they are far inferior to average point solutions.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve long held the view that enterprise HR platforms are the reason workplace technology is lagging so far behind our consumer counterparts.

On one hand William’s article echoed the discontented mutterings of friends and colleagues forced to use and  buy underperforming HR technology. On the other it made me hopeful – hopeful that with so many high quality point solutions we can do so much to make every employee more productive and successful.

We’ve all become obsessed with finding (and presumably keeping) the best people. And rightly so. Recruiting is hard. It’s expensive. It’s competitive. But why have we spent so much energy on elaborate physical office environments, while failing to modernise workplace technology?

Enter human capital management (HCM) providers with their promises of best-practice, mobility and lightening fast ‘8.2 month’ deployments (Workday counterintuitively supports this claim with an illustration of a rocket). If that’s not enough, SAP SuccessFactors promises to help you ‘win the talent war’, like it’s some awesome HR wonder weapon.

The myths

You may have heard that wonderfully reassuring catchphrase ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.’ In recent years, ‘IBM’ has become a proxy for large, seemingly modern and reliable providers whose ubiquity and mastery of bait-and-switch selling is matched only by their astonishing ability to disappoint, overcharge and underperform.

So I’ve put together five myths and falsehoods – popularised by platform providers, IT departments and consultants – that keep workplace technology in the dark ages and ultimately stop us from adopting better and more effective workplace tools.

Myth #1: “Our platform is the easiest to use”

A few years ago I was dumbfounded as a couple of guys from SAP SuccessFactors ran a ‘UX masterclass’. They spent an hour convincing a room that SAP is a leader in human centred design and has ‘the best user experience (UX) in HR tech.’ No SAP. You’ve fallen short. HR platforms in general have fallen short. Acknowledging this is a subjective area I argue that not one of the platforms listed in “Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud HCM Suites for Midmarket and Large Enterprises” (2017) offers more than an average user experience by modern standards.

Look at any HR platform and you’ll find yourself in a perpetual Mac vs. PC ad (you can watch all 66 here). Okay. Okay. Comparing PC vs Mac is futile. The point is this: Things have moved on. A consumer grade experience (which is not accomplished if our objective is ‘better than before’) is table stakes. I haven’t seen one HR platform that comes close to the experience offered by even middle of the road point solution.

Myth #2: “Our size means we offer incredible customer service”

Possible. But not likely.

Zendesk’s research survey found that 69% of the 1,046 participants associated a good customer service experience with the quick resolution of their issue. Having contacted SAP, Oracle and Workday on many occasions over many years I can confidently say that these organisations are about as far from ‘quick’ as can be.

Here’s what I’ve come to expect from customer service teams with HR providers:

  • There is a good chance you’ll be ignored
  • An attempt will be made to upsell something
  • You’ll receive a link to a technical document in a locked ‘portal’ that you can’t access
  • You may be passed-off to a costly ‘partner’ (Come on. It’s YOUR software. I pay YOU the license. YOU support it!)

Support is hard, I know. But the model is widely available, and proven. It just takes discipline, focus and an acknowledgement that value is more than selling licenses.

Myth #3: “We offer a fully integrated HR suite”

Often these ‘suites’ are little more than a collection of once ad hoc solutions hastily joined to provide customers with a terrifyingly fragile patchwork of inconsistent experiences. Apologies for the brevity on this one, but I can’t begin to explain how far from the truth this can be.

Myth #4: “No one does security like us”

In the words of one provider, “[We] provide protections that traditional software vendors can’t.”

Not true. Most vendors can, and the decent ones do. It’s true that security is a never ending game of cat and mouse. But the security afforded by cloud providers (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform) combined with widely available and constantly refined best practice and a good dose of common sense means most professional software providers provide reasonable protection.

I’m not suggesting that security isn’t an issue. It is. And it’s a big one. But don’t believe the hype. Every platform –  no matter the size and despite reassuring statements on their websites – is susceptible.

Myth #5: “You have no other options, so you might as well stick with us”

This is my favorite, and one we hear from frustrated customers all the time. Basically you’re told you might as well stay with what you’ve got rather than risk opting for an inferior product. This logic uses fear to dissuade motivated people from accomplishing meaningful change.

It’s simply not true.

You have options. Plenty of them. What you may lack is an approach.

Throwing out your HCM platform would be challenging. Don’t do that. Start by asking your vendors to explain how their platform is designed to talk to other systems – because 99% of modern platforms can. Then, trial a few well rated point solutions that deliver just one aspect of your employee journey – maybe the one causing the most pain and inefficiency. If it works, commit. If it doesn’t, try something else.

You have options.

Things that may or may not help

It’s incredibly easy to make a poor technology decision. I’ve done it. So here are a few things that I’ve found increase the probability of making a positive decision:

  • Decide what’s really important – Look critically at your employee journey. Focus on processes that don’t deliver value, cost you time / money (i.e. onboarding) and cause frustration for a wide range of people
  • Start with the technology used by the employees closest to your customers – A better customer experience starts with a better employee experience
  • Focus on the road – Insist on platforms that can talk to each other. This opens doors to new and more flexible solutions in the future
  • Consider user experience as a service (UXaaS) – Don’t take my word for it, Duncan Casemore says it best
  • Don’t put it all on your shoulders – It is easy to think that the things that bother you don’t upset your people. That’s not true. The opposite is true. Share your vision and rally your team. The change will come

The last word

Workplace platform providers like WorkDay, SAP SuccessFactors and Cornerstone OnDemand (to name a few) are here to stay, and for good reason. They provide a stable foundation. And a stable foundation is paramount.

HR – despite not having the budgets – has access to some tremendously powerful tools. Use these tools to compliment your HR core by building a eco-system, because eco-systems are the future of your HR technology experience.

So to all of you in the weeds (so to speak), there are alternatives to HR platforms. And the alternatives ain’t bad.


Robb is the CEO of Kindred Digital and co-founder of Willow Technologies, whose mission is to help organizations make every employee productive and successful through incredible design and thoughtful technology.