12 June 2009

Offensively Bad HR Systems Demo

Yesterday (Thursday, 11 June 2009), I attended an HR systems demo that was so bad, it wasn't just disappointing, or somewhat disorienting. It was so bad, I was actually offended.

The vendor shall remain nameless, at least for now, in part because my employer has decided to give this vendor a second chance with the HR systems demo. Essentially, a do over.

Why bother? Because this vendor may end up providing business applications for other departments where I work and the evaluation process for those functions are not yet complete. Also, the vendor gave excuses that certain HR functions which we asked for did exist, and even boasted that they use their own system for their own company's HR, but such requested HR functions weren't in this particular demo configuration, so we couldn't see it in action. Another excuse was that certain individuals from their side were not available to discuss their portions of the system.  So, a do over would mean they would have no excuses.

Well, obviously the vendor was drastically unprepared for the demo, but that wasn't the half of it.

What was showed to us were just some basic database screens of employee records with some HR related data fields. In fact, the sales engineer was proud to announce that he had whipped up the tabs and fields in only a day and a half.  But, there was not a single HR form, no HR workflows, no approval routings, no compensation management tables, no benefits management tables, no manager initiated change request form, and absolutely no discussion of HR process pain points.  

Why were we being presented a demo of something that represented only a day and a half of work from the sales engineer? Not the result of dedicated enterprise application software engineers, HR subject matter expert product managers, and an army of professional services consultants providing feedback from legions of HR customers?  Just one guy banging away for a few hours is what we got?

It was abundantly clear that the sales engineer, the sales manager, and the executive from the vendor, (all of whom were in attendance by phone for the demo, for their convenience, as none bothered to drive the exact distance of my daily commute to be onsite in our office for the demo) had zero knowledge of HR practices and talked far more about how their database could be customized for us, rather than discuss HR challenges to then identify their best practices and technology solutions. Not one mention of a single code base for all customers for a clean upgrade path. But lots of flexibility as to whatever we supposedly wanted.

With all this, I was getting quite upset at how little they cared about real substantive HR functionality, and how they assumed they could shove a pathetic set of database fields in front of us, call it an HR system, expect us to design our own functionality, and then for us to actually pay them for it!

But what really got me was stated at the beginning of the demo. The vendor executive began the demo indicating the goal of my company's senior management was to have a unified view of enterprise data, which this vendor purportedly provides through modules of various corporate functions. Because of this big picture goal, the vendor executive instructed us to lower our expectations for an HR system before viewing theirs, to basically cut them some slack, in assessing their offering.  At the time, it seemed like a reasonable comment.

As I later thought about how bad the overall demo was, in considering the totality of what the vendor conveyed, punctuated at the start with the executive's insistence for us to lower our bar of acceptance, I now find myself deeply offended. They even tried to talk up their vaporware as a viable competitor to the one superpower in the HR applications market, Workday, Dave Duffield's startup with the cream of the crop team from Peoplesoft.  We had demo'd Workday just a few weeks before and we were mighty impressed.

I told my boss during this dubious demo, while our conference phone was on mute, that if Workday is a Ferrari in the HR systems market (as my boss likes to refer to them, since he's into cars), then this clueless vendor's HR system is a pushcart. No power, no expert design, no way. Simply, a joke.  The system we were being shown was a joke.

I strongly suspect we won't end up using this vendor, even after the generous offer of a second chance do over demo, at least for HR purposes. Fortunately, there are other, best of breed HRIS vendors to choose from, and much less expensive than Workday's premium and out of reach pricing. I just hope I don't have to sit through any more demos with an unprepared sales team, with smoke and mirrors and vague promises, resulting in anymore wasting of time.