People data is everywhere, and the ability to work with it and understand it is a key competitive differentiator. HR leaders need to know what to ask for in their HRIS to future proof the business.

By Tom Elliott

For a software consultant like me who spends a lot of time working with clients at the start of their digital transformation journey, opening requirements documents for the first time is like unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. If we’re going through a governance-heavy procurement process, it’s obvious that a great deal of time and energy has gone into curating those gift-wrapped zip files. Given that time and energy, it’s amazing to me how many times we still see ‘ability to create reports’ as a must-have requirement for an HR system.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand it. I probably wrote it as well, 15 years ago when I was first picking up responsibility for purchasing HR products.

But the reality is – putting that as a requirement now is handing your vendors an easy get-out clause, and not setting you up for long-term success.

Let me explain.

Every single HR system vendor knows you need to be able to create reports. There’s absolutely no point putting all that data in and carefully maintaining it if you can’t get it out in the form of meaningful reports. Only a very short-sighted vendor would take a product to market that didn’t have that capability.

But there are many ways in which vendors can justify ticking off this requirement as standard in their products.

Some will build a suite of standard reports that you can run at your leisure. You can adjust some of the selection criteria, maybe even the displayed results, but largely what those reports contain is set in stone. They’re ticking the box, but in a way that gives you absolutely no flexibility whatsoever. Need something that’s not in the standard reports? You’re out of luck. Log a suggestion for the product and hope the roadmap comes in your direction.

Others will build a proprietary reporting tool into their product which allows you to create your own queries and extract data. This seems like the utopia. Total flexibility. Until you realize that a) Nobody outside your team really knows how that proprietary tool works, and b) You need a team of people to extract that data from source every month and merge it against your data from other sources, to give a fully rounded view of what’s happening in your organization.

The third way, and it’s sometimes harder to explain to clients at the beginning of the journey, is to set your data free.

Now, I realize ‘data freedom’ is a bit of a scary concept when it comes to people’s personal data. So let me add that all of this happens of course within appropriate security constraints. But a really good vendor will open up your data to you, and let you work with it in the way that is best for your organization.

Sure, it takes a little more effort and investment up front to build out a team with the skills to work with all the data your business produces. And by the way, building this team shouldn’t be a uniquely HR-based endeavor. Your finance team might have already made a start. But once the foundations are laid, you’ll be able to move beyond ‘creating reports’ and start creating insight that changes the way you see your workforce.

With so much data now available, our reporting needs have changed. Yes, sometimes what you need is a basic list of new joiners in the last 90 days. But if you’re serious about People Analytics and the power of data to drive strategic decision making, you need a product with the reporting capability to support that.

Instead of saying ‘the ability to create reports’, ask your prospective vendor how they can do things like:

  • Securely facilitate the sharing of insight derived from analytics to improve line manager performance
  • Automate the merging of data incorporating multiple sources outside of the core product
  • Create custom analytics dashboards to support strategic projects unique to the business

If they can’t give you answers that give you confidence, come and have a chat with us about how Dynamics and the Microsoft ecosystem provides secure access to your HR data, and allows you to work in the way you want to, to understand patterns and trends using Power BI or other data analysis tools.