How to evaluate HR software

With implementation expert Margaux Myers

Table of Contents

As the HR software sector becomes more crowded, it’s getting harder to evaluate which HR platform—or platforms—will bring the most value to your organization.

Even if you know what you want, the researching, sorting, and demos can take weeks and leave you more stressed and confused than when you started.

So how do you evaluate HR software to make the best decision for your company? We asked Margaux Myers, an HR professional with several years of experience evaluating and implementing software solutions.

Margaux Myers headshot

“My background is software development. I’ve managed programmers, designed products, written technical documentation and I take a very methodological approach to implementation.” In short, she knows what to look for, how to analyze it and how to set it up for success.

Within her first few months as People Operations Manager at Calgary-based startup Aimsio, Margaux researched and implemented the company’s first HR platform.

Here, she shares her steps for evaluating HR software, key questions to ask, and the one feature you should never compromise on when choosing an HR tech vendor to partner with.

Before we continue…

We’ve created an easy-to-use checklist to evaluate HR software providers. Simply download the Excel sheet and fill in your business’ requirements.

Click here to download the checklist.

How to evaluate HR software in 5 simple steps

Step 1: Put strategy before software

First and foremost, be clear about the problem you are trying to solve. Do you want to improve workflows? Make managers and employees more self-reliant? Take payroll off of your place?

Different problems require different solutions, especially with so many HR tech options on the market. If you pick a software solution first, you’ll end up bending your organization to fit its needs. Instead, establish a clear vision of what you want to accomplish then find an HR technology partner who can help you get there.

Establish a clear vision of what you want to accomplish then find an HR technology partner who can help you get there.

Luckily for Margaux, this step was easy. After conducting 1:1s with every member of the company, she says, “it was my responsibility to go to the CEO and say: we can’t manage our employees on paper. We need to go digital and we need an HRIS. …Not that I had to fight! He just didn’t know what solutions existed.”

Step 2: List your needs and opportunities

This is where the fun starts. With your strategy and vision in mind, start to brainstorm your top HR needs and opportunities.

“Needs are the features you need right now to solve existing issues” says Margaux. “Opportunities are areas that aren’t problems yet, but you know you can improve.”

“Needs are the features you need right now. Opportunities are areas you know you can improve.”

“For us, the top needs were time off requests, recruiting, document management, and onboarding. Everything was being done on paper or spreadsheets and time off wasn’t always being sent to payroll on time. It was getting too difficult to manage.”

“In terms of opportunities,” adds Margaux, “I listed things like having an employee handbook, collecting employee census data, a central repository for performance reviews, a company org chart, and even payroll services.” Ultimately, her list grew to over 20 requirements.

Step 3: The vendor selection process

With her list of HRIS requirements in hand, Margaux searched Google and online marketplaces to create a shortlist of HR software vendors.

She also relied on an invaluable resource: her HR network.

“I’m part of a fairly large group of HR managers in Calgary, most of us working in tech or software companies. I rely on this network a lot. Everything in HR is about benchmarking. If you propose something to your CEO, the first question is always ‘what is everyone else doing?’”

“Much information is confidential, but nobody wants to make mistakes,” says Margaux. “The best way to be valuable to your organization is to have a big network you can tap into to find out what everyone else is doing and whether it’s working for them or not.”

“Everything in HR is about benchmarking. If you propose something to your CEO, the first question is always ‘what is everyone else doing?’”

Step 4: Let the research begin

Once Margaux had a shortlist of HR software providers (“No more than 4-5. I was able to disqualify a lot of them right away.”) she created a simple spreadsheet with vendors across the top and needs down the rows.

“From there, I went to the websites, contacted sales, got demos. It was just a matter of checking things off my list and seeing who had the most points.”

“Through my studies for CPHR and my MBA, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what features an HRIS could offer. But the more I compared products, the more I learned,” added Margaux. “Benefits management wasn’t originally something I thought of, but once I knew about it I added it to my list.”

Once she’d identified her top two HR software vendors, Margaux drilled down to her core considerations. Here are some key questions she asked during the process:

6 key questions to ask when evaluating HR software

  1. How long will it take to implement from the minute we sign the contract to the minute we go live?

    “I wasn’t given the luxury of a leisurely implementation,” says Margaux. Ask your vendor what kind of data they will require, if they have clear implementation processes, and how they’ll make this part as easy as possible so you can go live.
  2. What exactly will my employees see?

    “I watched a few videos to make sure I was fully prepared for any questions from my employees,” said Margaux. If the HR software isn’t easy and intuitive for your employees, you’ll spend just as much time answering questions as you did managing paper forms.
  3. What makes you feel confident in your ability to protect my data?

    “Who hosts your cloud database? What is the backup and redundancy process? I’ve asked for references in the past. In some companies, this would need to be vetted by IT.”
  4. What integrations do you offer?
    Integrations with complimentary services can make your life a lot easier. Alternatively, find out which solutions you can replace if the new vendor offers them. “Since we chose Collage, we don’t need to get separate products for things like recruiting or performance,” said Margaux.
  5. What exactly is the cost, today and over the next 2-3 years?

    “You need to fully understand the costs, both upfront and ongoing. Is there an implementation fee? Extra charges for customization?”
  6. Will I get ongoing support?

    The level of support you need will depend on your in-house capabilities. Still, you’ll want an HR tech provider who sees themselves as a partner for the long run. Ask about their in-house HR expertise, service levels, and how you can get in touch if you need support.

Step 5: Making the final call, plus the HR tech feature you should never compromise on

Selecting and evaluating HR software isn’t easy, even for a software implementation expert. For some organizations, the process can take months, requiring project charters and RFPs. In Margaux’s case, she had the whole process wrapped up in just three weeks.

Finally, we asked Margaux if there was one HRIS feature she absolutely couldn’t do without.

“Our HR software has to be user-friendly and fun. One of the products I was evaluating looked like a spreadsheet with colours – that wasn’t going to cut it!”

“Aimsio is a young, tech-savvy company and we’ve developed a fun software ourselves. Whichever HR software I chose, it had to fit our corporate personality and offer a great user experience. At the end of the day, that’s what determines whether my team will actually use it.”

“In my role as People Operations Manager I’m trying to make HR warm and approachable. That extends to our HR software as well.”

“In my role as People Operations Manager I’m trying to make HR warm and approachable. That extends to our HR software as well.”
Aimsio team photo


Thank you to Margaux and the Aimsio team!

Ready to evaluate HR software for your company? Use our customizable HRIS requirements checklist to get started.

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