No more HR

What’s Old?

I’ll tell you what’s old. In November 2012, my HR software package for Mid-East clients, Prospero, is 15 years old! For software, that not just old. It’s positively ancient. That’s why I plan to send it, still pulling its weight for several clients but feeling a little creaky now, into a well-earned retirement by June 2013.

After spending most of my working life in the Mid-East, family matters called me back home to the UK a few years back, and I started building new kinds of businesses (like Coloring The Wind), continuing to provide support to my Prospero clients when they needed it.

But a few months ago I was back in the Gulf, helping to advise a client on an HR software upgrade (not Prospero!), and I had the opportunity – for the first time really – to take a close look at some of the other well-known and recommended HR packages in the region. Knowing that I was planning to phase out Prospero soon, I wasn’t trying to sell it, which allowed me to be objective.

What did I expect? Well HR’s moved on a lot in the last few years. We tend to talk about HR as a service rather than a controller. When I started out with Prospero, all anyone wanted to look at was Payroll, no matter how I banged on about performance measurement. But since Talent became the industry buzz-word, I expected HR applications to reflect that and to find innovative software-enhanced approaches to recruitment, performance reviews and succession planning.

Technology’s moving on even faster. The Windows/desktop behemoth gave way to the web … and now the talk is all of mobile apps. How were these exciting new developments being harnessed to allow employees to communicate directly with HR if, for example, they wanted to report in absent, or plan a vacation, or just check this month’s salary?

What did I find? Applications that called themselves web-enabled but which looked and behaved like desktop software. No sign of mobile apps anywhere. No change of approach, no new perspectives, the focus still primarily on payroll. Sure, there were training and performance management modules, but they were nothing more than software translations of paper transactions. Businesses were spending US$ 40,000 upwards on applications that were stuck in a post-millenium timewarp.

I asked one of the sales reps why it was necessary to insist that the HR team entered every shift pattern and change, when using their attendance module. Surely, if the departments had fixed shift patterns and we knew that an employee was a shift worker, the software ought to be smart enough to conclude which shift the employee had worked – and on the odd occasion where it was unclear, simply alert the administrator. My client had two people dedicated full-time to entering shift data? Was that really necessary?

The answer I got was telling. ‘When I design software, I find the best starting-point is to think about what you’d do on paper, and work from there ….?’ He was smart enough when it came to talking about payroll and workflow, but when it came to understanding what software can do, he didn’t have a clue.

It left me with a nice warm feeling about good old Prospero, When I developed it, I was an inexperienced, clumsy programmer but my approach was always to start with a problem or a process, and work out how it could be done better in software than on paper. That’s why my 15-year old package felt slicker, better automated, more state-of-the-art than anything I saw in two weeks. But of course I couldn’t recommend Prospero. If it hadn’t been unethical, they’d have laughed when I said it ran on Windows XP!

But the experience finally persuaded me to take the action I should have taken 5 years ago. To create a new HR suite for Mid-East businesses, using software that breaks new ground, bringing to the Gulf tools that reflect our new understanding of HR’s role and importance, and at the cutting-edge of technology. My new HR application is codenamed ‘HYGWIT’ – ‘Have You Got What It Takes’. (Pronounce it ‘High-Gwit’.) It won’t feel old, that I’ll guarantee.

WHAT WILL BE NEW?

  • Simplicity: I want HYGWIT to be as easy and intuitive to use as a modern mobile app – no manuals or expensive training required here.
  • Platform: The main application will run on the company intranet. But employees will be able to interact via their smartphones or tablets as well as via a web connection.
  • Minimal paperwork: I plan to be ruthless. HR software somehow seems to spawn paper. Not any more. If managers need to give permissions, let them be instant and digital.
  • Slicker automation: particularly with attendance and payroll. Computers are better at mindless repetitive work than humans. Let’s give the drudgework to the machines and focus on the interesting stuff.
  • Slashing routine admin time: in HYGWIT’s development stage we’ll constantly test and time every routine process, looking for improvements in accuracy, reliability and speed: every minute HR spends in routine administration is time not spent in strengthening the workforce.
  • Achievement-focus: HYGWIT will introduce new tools for HR, recruitment, job descriptions, performance reviews, training needs analysis, and succession planning. After five years years of development, I’m ready to launch.
  • Improved security and tracking: so that we always know who’s done what and when.
  • Standards-compliant programming: any programmer looking at the code-source will understand exactly what’s going on (unlike Prospero!). My development platform is the highly-regarded Ruby on Rails.
  • Current: HYGWIT will incorporate the latest Gulf Labor laws – and with change in the air, full parameterization will mean that users can make changes in seconds.
  • Customizable: HYGWIT will have a much smaller central core than Prospero but will allow clients to build (or commission) their own extensions and plug-ins (for reporting, for example).

Above all, I’m dissatisfied with the rather passive, reactive tools we find in most HR software. My vision is that HR should play a proactive role in shaping the businesses of the future, and be judged not by workflow alone but by bottom-line results – our contribution to net profitability. That’s what HYGWIT will help our clients to achieve.

But some things won’t change. Prospero’s long-running success wasn’t just about the software. It was about the 24×7 support my team and I were always ready to give, and same-day (often same-hour) response time. That will always continue. So will our free maintenance policy: unlike most other software design houses, we believe passionately that if the designer makes a mistake, he should not expect the customer to pay for it. If the client requests a unique customization, of course, that’s different.

The plan is to launch HYGWIT in two phases. The first will be the administration / payroll / attendance suite, developed from November to May. The second half of 2013 will see the steady roll-out of the employee development modules – recruitment / training / appraisal. As a package, HYGWIT will offer a cradle-to-grave HR solution, sold on a monthly subscription basis of US$ 2 per employee per month, making the pricing attractive to small and larger businesses alike.

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOU

I’m not just tweaking the old application. Although I’ll be using all my Prospero experience, and some of its good ideas, HYGWIT is an entirely new package, built from the ground floor upwards. It’s going to take a full year of development – although the basic admin and payroll package will be ready a lot faster. I’ve seen with my own eyes that there’s a huge gap in the Gulf market for forward-thinking HR software. But are customers ready for it? I need to be sure. And I need real clients to contribute their ideas as we’re building and to put modules through their paces. (It’s always too easy for the designer to argue ‘But it works for me!’)

That’s why I’m looking for a small number of sponsors – not fewer than 2, not more than 4 – to work with us through the development stage. This is how it will work, with benefits for the sponsors and benefits for HROomph.

1. Design

12 separate modules each taking 4 weeks to complete. At the beginning of each month, we’ll agree with the sponsors exactly what the module should provide. At two-weekly intervals, working software will be delivered to the sponsors for testing and feedback – from both HR and IT.

Benefits
Sponsors will be able to define exactly what they require, getting the benefits of tailor-made software at a fraction of the normal cost .

HRoomph will be sure that the software is always relevant, and have a real-world testing service from a critical audience.

2. Cost

Sponsors agree to sponsor the development phase – either for a 6-month or a 12-month period – with the sum of US$ 2000 per month, the first payment in advance, and then monthly on successful delivery of the month’s module, with the sixth payment delayed until the completion of phase 1 – the delivery of the full admin / attendance / payroll suite + mobile phone interface for employees.

But having acted as a sponsor (whether for 6 or 12 months), the business is then entitled to free use of HYGWIT instead of paying the monthly subscription of $2 per person per month, as other clients will. There’s no maintenance fee. The only future charges will be the client’s own costs for bandwidth / backup etc (just a few dollars a month) on its own network server, or requests for further customization after the initial sponsorship period.

Benefits:

Sponsors will end up paying far less for quality HR software than from any other reputable source. For an average-size business of 300 people, a 6-month sponsorship will pay for itself within 20 months, and in some cases, the annual maintenance cost of HR software alone is almost as expensive as the total HYGWIT cost. Monthly payments keep the investment manageable, and ensure that you’re always getting what you’ve paid for.

With sufficient funding to cover overheads, HROomph can give its full attention to design during the development period, and not worry unduly about sales. Monthly trigger payments also help HRoomph to stay very focused.

3. Promotion

I’m already actively involved in several social media channels. This website has a well-supported blog, where I’ll be posting daily progress reports on the HYGWIT project. Other activities include a personal LinkedIn site (- I’ll be promoting HYGWIT heavily in Mid-East/HR group activities), and HROomph accounts at Twitter, Facebook and Google+. In each of these locations, there will be attribution for the sponsors, as well as regular mentions in posts. If a sponsor would like a free advertising slot on the website’s home or blog changes I’ll be happy to accommodate them.

Benefits:

Sponsors, and particularly their HR departments, will get considerable exposure through these activities. At a time when the focus is on attracting the best talent available, this is likely to have a positive effect, particularly via the blog and LinkedIn.

HROomph will benefit by being known by the (good) company we keep. It’s enormously important to our long-term success to have a strong social media presence.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

If you’re interested in getting involved or have questions, contact me straight away at alan@hroomph.com. If you’d like to discuss anything person-to-person then give me your Skype-name and two or three convenient call-times, and I’ll be in touch.

On request I’ll send a sponsorship form to you.

I need to see sufficient interest (i.e. involvement from at least 2 sponsors) before I proceed. But equally, I need to limit the number of sponsors to 4, so that I can spend enough time working with each of them – and because, from the promotional standpoint, too many sponsors would weaken the impact I can create for you. Sponsorship applications will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Payment of the first monthly fee as described on the sponsorship form will be confirmation that you have agreed to proceed.

In the event that four payments have already been received when yours arrives, the amount transferred will be returned to you in full. We will notify all who have requested sponsorship application forms if all four sponsorship slots are filled.

Remember that you can commit for either 6 or 12 months. If there are available slots for phase 2, we’ll announce them in April / May 2013.

And whether you’re sponsoring or not, let me invite you to follow our progress on the blog.