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Vice President, Solution Provider Research Christa Degnan Manning leads Bersin by Deloitte’s Technology & Tools research. In this role, she collaborates with Bersin and Deloitte colleagues across practices to identify and analyze software and service providers that support and sustain success in human resources, workforce enablement, and organizational effectiveness. Christa’s research and advisory work helps businesses align their workforce support strategies with the right third-party software and service partners and governance models to deliver functional capabilities and employee experiences that support productivity, engagement, and workforce efficiency. She also helps solution providers map their capabilities and go-to-market activities with solution buyers’ and users’ critical needs. Christa draws on more than two decades of business-to-business market research, operational leadership, and global workforce experience. She holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Massachusetts, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, including studies at University College, University of London. Christa also has completed on-going executive education coursework in business metrics at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania.

My name is Christa Degnan Manning. I am a reformed software analyst.

I spent many years researching technology transitions from mainframe to client-server to self-service Web-based applications for various well-known IT-focused firms. Then I was recruited to drive innovation for a unit of a Fortune 100 global services firm, where I was asked to use dozens of those apps from my virtual home office or whilst traveling from Boston to Barcelona, London to Lisbon, Seattle to Shanghai.

Our HR support was outsourced to one firm and our IT to another. With little to no common interfaces or system integrations in place. Sound familiar to many?

Instead of making me more productive, engaged, and valuable to my firm, these approaches to back-office functions and processes served to distract, demoralize, and drive further dysfunction of the business. I am now on a mission to redeem myself for my contribution to the proliferation of these “solutions” and advocate for true workforce support services.

Because it is not really about the technology, but about delivering service, whether you are in an HR or IT function inside a company or a third-party solution partner that supports them today. We are arguably in an entire “As-a-Service” economy as all organizations seek to remain flexible and keep their options open.

So a tremendous opportunity exists for companies to deliver next-generation business support services using software as a service (SaaS) automation models, yet they must go beyond simply hosting a multi-tenant application “in the cloud.”

My experience and research shows that most legacy enterprise software implementations fell short of expectations not because they were single-instance “on-premise” solutions, but because there was a lack of discipline, resources, and budgets to initially install and retain relevance to the business through changing economic and employment times.

Was this the fault of enterprise information technology (IT) and functional professionals underestimating their abilities or under-educating their leadership on software strategy and commitments? Or was it the enterprise software industry overselling solutions (or underselling just how much hand-holding was going to be needed to be successful)? In most cases, it was all of the above.

I believe this underestimating and overselling is happening again with SaaS: simply delivering a constant stream of innovation and removing information technology server administration tasks does not solve for the very real challenge of mapping and adapting software to deliver business outcomes. This requires investments in people and service delivery principles on both the SaaS buyer and service provider sides.

As more bells and whistles are released across the myriad different SaaS areas now available, the greater the challenge becomes to make each and every one of them support business outcomes and integrate into the rest of the enterprise. These challenges compound when you factor in third-party business process outsourcing providers needing to access solutions and support service innovation themselves.

So I am diving deep into analyzing the service capabilities of the SaaS world, looking across service provider solution sets and partner ecosystem strategies. Many practitioners I speak with say the time is ripe for this analysis, as they are willing to take fewer features and functions in the short term – but only if they can get better service and support strategies from a smaller set of the right providers. They then intend to grow both functionally and globally with those service-oriented partners they trust.

With this blog, I’ll be sharing the criteria to look for and the questions to ask of both HR-related SaaS and outsourcing providers. We are well into a new waterfall of investment in HR tech and I don’t want to see it go to waste, just into SaaS bankers’ pockets, or worse yet, result in faster organizational dysfunction and further worker dismay.

I hope you will join the conversation on this topic of service as real thought-leadership involves collectively thinking differently and driving real organizational and industry change together. Because the outcomes we seek are not simply to automate and cut costs, but to use technology to elevate people’s capabilities that in turn drive greater distributed growth and shared economic prosperity.

 

  • I find myself in total agreement with you Christa. Having been at various times of my career a customer, a supplier and an independent advisor in the HR & Payroll space I’ve poked, prodded and somehow survived the waves of changing technology, which always came with promises about how it would change our lives. Well guess what, it may have solves some problems but it normally left us with other equally challenging issues to resolve. Remote hosting on server farms may have reduced the risks associated with in-house servers, network infrastructure and support but it constrained opportunities to integrate between functional system. In general, I think both the SaaS and Cloud labels have left some of those challenges unresolved because connecting and data sharing between one multi-tenanted SaaS solution to another multi-tenanted SaaS solution hosted on different secure platforms is not without its challenges.

    I think things are starting to get better as our knowledge and experience increase, mainly driven by to need to satisfy generational expectations of how easy these things should work together, i.e. the social/mobile integration driver.

    In a way, I think it is useful to go back to basics and think in terms of Rules, Roles and Routing, i.e. how things should work, who should be involved and how work moves between them. In real fuzzy organisations and businesses this can often jump across functional boundaries therefore SaaS solutions need to be able to exchange data in simpler ways. As a customer I don’t think I should have to worry about how that works as long as it supports my business. As a supplier I think we need to step up and realise that it’s not enough to specify our end of an integration, we need to understand how cross-system data may be used to support decision making and help find the best way to support that with other SaaS providers in a particular context.

    In a way, this is about enabling people/businesses to ‘manage the white space’ in their organisation, i.e. the gaps between the boxes in the organisation charts where lots of fuzzy stuff happens for real. Many of today’s SaaS solutions are still configured rigidly on organisational and functional hierarchies, as were their installed single instance predecessors. In truth, agile organisations work in spite of publish hierarchies and utilise ever-changing personal networks to get things done more or less optimally. Therefore, I think we need to make multi-SaaS environments able to mimic theses behaviours. We need to make complexity seem simpler!

  • Christa Degnan Manning

    Shaun – thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, the real stuff and opportunities most often do happen in the “fuzzy” bits. And its ever all the more important that you can still get someone to interact and respond to exceptions and provide advice around the things that can and can not be automated, whether by phone, chat, tweet or dare I say it: face to face! Hope our paths may cross in October in Paris!