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.

It’s fascinating to study the solutions that support people in the workforce at the same time these systems disrupt how work is being done in the workplace.

Technology innovation is unceasing, yet at the same time markets, businesses, and workforces are also ever changing.

So despite all the technical bells and whistles HR tech companies are touting today, my research shows companies may want to consider HR SaaS companies’ own talent: do they walk the walk they talk?

Adapting to constant change is the chief challenge of companies today, and it will be the things that can’t be easily codified that differentiate those organizations helping today’s workers adapt to all that change.

Indeed, my experience shows it’s the people who sell, implement, and maintain HR software that ultimately differentiate between solution success and failure.

This point is particularly important as the industry moves to “the cloud” – it is software as a service, after all.

To validate this idea, I identified 15 capability areas above, beyond, and around software that relate to HR SaaS success, particularly over the long-haul.

An initial buyer survey of their importance from a SaaS vendor showed all 15 areas ranked at least 3 on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high.)

Ranked in order of importance, they are:

  1. Integration: connective approaches, systems, and frameworks to other business systems and sources of data and business process automation.
  2. Managed services – application: technical support of SaaS updates or upgrades, including upcoming capability analysis and mapping, testing, and integration maintenance.
  3. Client engagement models: commitment and value of staff and resources to support client accounts, pre-sales through post-sale approaches and account structures, including how hand-offs are handled and client success approaches.
  4. Training and enablement: Solution sponsor, owner, and user educational support, from formal training through embedded user experience help such as tips and videos.
  5. Ecosystem: formal engagement with service providers to facilitate implementations, on-going support, and/or ancillary services and capabilities, including business model approaches (reseller, referrals, marketing) and breadth, depth, and length of service provider relationships.
  6. Consulting: strategic advice around the why/how to deploy SaaS to meet business and workforce support objectives, i.e. providing advice, establishing goals and metrics, and/or expertise to ensure and measure successful business outcomes.
  7. Community: facilitation of client and partner education, mutual support, and networking, including in-person and virtual resources, such as an online platform. Also includes user groups and awards and recognition programs.
  8. Services “products:” packaged sets of tasks or solution support offerings or responsibilities, e.g. business requirement gathering or process flow workshops, implementation and integration tools and frameworks, utilities.
  9. Managed services – administrative: responsibility for back-office processes/administration of tasks involving or touching the solution, e.g. individual, insurance provider, or government payments or filings, recruiting.
  10. Research: proactive primary information gathering in support of solution development, best practices, and customer adoption, including client advisory boards, ethnographical and user experience visual solution design approaches, and value assessments. Overall research and development budgets.
  11. Content: Creation or curation of industry, functional, regulatory, localization, and/or solution specific information creation and dissemination, pre and post-sale.
  12. Managed services – analytical/optimization: on-going advice and facilitation of data aggregation and analysis in support of driving improved workforce-related business outcomes and related change management initiatives.
  13. Events: in-person and virtual live interactions with customers and community by frequency, format, and footprint.
  14. Platform marketplace: cross-company forum for customers and partners to connect, may involve monetization of introductions, integrations, quality assurance criteria, additional promoted capabilities and application extensions.
  15.  Managed services – workforce support: employee-facing customer interaction support, such as call center, email, text, or chat live support.

As you can imagine, there is quite a bit of overlap in these areas and not all companies regard them as important nor invest in them equally.  Even amongst the ten largest HR SaaS companies, their capabilities are inconsistent or strategies still shifting.

In fact, it is surprising how many HR software firms have not really innovated their own service and support models adequately at all, despite their public push to the cloud.

So while many focus on technical aspects of data object models or pre-built suite integrations, you may want to ask HR SaaS vendors today about these areas.

In subsequent blog posts, I’ll review the trends and gaps in each category across the industry as well as some salient statistics about the top HR SaaS providers own operations, customers, and talent.

Practitioners with strong feelings should feel free to weigh in on the importance of each of these areas to add to this new area of market opinion and education. I’d be happy to share the profiles I have done on the top HR SaaS software providers’ capabilities so far in exchange for research input.

I also welcome suggestions of additional providers to evaluate, as it can be very hard for the average buyer to get straight answers on many of these areas. (It’s been hard enough as an analyst!)

As industry consolidation continues and process-specific solutions reach parity, I hope this research helps companies select the right solution partners and identify the talented and trusted teams that will help SaaS users – at both the company and individual worker levels – set up and sustain success.