Posted by: Ron Hanscome | November 4, 2009

The “Mouse” that Roared – HR Tech Shootout Reflections

 

Well, it’s been over a month since the big shootout at the HR Tech show, and many of those who are part of what Bill Kutik so aptly calls the “chattering classes” (industry analysts, consultants, etc.) have already commented on this topic at some length. Josh Bersin’s view was published yesterday in his blog, and cogently laid out the hypothesis that it was Salary.com’s combination of easy-to-use software, integrated employee and organizational information, and core content that swayed the audience of over 1,000 attendees, and enabled them to prevail over Lawson, Plateau and SAP. While I agree that these aspects of the demonstration certainly contributed to the victory, there is another major factor that I believe contributed just as much to the victory as the content — the way the demo scenarios were shown to the audience.

You see, Salary.com built their demo responses to take advantage of a capability found in a certain type of Microsoft mouse (available at most tech stores for about $35) that enabled the demoer to quickly and easily highlight portions of the application pages and expand them so that all of that content was clearly visible to the audience. Not only could we all see the path of the demo more clearly, but it also drew our attention to the part of the page performing the desired action, and in effect put the rest of the content on the page (that might have been confusing otherwise) into the background. Finally, use of this capability kept the audience attention raptly focused on the projection screens, and off the CEO, who was reading directly from the scripted response (compared to the rest, who seemed to be more prepared and polished – Lawson Software’s Larry Dunivan stood out in this regard). As a result, Salary.com’s demo responses looked great, focused the audience, and addressed the scenarios in a comprehensive, robust manner. I can only wonder how things might have turned out if the demo “playing field” had been level, and the other vendors had also taken advantage of this capability.

Focusing on this aspect of the Shootout is not meant in any way to reflect negatively on Salary.com’s capabilities — they have clearly invested a great deal of time, energy and staff to evaluate the market and put in place a complete solution for integrated talent management. My point is that the Shootout is really a “beauty contest” that merely scratches the surface of these comprehensive and complex applications — one can’t make a good decision based on 15 minutes of high-level demos.

So, what can we learn from the Shootout?

  • If you’re an end user, a high-level demo like this should represent only the barest glimmer of a beginning point in your evaluation process — remember that you need to start with your own requirements and develop your own scripted demo scenarios in order to truly evaluate HCM vendors. You also need to focus extensively on the “how” and not just the “what” — in other words, dig deeper than the demo responses, and ask enough follow-up questions so that you get a good grasp of what will be required to actually do all of the great stuff you just saw (e.g., process changes, new org or employee data that must be captured and maintained, cost of additional content, change management).
  • If you’re a vendor, there are two main issues to address:
    •  The easy one is the demo itself — ensure that you know the audience size, projection screen size, and who will be attending. Think about plunking down a few more bucks to equip your demo staff with the “highlight & expand” capability to ensure that your audience doesn’t ever have to squint to see what is actually going on in the demo scenarios
    • The harder issue — continuing to work on the overall user experience in order to mask the underlying complexity of your applications.

In the end, the Shootouts draw a huge crowd, and I’m sure they will continue to be part of HR Tech over the next few years.  I applaud each one of the vendor participants for having the courage to ‘strut their stuff’ under the challenging conditions. However, I hope you’ll agree that proper application evaluation and selection is about much more than the results of this (or any other) high-level capabilities demo…which brings us back on track with my series of posts on application evaluation Decision Drivers, a thread that I’ll pick up in the next few days.

As always, your comments on this or any other post are welcome!

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Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more, Ron, about the beneficial effects of Salary magnifying part of the page. Though I never knew that was a capability of the mouse.

    And, of course, any end-user that uses the Shootout for anything more than adding a vendor or two to their evaluation list is out of their minds!

    Though I like to think with the new flexible scripts that we’ve gone beyond the UI beauty contest phase.

    And maybe we’ll do it completely differently next year for attendees who want to watch a deeper 45-minute demo from various vendors.

  2. Ron,

    I liked your comments on the Shootout demos and referenced them in my blog:

    http://blog.talx.com/CategoryView,category,HRPayroll.aspx

    Mike Smith


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