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Sunnier Skies Ahead: How We Can Work Together to Fix Cloud Technology at Work

I know we generally talk HR transformation, but first I want to talk about the weather.

Let’s say you’re getting ready to leave the house for work. You have lunch plans later, and you want to know if you’ll need an umbrella to walk the six blocks from your office to the restaurant. You could open the curtains and scan the sky — but it’s 2019! You have powerful technology. You can use one of a million apps, websites, TV channels and voice assistants to tell you exactly when and where it’s likely to rain today, and what the chances are you’ll need that umbrella.

It’s easy. And under most normal circumstances you don’t need a personal meteorologist on call to help you navigate the forecast.

That’s similar to what we are told to picture when we think about using cloud technology at work. It’s self-service. It’s easy to set up, use and update. We won’t need a team of experts on call to help. That’s why it’s called SaaS!

Ahem.

In reality, anyone who has bought cloud technology, participated in an implementation, or worked at a SaaS provider in the past 10 years knows HR technology isn’t quite as easy as checking your weather app. Perhaps it should be.

Those of us who use weather apps and still get rained on know that even the best technology can be imperfect. So we plan and prepare and do our best to get ready for what the day may bring. Come walk with me as we look for the sunnier side of cloud technology.

How SaaS Relationships Typically Start

Let’s say you’re looking for a human capital management system. You spend months on gathering requirements and finding your best-fit provider. You get pretty friendly with the winning sales team and eventually sign on the (digital) dotted line. Congratulations! You’re the proud licensee of a new cloud technology.

You want to keep the momentum going, so you hire a systems integrator (SI) from the provider’s approved short list to ensure the technology can be configured to the unique needs of your organization. The SI is fully vetted, prepares a Statement of Work, and suddenly you’re the proud client of a certified implementation partner.

During implementation, you work directly with the SI and they suggest a tweaks, workarounds,and changes that will make the current version of the cloud solution work for your organization. Meanwhile, your cloud technology provider has disappeared and suggests you log into the community of fellow licensees, take a few online courses, and try to self-govern to the best of your ability. Still with me?.

Fast forward a few (or many) months. You go live with your solution. Pop the champagne, cut a cake with your logo on it, and hold your breath for adoption. But almost immediately there are some kinks in the system. Bugs to fix and issues to examine. The SI is happy to continue to be paid to keep the lights on, but you were promised that your team could readily sustain the solution. You turn to your cloud provider for guidance and the skies start to darken.

It turns out you don’t actually have a designated support person. But the provider says you can “hire” one for $50,000 per year or more. Cases are opened, you are again redirected to the community — maybe someone else has resolved a similar question in the past?

As you seek clarity, the provider lets you know that — oops — it looks like the SI made some unsanctioned changes to the way the system is configured, which will likely interfere with the provider’s ability to help you in the future. In other words, even though you hired a certified partner, read all the support documentation, attended the user conference, and asked your peers in the forums, you did it wrong.

Let’s stop for a second. You were sold a DIY weather app. But when you open the app and look for the forecast, you get a message like “Why don’t you ask your neighbors what kind of weather they’re seeing?” or “You should really hire an expert meteorologist to answer this question!” or, my favorite, “Would you like a dedicated team to tell you the weather at a moment’s notice? We can do that, but it will require an additional $50,000 investment each year.”

Maybe you should pack the umbrella, just to be safe.

How to Build Better Relationships with Your Cloud Technology Provider

Let’s be real: Relationships between cloud providers and their customers are often really rocky. But if we’re going to point fingers, I’m not sure where to point them. We all fell hard for the marketing messages that the cloud would be seamless and self-service. The hard reality is that it’s not. It’s definitely different than the old on-premises solutions, but it’s not always better. That requires new expectations and a new approach to making the relationship work.

As I’ve said before, even in our world of cloud technology, the people relationships behind the tech are more important than ever. Here are a few things to remember when you start working with a cloud provider:

Shift Your Expectations

Embrace the fact that the cloud isn’t necessarily easier; it’s just different. With the cloud, you don’t control when upgrades will come or whether to opt in to certain features. You are, by definition, co-dependent on your cloud provider. Don’t believe the hype about self-service or self-configuration. Even if you loyally attend the annual user conference and study the training material, you’re not earning a magic ticket to long-term, seamless success. This might make me sound crusty or jaded, but I have learned after years of getting phone calls from frustrated CHROs that there is no such thing as 100% self-service HR tech.

Instead, consider your culture and the best way to allocate your resources.

  • Want to get out of the business of integrations? Then be prepared to hire a managed services provider.
  • Worried about your ability to absorb change? Consider a one-release lag for optional components from your cloud provider.
  • Want to advocate for productization of a key need for your business? Overtly lobby the cloud providers’ customer base to build consensus and drive everyone to use their voting rights.

There is nothing about this process that is passive, so be prepared to activate your internal resources in a targeted and directed way.

Be a Discerning Buyer

Before you buy, ask a lot of questions about how much support the provider will give before, during and after implementation. Ask who your support person will be, how much their services will cost and exactly what you can expect from them. Study your contracts, and negotiate for the best possible response times from the provider when issues arise.

We also suggest looking for your cloud provider and systems integrator at the same time. If you have one process for finding and selecting both, you’ll be able to establish clear roles and responsibilities, validate your high-value use cases, and bring the total cost of true ownership to the forefront. If you take an “eyes wide open” approach, you’ll lower your risk and set realistic expectations for everyone involved.

Focus on Knowledge Transfer

Don’t leave important details solely to third parties. If and when you hire a system integrator, stay in close communication. Think of yourself as the glue between the provider and the SI. Make sure that members of your team are included on every phone call and email. You want to know the nitty-gritty details.

You’ll need to structure your team so that they’re able to participate at this level. It’s worth it: You’ll catch concerns early on instead of after it’s too late. And if you truly want to operate the system independently post go-live, use each iteration of development to take on more from your SI. You’ll build muscle memory and depth of knowledge about the operational nuances of every design decision.

Change is Afoot

If you’re still reading, you might think that we at IA are anti-cloud. We’re not! We strongly believe cloud technology can bring value, innovation, modernization, and unification. We also firmly believe that if we all change our perspective about the promise of the cloud and start holding cloud providers responsible for providing more proactive service, we can make buying and using cloud technology a better experience for everyone.

And here’s the promising part: Providers are listening. Several are shifting their account management and service/support models as we speak. Others are truly willing to be more responsive and give HR teams more support.

We might get hit by scattered showers here and there along the way, but I truly believe that service will be the next war for cloud customers’ hearts and minds. So put on your walking shoes and join me on the journey toward sunnier skies.

Read all of the posts in our “Storm in the Cloud” series:

  1. There’s a Storm Brewing in the Cloud
  2. How HR Tech Providers Can Help Clear Up the Storm in the Cloud

With over 25 years of experience, Mark Stelzner has worked for organizations of every size and vertical. He has spent his career fostering relationships through attention to detail, natural curiosity, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

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1 Comment

  1. Carnival of HR – June 2019! – Lakeside HR on Jun 28, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    […] So many HR pros are dealing with technology in ways they never have before. Whether is it AI, new HR systems and just the ever-changing interfaces and tools that come our way. Mark Stelzner offers a well-informed look at the challenges involved in an SaaS implementation. Sunnier Skies Ahead: How We Can Work Together to Fix Cloud Technology at Work. […]

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