Rent, buy or build: Finding HRIS talent to keep HR technology solutions on track

By John Johnston
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/11/2003

It is tough to find great human resource professionals in the market today. It is also tough to find great information technology professionals as well. When you combine the requirements and look for someone who meets both criteria (great HR and great IT experience) you’ve brought your list down to a very small number of people who might qualify.

In a 2002 human resource competency study, David Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank state, “Technology is increasingly becoming a part of the workplace and as a delivery vehicle for HR services. HR professionals need to be able to leverage technology for HR practices and use e-HR/Web-based channels to deliver value to their customers.”

With HR technology knowledge becoming more central to the core competency of HR professionals, and the supply of qualified professionals subject to a tight market, there is a need to address the question, “How do companies find HRIS talent?”

The simple answer is companies have three basic approaches to meeting human resource management system (HRMS) needs:


pay whatever it takes to fill positions;


hire consulting talent for the period you need them, or outsource it; or


select promising IT or HR staff and train them in the necessary skills.

Each approach has pluses and minuses. The best answer may be a combination of all three. Determining which approach is needed depends on two primary factors:

•What stage is the organization in, relative to the system’s life cycle? and

•How large is the organization? Can it support a larger staff and allocate time to develop their skills?

The system’s life cycle issue refers to the stage the organization is in, relative to the HR system. Are needs being defined because the existing system no longer meets business requirements? Is a system being chosen, and a selection and demonstration process underway? Is the organization in the middle of implementation and stabilization? Is the system live and the organization in need of administrative talent to maintain and enhance the HRMS? Is the system on its last legs and the organization in need of people who can keep it running until an upgrade to the next version of the software, or a new HRMS selection begins again? (Thankfully the selection process should only be repeated once every five to eight years).

The requirement for talent is different at each stage and this may dictate which of the three options is best suited. When defining requirements and selecting systems, it makes sense to have a combination of external consultants and internal staff (rent and build). The value of a consultant in this stage is his ability to expedite the requirements gathering process.

Consultants also bring market knowledge and insights through past selection projects to add significant value to the process.

But letting a consultant loose without support from inside the HR (and IT) departments is not likely to result in success. The consultant may miss key organizational issues that would only be known to an insider. And if consultants and HR staff don’t work together, staff miss the opportunity to pick the consultant’s brain and gain valuable insights for later.

When a system has been selected and implementation is the next step, an organization should look at all three options to build the project team (buy, rent and build). The organization should buy some internal expertise with experience in implementing and running the type of system purchased. It would make little sense to hire a person with deep experience in the PeopleSoft HR product if you are implementing SAP. The underlying data models and approaches are different in each system, and selecting the wrong person could result in mistakes.

The consultants in this stage may be different than the consultants involved in the selection process. The skills that are needed in this stage are the core technical implementation, change management and project management skills for project success. These skills may be found in the same consultants who assist you in selection, but this is a relatively rare event. (Although these individuals are very valuable if you can find them.) Consulting fees during an implementation are high, but worth it if the right consultants are selected.

During an implementation project it is also a good idea to begin building the technical capacity within the organization to sustain and maintain the system. In both HR and in IT, the organization should look to the post-implementation structure and understand what skills are needed after the system goes live. The time to build is during the project. When the system is live and post-implementation issues arise, consultants may be gone. Be prepared to take on your own support.

In this case, why not just buy your team and be done with it? The problem with this approach is that skilled implementers (and those are the people hired for an implementation) are often bored when the adrenalin rush of an implementation is over and may resign shortly after the implementation. These are not the people who stick around and perform administration or maintenance. The existing employees you train should have a history with the organization; they’ll have loyalty to their peers and enjoy your environment. They are likely to stay after the implementation is complete.

There is a caveat however: put your very best people on this project. Implementations are not the place to put a mediocre performer, unless you want a mediocre system. If you train more junior staff, you also run the risk of adding significant value to their skill sets and may encourage turnover. If you train an HR analyst earning $55,000 in PeopleSoft, SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards or Lawson implementation skills, you may find at the end of the project (or even before) that their market value has increased to $80,000. If you cannot give employees increases of this magnitude you may lose these people to other companies or consulting firms.

For ongoing administration of the system, a build strategy is the best approach. This is not an activity that consultants or implementers find interesting, and the cost of this talent is such that you will be overpaying them to stick around. By training key people through an implementation, you will have the foundation for managing the system for at least two to three years after going live.

But how does one train staff? Globally, there are very few HR programs that place any emphasis on HRIS. There are notable exceptions however, such as the HRMS program at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and some universities, such as the University of Toronto, do offer a single course in HRMS. There are two other alternatives for training staff in HRMS: vendors’ technical training courses or courses offered by the International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM).

If an organization buys one of the major packages from PeopleSoft, SAP or Oracle, for example, employees can be sent to “Boot Camp” to become certified in the package being implemented. This training allows them to participate in the implementation, and the experience provides a solid foundation for managing the system going forward. The training comes at a high price however; most “boot camps” are five weeks in duration and cost up to $15,000. They are often only offered in a few cities and you must foot the bill for travel and living expenses. The courses can also be taken gradually but at a much higher cost. (For a sample of typical vendor course offerings and their cost visit, select “search” and enter article #2293.)

Large vendors also offer specialized shorter courses aimed at training people on just the areas that are being implemented. If the organization is only implementing the HR portion of a package, why train an employee on the payroll portion of the system?

The IHRIM courses are vendor neutral and provide a greater overview of the entire HRMS market and its place in human resources. Typically shorter, ranging from one day to two-and-a-half days, these courses are perfect for training project teams, senior managers and information technology professionals. (For a rundown on IHRIM courses visit click on the related articles link below.)

At all stages of an implementation consider a mix of buy, rent and build. Just make sure that, whichever option you choose, you select the right people.

Questions to ask when selecting HRMS project members

•How many years of experience do you have with the specific package being implemented?

•How much experience do you have specifically in HR and payroll?

•Which modules (training, recruitment) of the system have you worked with?

•How many full life cycle implementations have you been through?

•What methodologies have you used in implementation?

•Outline formal courses you’ve had on the system.

•Are you certified by the vendor?

•Describe your specific training in project management.

•Have you had any experience in change management and working with users?

•Which organizations/clients have you worked with of our size (in our industry)?

•Provide a sample deliverable from a past project.

•Is your company a formal partner of the vendor?

John Johnston is the managing director of Human Resource Management Solutions (HRMS), which assists clients in creating a more efficient human resources function through technology. He can be reached at or visit

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