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Opinion

Thomas Otter on the Wedding Cake V. Cupcake of HR tech

Will your HR tech last longer than your marriage?

Thomas Otter

Wedding cake

Unleash Your Curiosity Dr Thomas Otter is a leading advisor for emerging HR tech vendors and their investors, guiding them to build better products and be more successful. Read his column every month at UNLEASH.

  • Choosing the HR tech that’s right for you is like choosing the right cake, argues Dr Thomas Otter.
  • While some cupcakes are indeed beautiful to look at and taste lovely, the purchase decision typically doesn’t take weeks, rather seconds or minutes. 
  • Many organizations over cook the decision making processes and evaluations for relatively simple single use case solutions.

As you may have gathered by now, I‘m a fan of unusual metaphors. I usually come up with these myself, and then inflict them on you in blog posts and conference talks.  I‘m not adverse to borrowing and repurposing though. Nick Gall, a former Gartner Analyst and IBM-er wrote recently about IBM‘s Watson and the Wedding Cake v Cupcake problem. You should read the piece, he articulates the issues and problems of ML/AI at IBM really well.  For some time now, I‘ve been beating up on AI in this column. I won‘t do so today, but I will borrow his metaphor and repurpose it.

WEDDING CAKE V CUPCAKE

Choosing a wedding cake is  (with a bit of luck) a once in lifetime experience. The process you go through in selecting a baker, the levels of consulting, design, dialogue etc can be extensive and intense. You may get the advisory support of your mother in law and other experts.  You may get references, and do pilot tastings. You will have to make significant architectural decisions, perhaps involving tiers and layers.   It may take some couples weeks to select the perfect cake, and the expense is usually not inconsequential, it requires budgeting.

A cupcake (or Fairy cake for some of us) is usually something you whip up quickly at home, or select in a shop that produces a variety of standardized offerings. While some cupcakes are indeed beautiful to look at and taste lovely, the purchase decision typically doesn’t take weeks, rather seconds or minutes. 

CHOOSE HR TECH CAREFULLY

When organizations select HR tech, it is important to figure out are in the market for a wedding cake, or cupcakes. Very few systems need the wedding cake treatment, but your core HR system is likely, on average to last longer than marriage. You need to choose it carefully, get the support of IT, procurement and other corporate in-laws. Benchmark extensively, do detailed references and so on.

But if you are looking for a new career site or a mobile capability to deliver just in time training for front line staff on mask and distancing, you need to think more cupcake than wedding cake.

Evaluate standard recipes and offerings, and get on with it.  If it turns out you don‘t like the solution, then be prepared to change it out quickly, with a minimum of fuss.

Many organizations over do the decision making processes and evaluations for relatively simple single use case solutions, but then under cook the process when evaluating solutions that have long term, strategic impact on the organization. Ask yourself are we buying a cupcake or wedding cake. I suspect for many of you, you will get different answers depending on who you ask in your team. 

How you buy HR tech software is a mirror of how your organization works. Many years ago I was supporting a software sales deal, and the prospect asked, ‘I hear your software is slow to implement, how long does it take?’ I replied, ‘just a little longer than it takes you to buy it.’  The account manager didn’t ask me back! 

This column was a tad late, I‘m recovering from Covid, although double vaxxed.  As the Germans say, Glück im Unglück.  The good news is that the vaccine does what is supposed to do, and I‘m now feeling almost back to normal. Science is a wonderful thing. 

Thomas Otter is a leading advisor for emerging HR tech vendors and their investors, guiding them to build better products and be more successful. Read his new column every month at UNLEASH. Visit, otteradvisory.com

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