My new Amazon Echo arrived in the mail yesterday. I could not resist ordering one a few weeks ago when they were offered half-price on Amazon Prime Day. It was amazing that a device so powerful and intelligent could be set up and able to be used in a matter of minutes. Immediately my 7-year-old son and I began peppering “Alexa” with questions and commands such as “Alexa, tell me a joke,” “Alexa, set a timer,” and “Alexa, play 80’s music.” When I was a kid, we had a black & white television with a knob to change the channels. How far we have come!
This got me to thinking about the advancements in business applications technology. At our company, DATIS HR Cloud, we frequently come across health & human services agencies that sadly use technology comparable to my old black & white television.
There are many agencies, and you may be one of them, that rely extensively on “home-grown” applications. These are custom and proprietary computer software applications that were written by the organizations themselves to accomplish business tasks such as human resources, payroll, and time & attendance. In some cases, these programs were written a decade or more ago and at the time, served the agency well. Over time, this approach has proven to be problematic.
For one thing, many of the seasoned application developers and programmers that were tasked with creating and maintaining these applications are nearing retirement. Today’s college Information Technology courses simply don’t teach antiquated programming languages like RPG, COBOL, or FoxPro, some of which were used to write those in-house legacy applications. Hence there becomes a skills gap when there is no one at the agency who knows how the programs work, no matter how well they may have been documented.
Further, these applications tend to be stand-alone in nature and accomplish only one business function. They were not designed to integrate with other necessary applications like an electronic health record or general ledger software, but were created as simply a classic “point solution.” Beyond that, since most of the agencies in question don’t possess a core competency in software development, these applications have not been updated and made current over the years. So, an application written in 1997, for example, is essentially the same program it was over 20 years ago!
In addition, we sometimes encounter folks at the opposite end of the spectrum. These are agencies who have no HR software at all, neither purchased nor custom-written. Everything, including time sheets, personnel action forms, onboarding documents and performance appraisals, are handled on paper. What they can’t accomplish via paper, they often manage through applications like Microsoft Excel. Don’t get me wrong, Excel is extraordinarily powerful, but its functions are limited. Agencies that use Excel might do so for time entry, calculating payroll, or perhaps tracking the required credentialing documents for its staff. Those we encounter seem to know that this is inefficient, but they have become accustomed to it and say things like, “We’ve always done it this way.”
When I talk to people like this, either those who have a “home brewed” software or no software at all, I find that there are a few common reasons for their choices. First, their organizations simply didn’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars which would have been required for a software investment a decade or more ago. Many of our clients are not-for-profit and an expenditure like that simply was not in the budget. Others tell me that when they searched for HR software, even if they had the money, they could not identify a platform that could handle their complexities. Community mental health centers, federally-qualified health centers (FQHC’s), and similar organizations tend to be much more complicated from a labor costing standpoint. They tend to have multiple funding sources which need to be reported against and their personnel can be “dynamic,” meaning they can work in a variety of programs, cost centers, locations and more. The final reason for adopting either of these approaches is the fact that they simply did not have the technical know-how and expertise to engineer such a solution on their own.
However, there is a solution for these complex needs. The market has changed so much in just the past 10 years. An entire landscape of HR software applications stand ready to help these agencies reduce costs, improve their processes, and gain efficiencies that they could have only dreamt of in years past. Gone are the days of having to maintain costly software programs on in-house servers or to rely on disparate one-off point solutions. Simply put, these organizations can focus on what they do best – serving their communities and clients – while relying on easy-to-use solutions.
In closing, today’s human capital management solutions are cloud-based, meaning one can access the programs from a web browser, enabling the user to be mobile and productive away from the office. There has also been a major disruption in the pricing models which now put these powerful solutions well within reach of today’s health & human services organizations. Some providers, like us at DATIS HR Cloud, offer a full suite of fully-integrated solutions which cover the gamut of needs from time & attendance and payroll, to benefits, appraisals and credentialing tracking.
Thankfully, we no longer have to change the TV channels by hand. Now would be the time for organizations who still do things the old way to examine the market for a solution which might work better for them and their agencies. They just might be surprised with what they find.