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THE HR CAPITALIST BUYERS GUIDE: Buying HR Software (Suite vs. Best in Breed)

Dateline - Monday, Go To Meeting. Virtual.

Spent a couple of hours on Monday representing a client on a demo call with an HR software provider of the Suite variety.  First, some defintions when it comes to HR Software:

Suite Provider - HR software provider that has developed a suite which solves multiple pain points for the modern HR department, including things like system of record (HRMS), recruiting/ATS, performance, learning and development, etc.  

Best in Breed - HR software provider that specializes in one damn thing.  Rather than giving you a suite of products, they're incredibly focused in one area, and if you buy them, their solution is generally going to be better than a lot of functionality in the same area offered by a suite.

Now for some realities when you are deciding whether to buy HR solutions as a Suite (which is to say you generally buy from one provider, who covers all your needs) or you go the Best in Breed route (which means you'll buy a lot of different solutions to meet your needs, all of which may or may not talk together):

1. A really good Best in Breed solution should kick the a## of the functionality offered in the same area by a Suite.  If it doesn't, then why would you buy it?

2. A Suite has the advantage of all the different modules talking together and sharing information, work-flow and reporting - HRMS, recruiting/ATS, performance, learning and development, etc.  You buy from one place and don't have to worry about multiple platforms and all the issues that come with that.

3. Any Suite provider probably started out as a Best in Breed before deciding to build out a Suite of solutions.  That means that the functionality of at least one of their modules should be excellent/killer.  The rest of the modules are going to lag behind the legacy focus that the provider original put in the first areas.  Examples of credible Suite Providers include Halogen Software (started with a focus on performance) and SumTotal (started with a focus on learning). Examples of Best in Breed providers include Jobvite (Recruiting) and HireVue (Video Interviewing).

4. A Suite provider that has legacy/Best in Breed focus in HRMS isn't really going to excel in any of the areas that excite upscale HR pros.  HRMS runs the back end/guts.  It's important, but it's not strategic.

So if you're in the market for HR Tech, what should you do?  Here's what I recommend:

1. Are you interested in a broad solution or do you want to go the Best in Breed route?  If broad is your game, proceed to #2.  If Best in Breed is what you want and you're really not in the mood for all that comes with a Suite, do your search in your area of focus and sign a deal.  Get ready to repeat that process and sign multiple deals.

2. If you want a Suite of HR solutions, you need to ask yourself where your primary pain point/area of focus is.  What's going to give you the most bang for your buck in your company?  Is it performance, recruiting, learning or something else?  Once you define the first priority, you should look for Suite providers that started in that area and made it before building out the Suite.  If they started in your area of primary focus, they're going to give you great functionality in that area, then help you solve some automation/reporting problems in other areas.

3. Be careful of Suite providers that started as core HRMS/System of Record providers.  They may be great at that, but the functionality of other areas in the Suite will lag the HRMS functionality.  Everyone expects you to keep great records, do benefit enrollment, etc.  You won't get credit for being strategic for that.  A better play may be to buy HRMS/Payroll together, then buy a Suite to handle everything else.  Most Suites will do a nice job of integration with a core HRMS/payroll system.

It's on my mind because I'm working for a client on the recruiting side, and yesterday's call had me evaluating the recruiting functionality of a Suite.  The client had already signed the deal with a Suite provider with HRMS origins, and while they had OK recruiting functionality, they clearly didn't speak the game or have a lot of interest in talking about what's next in their recruiting module.  It was what it was.  

Here it is!  Take it or leave it. We have minimal interest in making this world class.  Have you seen the core HRMS that's included though?

Signing up with a Suite is forever.  Or at least a long time.  Know what's most important to you if shopping for a suite provider and proceed with caution.


Joe Rice

"...and don't have to worry about multiple platforms and all the issues that come with that." <-- could be a post itself. The Suite vs BIB decision necessitates different in-house capabilities.

Thanks for the overview--well said!


We purchased a suite, I am working the implementation now. It is my own personal hell! :)

Miles Baltrusaitis

Great points here. I enjoy the plain language writing style on a topic that often gets the marketing lingo approach.

I'm on the best of breed side and we often point people to a feature comparison chart with our competitors for the first reason you mention. We kick the pants out of them on that front.

One thing you don't mention that significantly affects the "Best of Breed vs Suite debate" is cloud delivery. Once apps move to the cloud, integrations between best of breed apps via Open APIs eliminates one of the big advantages suite applications claim to hold.

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