When general HR systems are not enough

When general HR systems are not enough

Recently I’ve noticed a trend of companies who are implementing generalist HR tools, but then not being 100% happy with the outcome they receive.


It seems I’m not the only one noticing this. Josh Bersin, well-known industry analyst, talked about this at the Unleash event we were exhibiting at in London recently – “In many of my recent discussions with HR technology buyers I’ve been surprised at their frustration after spending millions of dollars on software. Which led me to ask Is HR technology delivering on the promises and if not, why not?


Often the issue is one of expectation not matching reality. Companies invest in one of the big well-known HR Platforms (Oracle, Workday, SuccessFactors or similar) hoping it will meet all their needs. These systems are very good at providing a foundation level of support for HR, taking care of recording pay, job levels, benefits, and other employee data. Some systems also support recruitment and other HR processes. However, by their nature they are generalist, and therefore the issue comes when trying to work with key specialisms in your company. Our specialist area of focus is Digital Skills Management, which is dealing with the specialist digital, IT, cybersecurity and other technology-focussed skills. None of these generalist systems contain a definition of these skills at the level needed, which is why companies often need to use some specialist tools and systems alongside their general company-wide HR system.



To borrow one of Josh Bersin’s earlier presentation slides, one of the challenges that are not covered by the generalist HR tools is “Critical skills gap analysis” (shown as point 8 in the picture). This is because you need to get to the right level of detail to find the ‘critical skills’. You can’t say “we have a gap in Information Security” – you need to identify whether that gap is in setting the strategy and policies, investigating security breaches, digital forensics, or granting a user access permissions to an application – all very different skills, and not all found in the same person. No longer can you ask for another “Information Security Manager” or even a “Business Analyst” or a “Service Manager” – you have to identify the specific skills needed, or else you’ll get someone who can’t do what you need them to do. It is a bit like asking for “a car”, and then being disappointed that the 2-seater sports car you’ve been given is not big enough for your 3 children and the dog.  Several times I’ve come across two Business Analysts in the same company – one who does nothing but produce business requirements specifications, and another who does this but also creates acceptance test criteria and contributes to business cases. Despite them both having the same job title, the skills and the levels of those skills are a very different mix for each of these individuals. When it comes to supporting these individual specialists and their managers, you need to provide them with the ability to assess their current skills (at a detailed-enough level), define the skills needed in job/roles/projects/tasks, highlight potential gaps and development needs, and create a development plan which maps activities to these skills at the right levels.


There are other steps in the cycle from Josh’s diagram which will also require this greater level of detail about the specialist skills and competencies. Recruitment is a good example – anyone taken part in an interview and worked out in the first 2 minutes that the person doesn’t have the right skills and experience despite the agency saying that the “ticked all the boxes”?



The middle of the diagram is also critical – learning content, job descriptions and role profiles all need to be mapped to individual skills, and not just lumped together in a general “IT” category.


In the digital, IT, cybersecurity and technology space, there is a specialist framework used in nearly 200 countries around the world – SFIA (the Skills Framework for the Information Age). There are a few specialist systems, including our SkillsTx SaaS solution, which have SFIA embedded in them – to my knowledge, none of the generalist HR tools do!


If you’re not sure whether you have a challenge in this area or not, you can find out in less than 5-minutes by completing the free Digital Skills Management Maturity assessment – and you’ll get an extremely useful report upon completion.

Matthew Burrows