Best of breed?
JUL 31, 2007The business software industry has always had its share of purists and pragmatists – one bunch arguing passionately for what passes as elegance in IT circles, the other focusing on the mundane matter of making it all work. In the middle, of course, there’s the rest of us, scratching our heads and wondering how all this technology actually helps us do our jobs.
Take the interminable debate about ‘best-of-breed’ specialist software packages versus integrated suites. Anyone who’s invested in broad-based people management software – or on a bigger scale, software to manage different business functions such as HR, finance and customer management – will be familiar with the arguments. Should you try to knit together a bunch of different software applications that each excel in their own right – or should you buy a single suite from one vendor, knowing that it might not be a match for the specialists in every area, but at least the different components will actually talk to one another?
If you’ve ever been involved in a big integration project to exchange data between different systems or build complex business processes, you’ll know this stuff really does matter. In many IT projects, integration problems slow down rollouts, ratchet up costs, and delay the day when you can actually start enjoying the business benefits you were promised.
That said, if you really have been close to this kind of project in the past, you’ll also know that the choice about best-of-breed and integrated suites is rarely that simple, and that the debate is less about noble philosophy and more about marketing tactics. For one thing, you can’t always be sure that all the applications in a single software suite are really as tightly meshed together as vendors would have you believe. Quite a few integrated packages have been assembled over the years through a combination of in-house development and acquisition, rather than being designed from the ground up as a common suite. Look under the covers, and you might well spot the odd bit of chewing gum and elastoplast holding them together.
By the same token, you can’t always assume that it’s going to be a huge challenge to link together best-of-breed applications – after all, different systems require different depths of integration. If you’re really struggling to link your HR and payroll systems, for example, you’re probably doing something wrong – the data exchange requirements shouldn’t be that problematic. And it’s not as if the best-of-breed vendors haven’t spotted integration is an issue. Many offer pre-packaged integrations between popular packages that help shortcut some of the hassles, and increasingly, you’ll find some pretty sophisticated techniques and technologies being deployed to help ease the whole problem.
In the end, it’s really not about one approach or the other. I might buy a perfectly good people management system from a single vendor and by default, position myself in the suite camp. But as I look around for help with my most pressing business problems – managing high-volume recruitment, perhaps – the chances are I’ll find a specialist application that does the job more effectively than my new supplier. As long as I can bolt the different pieces together reasonably effectively, I won’t think twice about doing it.
In reality, the biggest flaw in the suite versus best-of-breed debate is that the goalposts long ago moved. Like most things in business, there’s black and there’s white – but most of us naturally migrate to the gray area in the middle.
JUL 15, 2007I’ve never met Steve Carter, managing director of finance recruiter Nigel Lynn, and I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt when he holds forth about the perils of recruitment automation. But I do wish he’d be a little less liberal with his sweeping generalizations.
Under the headline ‘Technology hampering the hiring process’, Carter issued a statement earlier this month claiming that “the increasing reliance on technology by HR departments is actually having a detrimental effect on the hiring process”. He went on to slam the way job applications are filtered through automated systems, pointing to the “ridiculous scenario where good candidates will get deselected by what they forgot to put on their CVs”, and giving the example, presumably real, of a qualified senior tax specialist whose job application was rejected because they didn’t have the phrase “indirect taxation” on their resume. He rounded it all off with the neatly coined argument that “people recruit people – not computers – you can’t email a handshake”.
By this point, you may well have joined up the dots connecting a focus on face-to-face meetings, recruitment consultants, and the rather large percentage of annual salary that you tend to cough up whenever you have to use one to fill a vacancy. But before you dismiss Carter’s arguments as vested interest, he does make some good points.
Firstly, it’s true that one of the big problems with automated resume filtering systems is that they tend to lack finesse – keyword searching, in particular, is often a hit and miss way to select potential interviewees. Likewise, it’s also true, as Carter goes on to say, that a lot of good candidates aren’t even looking for jobs and won’t make it into an electronic system, which is one area where headhunters really come into their own.
But this is only part of the picture. For one thing, some of the best technology now being used for automated filtering is pretty hot stuff, and can make a big difference for companies trying to cope with large volumes of applications. Software developers such as Trovix, for example, have invested sizeable sums of money in sophisticated filtering technology that analyzes information in context, while Google has developed some flashy analytical techniques to manage the 100,000+ job applications it gets each month. (Incidentally, that’s a heck of a lot of handshakes, Mr Carter).
Secondly, automated systems don’t exclude everyone who isn’t actively looking for a job. Many web-based systems allow people who’ve been browsing through a site to register their specific job interests, even if they’re not thinking seriously about moving at that point or there’s no suitable vacancy available. Done properly, they allow organizations to keep in touch over the long-term and notify prospective candidates if something interesting comes up in the future. That’s no help if a top notch candidate has never visited your site, but it does increase the overall candidate pool.
Thirdly, automated filtering isn’t mandatory with a recruitment system – lots of organizations accept applications over the web and then read them just as they would with a printed resume. In fact, the notion that “technology hampers the hiring process” ignores the many benefits that automation can bring, from enabling organizations to process high volumes of applications to streamlining internal recruitment processes. Coming from a newspaper background where headlines often favor attention-grabbing over rigid adherence to the facts, I’m hardly in a position to take the moral high ground on all of this – but like everything in people management, the reality is rather more nuanced.
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© Webster Buchanan Research 2013