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The adoption of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions by HR departments is on the upswing with spending up 10 percent globally in 2018, topping $40 billion. It’s no wonder this surge is occuring. As talent retention becomes a critical part of every business strategy, these tools do more than help companies recruit and manage their workforce–they improve people-related business decisions, transform the employee experience, and optimize processes.

But with more than 1,400 global HR technology vendors to choose from, choosing the right apps can be overwhelming.

To help you decide, here are five essential technology tools to include in your core HR tech stack.

1) recruitment, 2) learning and development, 3) payroll, 4) benefits, 5) analytics

1.  Recruitment – Attract and Make the Right Hire

Recruiting top talent is a big challenge for any organization, large or small, and there are hundreds of tools that can help – from all-in-one recruitment Customer Relationship Management applications (CRMs) to point solutions that support pre-hire testing and assessment, applicant tracking, and more.

If you run a small organization, Freshteam scores highly on FitSmallBusiness’ ranking of the seven best recruitment software options, based on cost, ease-of-use, and its feature-richness. But it’s also a good fit for larger organizations with options that scale to support 1,000+ employees.

Like many SaaS tools, Freshteam has adopted a familiar CRM-style interface. The software includes a dashboard view of your hiring pipeline (resumes, emails, feedback, etc.), a manageable candidate database, and collaborative hiring model that lets you gather feedback and input from the entire hiring team in one place.

Also worthy of consideration is Lever. A popular choice among leading companies, Lever is an HR- and candidate-friendly applicant tracking solution that streamlines the recruitment experience. It includes easy interview scheduling and calendar synching, candidate nurture campaigns, pipeline and conversion analysis, and more. Users can also search for suitable candidates from Lever’s database of 20+ million prospects.

Other choices in the recruitment technology space include Workable (an HR CRM tool notable for its ease-of-use and collaboration strengths), Greenhouse (which integrates with social sites and third-party email platforms), PeopleFluent (great for larger enterprises involved in healthcare, manufacturing, government, and financial services), and LinkedIn Recruiter (a CRM solution that includes options for heavy recruiters and occasional recruiters, as well as access to LinkedIn’s global talent pool).

2.  Learning and Development – Put the Learner Front and Center

Whether you’re onboarding new hires, trying to engage learners, or cultivating the leaders of tomorrow, learning and development is a critical function of HR and key to retaining employees. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report found that 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers and made time for learning. The report also found that employees prefer to learn at work (68 percent), at their own pace (58 percent), and at the point of need (49 percent) which is why so many talent developers are turning to online learning solutions.

Udemy for Business, for example, is used by some of the world’s top brands, including PayPal, Apple, Lyft, and others. With more than 3,000 high quality courses in more than 75 different categories (plus a custom course development option) – all delivered by renowned experts –  there’s something relevant for everyone. Udemy also enables students to engage directly with instructors and provides tools for managers to monitor progress and learning engagement.

Another leader in this space is Jhana (recently acquired by Franklin Covey). Jhana delivers “a bite-size training approach” for the busy workplace. It also emphasizes seamless integration with your existing processes and HR initiatives like new manager training, leadership development, onboarding, retention, and more.

IT skills are in high demand and well served by online learning tools. Ranking highest on G2Crowd’s ranking of learning management systems, Pluralsight is the world’s largest online library of tech and creative training targeted at the developer and IT professional community. Simplilearn also plays in this space and offers certification options for cloud architects, data scientists, digital marketing specialists, and others, across a choice of live online formats, in-person classrooms, and self-study lessons.

3.  Payroll – Streamline Your Biggest Headache

Payroll functions have traditionally been dominated by big name ERP solutions like ADP, PeopleSoft, and SAP, however 14 percent of North American businesses have already made the move to cloud-based services, reports Deloitte. A further 26 percent are expected to follow suit. In fact, of those looking to incorporate SaaS into their HR tech stack, 73 percent are considering adding payroll functionality.

A sampling of the players in this space include Gusto (an all-in-one HR tool known for its for ease-of-use), Workday (which also provides insights into labor costs, overtime, etc.), and Kronos (an end-to-end solution that includes payroll, bonus payment capabilities, reporting, and analysis). One of the fastest-growing HR apps, Zenefits, also supports payroll.

4.  Benefits – Simplify Administration and Empower Employees

Benefits are a critical part of the employee experience but are often overlooked. Only 33 percent of companies are considering adding a SaaS-based benefits administration tool to their HR tech stacks.

These apps can provide employees with fingertip access to their benefit information without having to navigate a mountain of paperwork, portals, and emails. They also incorporate features that help employees locate services nearby like healthcare, wellness programs, etc.. For employers, these tools consolidate benefits into a single workflow, while simplifying compliance.

Many of the vendors in the payroll space include optional benefits modules (and more) in their offerings. For example, Zenefits provides benefits, time management, compliance and recordkeeping in a single platform. Employees also benefit from self-service tools including easy enrolment in programs like FSAs, HSAs, company perks, and more. Gusto, Workday, WageWorks, and Namely, among others also offer benefits administration.

5.  Analytics – Leverage Your Most Important Asset: Your Data

HR functions generate a huge amount of data that can provide insight into key trends such as candidate conversion, employee engagement in HR programs, and absenteeism rates Data can even be used to predict talent retention. Yet, most HR teams are so focused on administration tasks that they have little time to explore their data goldmines. Technology is changing that.

The analytics capabilities in best-of-breed tools like Udemy for Business, Gusto, Workday, Lever, and Zenefits can help you make sense of your data. Another HR tool, CakeHR, includes a comprehensive reporting module that lets you quickly run reports against KPIs. You can monitor absenteeism and workforce productivity, employee growth and turnover, and other actionable insights that would otherwise require the involvement of IT and accounting teams.

Build from the Core

Your HR needs will inevitably evolve over time, and you can bet there’ll be a solution that meets those needs. But as you build out your tech stack, do so judiciously. If you keep adding and adding to meet every problem that surfaces, you’ll end up with the equivalent of a cluttered garage – a pile of inventory that addressed a particular need at a given point in time, but that no one bears accountability for anymore, has questionable ROI, and may even overlap with a tool that someone else in the organization is already using.

Instead, focus on procuring tools that are really necessary. Ensure that they integrate with each other and fit the larger goals of the organization.

Most importantly, always be conscious of managing and controlling your growing stack. With all the apps at your disposal, it can be easy to let it grow out of control, but that will just make your job more challenging. Keep things clean – not cluttered – and you’ll be well on your way to an optimized HR tech stack that works well for you and your organization.