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by Brian Westfall,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: December 7, 2016


Human capital management (HCM) software could be thought of as the next step in the evolution of human resources (HR) software. Rather than managing employees as if they’re static resources with finite skills and limited capabilities, HCM software manages employees as “human capital” that can be grown, leveraged and strategically deployed.

This might sound like an insignificant shift in perspective without a substantive difference, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! The shift in perspective behind HCM software brings with it a selection of new tools and applications—discussed in detail below—that improve the ability of organizations to leverage and grow their human capital investments.

As a “next step” in a long line of HR software, tools and strategies, many companies have questions about HCM software. An increasingly large portion of these companies are small and midsize businesses (SMBs). Below we examine and explain core aspects of HCM software, paying particular attention to the functionalities and use cases most relevant to SMBs.

In this HCM software Buyer’s Guide we look at:

What Is Human Capital Management Software?
Common Functions of Human Capital Management Software
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Recent Events You Should Know About

What Is Human Capital Management Software?

Technically, HCM software fits into the broader category of general HR software and as such, it can include some or all of the following core HR functionalities:

  • Recruiting
  • Onboarding
  • Personnel tracking
  • Time and attendance
  • Payroll

The informal distinction between HCM and general HR software is that HCM includes tools useful for more strategic workforce planning and analysis, while core HR software is typically more focused on the nuts and bolts of employee management. This is discussed in more detail in the final section below.

Of course, this standard warning applies: Vendors market their software differently and have a tendency to blur distinctions and descriptions. While the distinction above may not hold in all cases, it’s still useful to keep in mind as you read reviews and move closer to a purchase decision.

Common Functions of Human Capital Management Software

The following are generalized descriptions of the functionalities commonly included in HCM software. While they may be described differently by different vendors, the essential functionality will be similar across the board.

Core HR administration These are the functionalities associated with traditional HR software, such as: benefits and payroll administration, employee life cycle process management and organization of employee data.
Talent management These applications help manage recruiting and onboarding processes, compensation, management of employee performance and training and education programs.
Workforce management These tools help manage day-to-day workforce activities by tracking time and attendance, activity and task tracking, scheduling and absence management.
HR service delivery These tools are provided largely for the benefit of employees, offering direct (online) access to important records and information regarding their employment.
Workforce analytics These functions include reporting and data visualization features as well as predictive analytics models to help the HR department predict and plan for likely future scenarios and challenges.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Core HR buyer. Your company has grown and it’s time to graduate from your spreadsheet-and-email methods of managing employees. Core HR platforms provide the essential, must-have HR functions such as personnel tracking, absence management, payroll, benefits administration and recruiting. Core HR platforms can be purchased for on-premise installation or as online software.

Best-of-breed core HR buyer. You already have a system for managing human resources. It’s an older system and doesn’t have much fancy functionality, but it’s integral to your operations and would be costly to replace. But, you’ve found you need some additional functionality, maybe something to help you better track applicants or update your appraisal and review processes. Often, HCM applications can be purchased as best-of-breed solutions, letting you add new HR functionality without much capex or system downtime.

Strategic HR buyers. If you’re in this group, then you probably have loftier HR goals, like workforce optimization and strategic workforce planning. These goals require better analytical tools that can help with forward-looking projections and planning. To the average (core) HR buyer, some of these tools would be considered “nice to have.” But for companies that want to amp up their HR strategy and are looking for tools to help with, for example, performance management, succession planning or compensation management, then HCM software is usually the best choice.

Recent Events You Should Know About

SAP using SuccessFactors for improved employee acquisition (August, 2016). As more and more companies learn to adapt their hiring practices to an increasingly millennial-centric workforce, SAP is finding success with its own HCM platform, SuccessFactors. In an article in ITbusiness, the software giant describes how its HCM platform helps the company attract and retain the best available talent from a younger population.

Applebee’s franchisee using UltiPro to improve onboarding, payroll processes (September, 2016). RMH Franchise Corporation, which operates over 175 Applebee’s locations, announced it was switching to cloud-based HCM platform UltiPro to improve its onboarding and processing of payrolls. The company expects the move to greatly reduce the workload for office staff, by automating many repetitive processes involved with accounting and tax reporting for the company’s 10,000-plus employees.

Walmart automating 7,000 back-office accounting and invoicing jobs (September, 2016). After completing a successful trial run in some 500 stores this summer, Walmart announced it will continue moving ahead with the plan to automate certain back-office roles. The move comes as Walmart faces continuing pressure from slowing sales and is actively trying to leverage new IT to improve operational efficiency.

Related HR and HCM Software Categories

There’s a variety of stand-alone HR applications and full HR and HCM platforms on the market, and buyers are encouraged to examine all of their options before making a purchase decision. Depending on if you’re a core HR buyer, a best-of-breed core HR buyer or a strategic HR buyer (see explanations above) you might find the perfect HR tool on one of the related pages below:

Free Download:
Core HR Software Pricing Guide

Free Download:
Ten Steps Guide to Selecting the Right
Human Resources (HR) Software

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