Choosing the best HR software: Essential questions to ask at the Festival of Work

Looking for HR software? There’s no better place to start your search than at the brand-new Festival of Work, held in Olympia London next month.

Previously the HR Software Show, the event brings together leading HR tech suppliers under one roof, and is the perfect opportunity to demo different systems and ask questions.

So not to waste your time when you’re there, it’s good to come prepared. Taking a bit of time beforehand to equip yourself with a list of your key requirements so you can check them off as you talk to the different suppliers, will make it easier to make comparisons after the event, so you know who you want to follow up with.

We know there’s a lot to think about, so we’ve put together a checklist of essential questions you should ask as a guide.

(You can also print out just the questions in this PDF version and take it with you to the show!)

CIPD Festival of Work logo

Getting a handle on costs

For most of us, the first step in any HR management software selection process is to identify the optimal match between system functionality and budget. While there is no point in selecting an HR system that doesn’t meet your essential requirements; putting forward a budget that the business won’t sign off is going to be a frustrating waste of your time.

HR suppliers have quite different pricing models when it comes to system fees, set up services and support. It’s important to ask the right questions so there are no nasty surprises further down the line.

Licence/Subscription fees

  • What are the subscription/licence fees?
  • What are they based on? E.g. fixed headcount, active headcount, modules taken, users etc.
  • How are they charged? E.g. Monthly, annually, in advance, in arrears.
  • Can I reduce the fees during the subscription term? E.g. if we have fewer employees or want to drop a module.
  • If so, how much notice is required?
  • What is the minimum subscription term?
  • Is there a cap on data storage? If so, how much does extra storage cost?

Set up/Implementation

  • What set up services are included in the licence/subscription fee?
  • What would a typical implementation for a company of our size cost (and what does that include)?
  • How long would you expect it to take?
  • Do you help with data upload?
  • Are any of the configurations / customisations you make carried forward into future releases at no charge, or might they need to be redeveloped and recharged for?


  • What training would you recommend?
  • Who should be trained (HR, manager, employees, suppliers)?
  • What does training cost?
  • Can training be delivered online/at our office/at your facilities?
  • What training is provided when new features are released?


  • Is support an extra cost? If so, how much does it cost?
  • How does support work?
  • Do you have an online support portal?
  • What is your SLA (Standard Service Level Agreement)?
  • What escalation processes are in place?
  • Where are support staff based?
  • What hours do they operate?

Maintenance & Updates

  • What ongoing maintenance and update services do you provide as part of your licence/subscription fees?
  • Do we automatically receive new features for our purchased modules as soon as they are released?
  • How are releases managed?
  • Are updates included for free? If not, what should I budget for annually?

Considering contractual terms

As with pricing, you’ll find that suppliers have different contract and cancellation terms. Committing to a long-term contract may not be an issue for you. But, if you would like the freedom to move on if your needs change, it’s important to make sure you pick the vendor with the approach that works for you.

  • What is the minimum contract period?
  • How much notice must I give of cancellation?
  • How do I get data back should I cancel?
  • Is there a charge?
  • How long do you retain data after cancellation (you’ll need to know this for GDPR compliance)?

Securing data (& GDPR compliance)

As an HR professional, you know how important data security is. As the custodian of personal data, it is your responsibility to secure and manage it in a way that complies with GDPR and the legal and lawful requirements of your organisation. It’s rare to find an HR supplier that doesn’t treat data security just as seriously as you do. However, it is your responsibility to check – and to make sure the system will help you with your own compliance too.

Vendor data security and GDPR compliance

  • Is your HR system/service GDPR compliant?
  • Where is data hosted and backed up? Is it kept within the EEA?
  • How long are backups kept for? Is deleted data permanently removed?
  • Who hosts my data? Are you working with a leading supplier like AWS or RackSpace?
  • Do you have independent security certification, such as ISO27001?
  • Do you have regular independent penetration testing in place to validate your data security measures?
  • Is data encrypted?
  • Can I set up different security roles for employees in different countries/parts of the business, so I can control what they can see or change?
  • Can I use single sign on or dual authentication?
  • What password policies can I enforce?

Managing your own GDPR compliance

  • Can I provide secure self-service, so employees can see and update their own information?
  • Can changes be routed through single or multi-step approval workflows?
  • Can I track that employees have received, and sign to say they have read, key documents?
  • Can I set up data retention policies to automatically delete or anonymise data in line with GDPR requirements and different requirements in different parts of our business, or is the process manual?
  • Can I set up alerts to send out automatic notifications when mandatory training or other activities need to be reviewed?
  • Is there a portal or central area where I can store documents – such as data security policies or compliance processes – for easy access by different sets of employees?
  • How are subject access requests managed?

Following the 80:20 rule

HR software should come with the essential HR features already in the system. If data upload tools aren’t already in place, or other common features such as security roles, workflows or notifications must be set up from scratch, you’ll be wasting a lot of time and money. 80% of the core functionality you need should be in the system already – and the other 20% you should be able to achieve through configuration.

  • What data can you upload for me?
  • How much do you charge?
  • What security roles are already set up?
  • What authorisation workflows are in place?
  • What notifications are in place?
  • Does the system come with standard reports, such as the Bradford Factor?
  • What interfaces do you have in place (e.g. to payroll or LMS)?

Adapting to your way of working

Organisations don’t stand still, and your HR processes won’t either. So, alongside your check list of key features, it is essential to uncover just how flexible the system is – and how much control you have over set up and configuration. If you are reliant on your supplier to make changes, you’ll need to budget accordingly. Some of the key questions you may want to ask are:

  • Can I create, save and schedule reports to run automatically?
  • Can I add my own forms with workflow authorisations?
  • Can I set up my own security roles?
  • Can I relabel or add fields?
  • Can I create and distribute documents for e-signature?
  • Can I change authorisation workflows to route in different ways in different countries or operations?
  • Can I add new countries/languages/divisions/departments?
  • If my license/subscription is based on a fixed figure, what happens if I add more employees?
  • Do you have an API (which makes interfacing to third party applications more straight-forward)?

Looking under the bonnet

Today, HR software suppliers are either Cloud hosted or Cloud native. The former migrated existing systems to be hosted in the Cloud, the latter developed solutions that take advantage of agility and cost-efficiencies of modern Cloud infrastructures.

If you want to be confident of selecting the latest Cloud native technology platform, there are three simple questions you can ask:

  • Is your system multi-tenanted?
  • Are all customers automatically updated with new features as soon as they are released?
  • Can your platform automatically scale in response to system demand?

If the answer is no to any of these, the chances are the supplier is on an older technology platform. That may not be a problem, but it will influence future costs and, at the very least, you will want to run it past your IT team.

It’s also the case that most HR systems can be used from most mobile devices via a browser. If your HR application doesn’t run as easily on a tablet or smartphone as on the office PC, you’ll struggle to get everyone to use it.

  • Which browsers does the application support?
  • Do you have native mobile apps? If so, for which operating platforms?


Cezanne HR will be showcasing the latest enhancements to their HR system at the Festival of Work. Our friendly consultants will be happy to answer any questions you have, so come say hello at our stand, D68 and pick up a free ice cream! You can also pre-book your demo here.


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