Tech Insights: The Challenges When HR Technology Goes Global

Feb 18, 2015

Most HR tech companies are born local, and if successful, gradually become global.

Going global with HR technology can be surprisingly challenging. I remember working with software in South East Asia many years ago and running into issues such as Thai names too long for the name field, and Indonesian benefits plans that had far more elements than the software designers had ever envisaged.

I was pleased to see some companies that were designed to be global from the ground up. The UK-based Fairsail has built its strategy on being a HRIS for mid-sized global companies — a neat niche and undoubtedly a big one as you no longer need to be a large company to be a global one.

Be worldly instead of global

Another vendor clearly identifying themselves with a global niche is the benefits solution Darwin, from Thomson’s Online Benefits. Having been exposed to the challenges of global HR, vendors who have built themselves as global from the ground up have a special appeal to me.

I think both software buyers and software designers ought to think global even if their short-term plans are strictly local.

I cannot go on using the word “global” without pointing out that Henry Mintzberg argues persuasively that managers should be worldly rather than global.

Being “global” implies a flat earth where everything is the same, while “worldly” implies a knowledge and appreciation of the world as it is. I hope that global software is actually worldly software, helping each country do things that suit their needs rather than trying to force them into our own mold.

The solution is not to get Thai to change their names or Indonesians to adopt “sensible” benefit plans; it is to design software flexible enough to work around the world.

What is interesting?

  • The world has more diversity than many Americans expect, and even well-travelled people often are surprised by unexpected variations in practices.

What is really important?

  • If you are buying HR software with the hope that it can grow to be global with you; or if you are designing software, it pays to understand how things are different elsewhere since those differences can derail otherwise good products and can be hard to fix after the fact.