Should SMBs Be Relying More on the Cloud to Help Manage HR?

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    If there’s one thing a lot of SMBs have a hard time outsourcing, it’s their HR operation, simply because of its critical nature. Add the notion of allowing the management of that operation to reside in the cloud, and the reluctance, for some, may increase exponentially. But to what degree is that reluctance warranted?

    I recently had the opportunity to discuss that issue with Eric Sikola, general manager of TriNet Cloud at TriNet, a human resources services provider in San Leandro, Calif. As the founder of ExpenseCloud, which TriNet acquired in May 2012, Sikola is a vocal advocate of empowering SMBs with better HR options.

    “I founded ExpenseCloud in 2008 because I wanted to help companies and their employees better manage their expense process,” Sikola said. “Having personally felt the pain of the old way of managing expenses, I knew there was a better way, and I wanted to help small- and medium-sized business.”

    Sikola said when TriNet acquired Expense Cloud, it gained an additional level of innovation.

    “In addition to new technology, they gained a fantastic additional development team,” he said. “Since the acquisition, we’ve launched additional products. ExpenseCloud is now TriNet Expense, and has been joined in the TriNet Cloud suite of applications by additional cloud-based offerings.” Those include TriNet Hire, an applicant tracking system; TriNet Perform, a performance review application; and TriNet Travel, an online travel booking and management engine.

    “Overall,” Sikola said, “we expanded our suite of products with one goal in mind: to make HR administrative tasks easier for growing companies so they can focus more on growing their business and less on the mundane functions of their business.” He explained that HR and accounting are often weighed down by expenses.

    “Expense reimbursements are often [made] via payroll, so integrating with TriNet’s payroll functionality really makes things easier for our clients,” Sikola said, adding that an expense offering was the top request from TriNet’s customer advisory board in 2011.

    I asked Sikola what he expects will be different in what TriNet Cloud provides, and how the company provides it, two years from now. He said the company has changed so much in two years that that’s incredibly difficult to predict.

    “But I can say that we are a very agile company, and continuous innovation is in our genes,” Sikola said. “We’ll continue to deliver applications that help small- to medium- sized businesses manage their HR admin tasks, so I believe you’ll see more growth there. … Another thing our clients appreciate is our integration with leading accounting, payroll, job board and HR software solutions, which makes their lives easier. So, we’ll continue to add integrations that make sense for them.”

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    Still, given that no HR option is the ideal option for every SMB, I asked Sikola under what circumstances outsourcing HR is not a recommended option. He said that different organizations do have different HR needs, which is why companies like TriNet offer different options and levels of service.

    “HR outsourcing serves the needs of nimble, fast-growing entrepreneurial companies,” Sikola said, noting that a professional employer organization (PEO) like TriNet serves as an outsourced HR department to provide comprehensive employment services such as payroll and benefits administration, HR management, and assistance with employer compliance.

    “Equipped with these services, SMBs can level the playing field with their bigger competitors,” Sikola said. “They can attract and retain talent, contain rising HR costs, create efficiency, and minimize liability and exposure to risk. As companies grow and expand their staff, they may choose to bring some of the functions a PEO provides in-house and assign them to their internal HR team.”  

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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