HR Vision Podcast #18 – Sweeping through different HR tools ft. Elliott Williams

By FourVision
Nov 3 • 1 min read
HR Vision Podcast Episode 18 ft. Elliott Williams

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Based in Atlanta – Georgia, Elliott Williams is our guest in this episode.

We take an interesting look over almost 15 years in HR Tech, working first with payroll and then with some of the biggest HR Tech tools in the market.

Besides his interesting path to HR Tech Consultancy, we discussed the must-have skills to help clients, challenges along the way and how Microsoft differs from other tools he worked with in the past. All in a fun and easy-going conversation!

Ivo:
Hey everyone, and welcome to the HR Vision podcast. I'm your host Ivo, and every week I'm going to have a conversation that matters about HR.

This week I have Elliottt Williams with me. Welcome Elliottt. How are you?

Elliott:
I'm great. How about yourself Ivo?

Ivo:
I'm doing great, thank you. Thank you for being here. Elliott as you can hear by the accent is based in the US, Georgia, so with Georgia in his mind like Ray Charles I guess. He's an implementation consultant at FourVision with an extensive track record in HR Tech. So this this should be fun. So Elliott, you ready?

Elliott:
Yes I'm ready!

Ivo:
Alright, OK, let's start with the beginning. Introduce yourself, let's try to know a bit more about you, what you've been doing your background then yeah, go ahead.

Elliott:
As you said I am based in Atlanta, GA in the US. So the time zone difference; I'm getting used to it. I've been in implementation or HR space for the last 25-30, it's been over 25 years. I've lost count after so many years. And for the past year I was on a hiatus after working 12 years for a another Microsoft partner. So I took a break and did a few... Opportunities, I'll put it that way. Contracting opportunities to do some training and some just keep my information fresh in the Microsoft space. So then I joined FourVision and have been learning quite a bit since joining the FourVision team.

Ivo:
Alright, so it's been two months right?

Elliott:
It's been two months. I started on August 25th.

Ivo:
Alright. Already seems like a year.

Elliott:
That would be!

Ivo:
Tell me a bit more about your background. Did you pick HR tech from the beginning? Was it something that happened to you? How was that evolution, that process?

Elliott:
Well, it's a very interesting story. HR was never my choice of business. I went to school for accounting. Graduated a bachelors degree in accounting while working as a front desk clerk in a hotel, then became a front office manager, then became assistant general manager. So I spent the majority of my initial career in the hotel industry, hospitality and travel. Doing travel agency as a outside travel agent on a contract and doing hospitality and it was just. I got to a point in my life because I went from working full-service hotels to working in a casino. I worked at Sam's Town in Tunica, Mississippi for a minute. I was a front desk manager.

It got to be all too much. I enjoyed working with the people and that was what I loved about being in the hospitality industry. But I just quit one day. I got tired of the drive because it was a 45 minute drive from Memphis to Tunica. At the time they were building the roads and it was just dangerous here and there. So one day I just woke up and said "Enough.". I don't want to do this anymore and I went to work for a temp agency. And they asked me, what was I interested in. I says, well, I have an area in hospitality and and accounting. "Oh great, we have a opportunity with the client that's looking for, of all things, a receptionist to work at their front desk. Because one of their people is on maternity leave." I said "OK, we'll try it.". And it was for paychecks. That was my introduction into the payroll world in the sense, from standing on the outside looking in, because I was a receptionist.

I had no idea what they did in the back, no more than they processed payroll and people came to pick up their paychecks and their reports. And I simply had them sign a piece of paper, answered the phone and gave them their paychecks. That was it. So I was there for three weeks and the branch manager says "Are you ever interested in doing payroll?" And I was like: "Never thought about it. I've done accounting. I left accounting because it was boring. There was no people contact.". He says "Well this will be different, I guarantee. You'll have clients calling in to report their payroll. You'll help him with all their payroll issues and you'll learn payroll.". And I said "Sure, what's the process?".

Three weeks of training taught me how to be a payroll specialist, how to do payroll the old fashioned way. With a pen, a piece of paper and the circular E to figure out your taxes.

So that was my initial step into this world and I was still doing it from the sense of: I'm having people contact, but I'm doing it with the system, not thinking about HR Tech in any shape. Then they brought in a new product. We have a new product; we're going to allow customers to do their time themselves, and it's going to interface with our mainframe and we're going to process their payroll that they won't have to talk to you. They'll just do everything via the interface in the application. I joined up for that.

It went from that to Ciridian. I worked at Ciridian for a few years as a third level support, supporting the mainframe where people had payroll issues. I was that person. I did that for couple years and was a trainer and I met someone of all people in the airport, who was an Oracle consultant. And that started me and the whole HR tech world. They said "Oh, you work for Ceridian. You're a trainer, would you ever be interested in joining Oracle?.

And Ivo, I was afraid. Because I was like "Oh no, that's a database company. I know nothing about databases. I'm not technical, I know nothing about that." She goes. "Oh, you don't need to know that. Trust me. We have consultant positions". And I said "Well, what do your consultants do?" And she explained it. I got her number and she kept calling because they were looking for people. I put her off for about 3 months. Before I said "OK, I'll go through the interview process. We'll see what happens." I got the job at Oracle. I started as an HR payroll consultant. HR and payroll were the basis of their system. So you had to know HR before you could specialize in any other area.

Because I'm a payroll person. I had not deviled in HR. So it was just like, OK, we're going to try this, but that was my springboard to becoming HR related. Then it went from Oracle to PeopleSoft.

I took a break, went to grad school in NYC for travel management, because I still wanted the travel thing. It's weird. They didn't have a degree in travel management when I was in college. So I went back to get one.

Ivo:
OK! So the travel bug was still there?

Elliott:
It was still there. I spent three months in Switzerland doing a study abroad and it was fabulous. So I came back to the US and said "OK, school is out, vacation is over. Is now time to go back to work. What do I want to do?".

I went to monster.com and applied for a job as a consultant and here we are. Microsoft. I didn't know Microsoft had any workspace in the HR payroll area. Had no idea. Because I'm like "OK they do software, they do laptops, they're not in the industry, they're Excel and all that good stuff. They're not involved in payroll and HR. I never knew they had all these applications.

I got the job with Elevate. That was in 2007. And I've gone from here. I never thought about HR as an opportunity. Never was interesting HR tech. It was by happenstance in the progression. That I'm where I am now after being at Elevate for 12 years and learning more about Microsoft and going from the different versions.

As I said to you before, I came from Oracle and PeopleSoft. They were mature products. They had been around for years. They had developed their methodology using the 'A' methodology. They were solid. Yeah, then I come to Microsoft and I'm like "What is this?". Because I was going from an adult to an infant and I said a child before, we're gonna go to infancy. Because it was like a child with a playpen and a bunch of toys that nothing fit.

Ivo:
Yeah. So you had to educate the tool as well?

Elliott:
Exactly. I had to learn the tool, the way it worked. Take away all what I know from the other systems, and say OK, this is the way they do it and put out of my mind that this was a little younger. And then focus on help making it a little more mature by building training documents. And that was the other thing. I was a certified trainer with Oracle. I'm like "Where is the training documentation? Oh this is not going to be bad.".

Zero. So I created my own at Elevate. And here we are 12 years later. Well 12 and a half. Then I took a year break and now I'm at FourVision.

Ivo:
Alright, very interesting path! So it basically happened to you. But my question is, does it still excite you, and what is more exciting about about this part? Do you still see it as? And it could be, you know, but do you still see it as just a job, or are the people-related parties also something that really excite you; makes you happy?

Elliott:
It's still exciting in the sense that every day is a different day and every customer is a different customer. After being in a role at Elevate, and I wore multiple hats, I was all over the place. I started as a consultant, then became a trainer, then became a QA specialist, then did some development and created modules. For instance, the benefits management piece that Microsoft owns now. I was the original person who started that with the functional design document working with the developer. That's what excites me now, but I still don't want to lose the people contact. Because that product meaning benefits management is what it is now, because of that people contact.

You know, you develop it based on what you know. In the past of working at Oracle, because that's where I got the idea from. Because Oracle's benefits was very similar, but I had to make it work in Dynamics and use the structure of Dynamics, the platform. However it matured over the time that we created it until now, because of that people contact. You go to different customers and they go. "Oh, we do this.". Oh, we need life event so we need evidence of insurability things that may not be evident to a smaller company that a larger company may be. So that's part of the excitement that keeps me going.

It's still a good thing right now. Because I still enjoy getting up and learning something new every day.

Ivo:
That's awesome. OK, that is clear. I have sort of a general question for you.

What do you think? What is it like to be an HR tech consultant? You know you already said every customer is different, but what do you think are the must-haves for successful consultants? Let's start there.

Elliott:
The must-have is patience. Patience and learning to give yourself a break. Because especially with us being in this virtual environment. It's different when you're on a project. You leave at a certain time because the lights go off. Put it that way, you're sitting there at the class office and the office is empty. You're still working because you have a deadline. Working from home, you've got to learn to take a break and walk away. Because you have got to have patience.

You have got to be dedicated and you have got to come in with an open mind, and be willing to learn. Because there is such a vast amount of information that sometimes you have to step away because you will confuse yourself, because you can't learn it all in one day.

Ivo:
Alright. That's an interesting point of view. Do you think that also having some kind of change management skills can can also be important for consultants? In a sense that you already said like every customer is different. Everybody has different requirements and for a lot of times, the decision comes from top and then the people that are actually working with the tool, they were not expecting it. They were used to the tools they had before. The way they do things. They are very good at that and all of the sudden everything changes. Do you think there's something there to be said for a consultant?

Elliott:
I do. You can can call it change management and a lot of people getting into this industry, they have no idea what that means and they look at it as oh, that's something that they reported that the client has to do, change management. But it's also... I use the word flexible. As a consultant, you must be flexible because things change on the drop of a dime. The project can go from this to that in a matter of minutes. Clients can make decisions that could start or stop a project. But flexibility is important and again, have an open mind to say 'OK. You may not know everything, but be willing to learn what you can learn' and also be honest. Don't ever go into a client with the attitude that, oh, they're all the same because they're not.

And it's being honest and being compassionate to understand. Looking at it from both sides, the client side as well as the consultant side and working with them to say I'm here to help you were working as a team with a team effort. But you've got to be honest because, if you go in and you're not honest and you pilot, project management can be very political. And every consultant you have to know where you draw the line to step out of politics and turn that over to the powers that be because you can get wrapped up in that. And if your team members don't trust you, it's going to be a very difficult implementation process. So flexibility and honesty. That's what you need to have.

Ivo:
OK. You worked with plenty of customers, I'm sure. Plenty of projects. Are there any common challenges that you can identify and how do you overcome those?

Elliott:
The most common challenge is that you deal with certain expectations from a customer. From the fact that you have customers that may have been using a product for 10-15 years and you're you're perceived as the enemy, because you're coming in to change their structure. Change their habit, change what they do every day, their familiarization. "I'm comfortable. You're changing my comfort level. I'm supposed to learn a new software, plus do my daily function.". That chat is always a challenge when you're starting a project. You deal with some people who were getting something new, then you deal with some people that don't want it.

I've learned by being very upfront. Listen and explain the people: Look: It's not my choice. It's not your choice. Your executive team has made a decision or your higher ups have made a decision and I give this analogy. It's a train. You have a seat on the train right now. The train is going to keep moving. Whether you hold your seat or you give it up because the decisions have already been made. The train is going from the east to the west. You have a seat on it. Either you keep it and learn how to maintain that seat, or you can check your seat out and give it to somebody else because it's gonna keep moving. And most people get that perception because it's not their decision. It's not my decision. We have a job to do. Let's work together to do it as a team and overcome challenges the best we can. But it's not going to change the fact that the train is still moving.

Ivo:
The train is still moving indeed. That's interesting. What do you think that is the main importance of having an HR system? You know, having some something to support your function and as an HR professional, as a manager. What is the importance of those systems for you?

Elliott:
For me it's the ease of doing your job with comfort. And having a system that is flexible, that's robust, that I can simply say I don't care where I am and that's one of the things that I see with the future. With all of the cloud based systems and availability with mobile apps, because we're in a world of apps right now. So as a person who's buying a system of this nature, the the the comfort of knowing I can do my job anywhere and be comfortable and not have to physically be in a place to do it. But do it with ease and comfort and not worry. Or I can do certain functionality that I can delegate to other people, all from the convenience of my home, a palm pilot or a laptop or phone. That, to me, is one of the things that will keep this going for a lot of clients.

We're looking at the fact of ease of doing our job that it's up to date. It's technology, is savvy. We don't have to go into the office and pull out spreadsheets. Which is not cute, but you still have some companies. No offense to those who are still using spreadsheets, because they're not technologically savvy. They're not computer savvy, they're comfortable with what things that they can touch physically. Because you have a lot of clients who have very leery about 'the cloud', because they don't have control over their databases or their servers, and they feel like they're losing control.

It's a matter of convincing them that they're not losing control. It's just another method of controlling it from a different standpoint. Or a different methodology of control because you're still in control. Of your own system, it's just a little different. You don't have to deal with all the day-to-day problems of maintaining or server or doing certain things that in the old days people had to do. Now you have help in doing it. And that works with some people and you still have some people say, well, you're taking away job responsibilities. "I am no longer valued or I'm no longer a person of importance because you're taking away things that I used to take 10 hours to do. Now you're saying the system would do it in 45 minutes. I don't like it.". And that's reality for some people.

Ivo:
I never thought about it that way, wow. OK, yeah that's a very fair assessment I think. And you think there's still people afraid of technology, afraid or reluctant to adopt technology?

Elliott:
I would say reluctant and resistant in the fact that it's something that they're not familiar with, or some of the methodology and the techniques are going to reduce what they're comfortable with doing,because they're not familiar with it. And once they gain the knowledge, I would say 85 to 90% are fine with it, but you still have that 10 to 15% that will say "Well, I don't trust it because I can't see what it's doing" or I don't understand what's happening in the background, or it's something that I did every day and I know what the results are going to be because I'm determining the results, whereas now you have a system that running processes in the background that spits out a result that I can't tie back to which. That comes back to education, teaching them how it works and showing them how it comes to this result, and that that sues again 85 to 90%. But you still have that few percent that's still a little leery.

Ivo:
OK interesting. Looking at software tools that you worked with before. You told already: Oracle, PeopleSoft, Microsoft. So you have. A very good experience with different tools and you already said that Oracle and then PeopleSoft are just mature tools, with a lot of work done in the background to support those tools. And Microsoft was an infant when you when you picked it up. Looking now where Microsoft is now and the evolution of Microsoft. How do you compare it to other tools? Do you think it's just a different way to do to achieve the same goal? Do you think there are values for each tool, depending on the size of the company, for example? What what is your view on that?

Elliott:
I think there's value for each tool depending on the size of the company and all of these competitors have a different application that fits a certain size. You know, Great Plains for the smaller Dynamics for the larger. Whereas Oracle had different sizes as well, and most of them do, I think, where Microsoft is advancing itself to be able to compete or excel in beating some of the big ones that have been around for years. You should have technologies to keep.

It's similar to technology involvement like Apple. That it can be intimidating and satisfying at the same time. Depending on where you are on the spectrum of technology, meaning that evolvement is happening so fast that people are not able to catch up with what happened six months ago because there's something new. Microsoft is on that same trajectory as Apple is. How many times has a cell phone come out for Apple? It was what? Once a year, once every six months, now every six months to every maybe every three months because technology is evolving so quickly. Because of the world that we live in. Even with our social media platforms and how we advertise and regardless of the software, you still have and you still have a need for other things to to enhance that software. For instance: Most clients are getting away from doing their own payroll. Because of the responsibility requirements, so they're depending on this Ceridians, the Ultipros, the ADPs to have interfaces. And I see that's the technology now that these major organizations like Oracle, PeopleSoft and Microsoft. They still Oracle and PeopleSoft still has that flexibility. We want you to do your payroll using our system.

Microsoft tried it. And they're moving away from that which I don't disagree with, for the fact that you think about the history and the future, the history is OK. We did it, and we've always got to keep our payroll updated because payroll laws are different depending on the country. The US has some of the most complex payroll laws compared to the UK or Canada. We're different. And maintaining that type of support and structure in your system is a very daunting and full-time responsibility. Yeah, so by doing a business-to-business relationship with the ADPs and surroundings and other payroll processing services, they're good at what they do. They've been doing it for years. Let's just work together and we interface and send things over and people were happy because we can be everything to some people, and enough to others where they can keep what they have, plus we can provide them with a system now that you can do project expenses, you can do your HR management and everything can interface and we could communicate back and forth between the two systems that is seamlessly interfaced; that is all one system. But it's not behind the scenes.

So I think. With that, that's where we're moving, and Microsoft is advancing in that sense that they're competing and sometimes excelling against the other ones because. Ivo think about it, most people are familiar with Microsoft from a personal standpoint. How many people you know, unless they have a certain age, are not familiar with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and when you look at the Microsoft systems, they work in the same functionality. When you look at list pages in the HR app, they look just like an Excel spreadsheet. You can export things out. You have Wizards that can do certain things. Of course those could, you know, be a little better than what they are, but they. They make the job a little simpler to do, and every release Microsoft is bringing a little something a little different to provide a new flexibility or ease of doing your job, which most customers do appreciate.

Ivo:
Yeah, absolutely. I have an opinion and you can tell me if you agree or not, but I think. Big part of what you're saying. It's that customer focus, it's simplifying what is best for the customer. Maybe it's better to partner up with someone that does payroll for years, like ADP or whatever, and fast facilitate the integration within the system because those guys know what they're doing. Why do we need to keep pushing on that? And I think they do the same with the community with the partner community like FourVision for example, which is. Let's bring these people up, creating extended functionalities for the tool, open up the tool for them too. Add those functionalities to extend the functionalities and that I think is a very customer centric vision of technology. In the end the customer is the one that gains with that. Do you agree with that?

Elliott:
I agree 100% because I've watched it in the involvement of the few years going from AX. The first version of Dynamics that I worked on with AX 2009. Then it's a 2012 release one, 2012 release 3, then AX7 before came D365 and then it's Talent. Now D365 HR, F&O and so forth. That technology changed between the versions of AX 2009 versus what's now: D365. So many things have improved for comfort for the customer, because customers have made at these conversions and conventions. That was a sounding board I thought. For people to come in and see what you're offering and make suggestions to say. Can you please make my job a little easier and make it so that I can feel comfortable using your product? Meaning Microsoft Dynamics. Great Plains, SL at ease, just like I do with an Excel spreadsheet, that I do with Microsoft Word or PowerPoint.

Those are familiar family members to me because they are part of the Microsoft suite that's been around for centuries. It's old, but it's evolved. But now that Dynamics is working the same way or has that same familiarity. People are like, oh, I'm comfortable. And it's the customer engagement because it shows them we're listening. Now everything is not perfect. Don't get me wrong but it's getting there.

Ivo:
Yeah I totally agree. And you know, Apple, you you gave the Apple example. I think Apple is very customer centric as well and not everybody is happy every year with the with every smartphone and those kind of things. So even those giants, they cannot do everything right. So it's just a business. That's what it is.

OK I just have one last question for you, regarding the future. You already gave some pointers there, but what do you envision in the horizon of HR tech? Where do you think it's moving towards to? Just give me a sense of what you're feeling is about that.

Elliott:
With the changes that are coming up, I think it's moving to the point that you may. Microsoft has abundance of versions of an application. Take HR. For example, you've got D365 for HR you got D365 for F&O you've got other versions where you've got CRM. I think the future is having these all play in one playground seamlessly. Even though people say, well, they're all seamlessly integrated because they're all Microsoft products. I think the future is going towards...

Ivo, if I'm a person who is computer illiterate. And this is what I hope the feature is. I'm a person who's computer illiterate, so you can't declare me as functional technical because I don't even understand what the word means. I'm just a person who turns on a computer hit. If you keep buttons to get what I need produced in the process and get it out. When we make a system that is at the point of that easy that you can take a person who's never turned on a laptop or a computer and they can go through and do things and it makes sense. Because it's integrated and it's ease that I don't have to bring in a technical person to add a new field or bring in a technical person to say I want to connect this system with that system by the push of a button.

That's what I hope the future is, that they're making the products that if we're going to do the business types of interfaces, just as an example, that it's less complex to do. That it's a matter of going to form, clicking a few buttons and the ease of connection or the ease of transfer. The ease of knowledge transfer to clients to make it all a seamlessly integrated playground that they could say Microsoft has everything and I don't have to spend so many hours to try to learn it or to connect it, and I can do everything in one swoop and not be worried about what the outcome is going to be because it's easy for me to do. Hopefully that's the future.

Ivo:
OK and then do you see in that sense; Do you think it makes sense, you know the latest decision of Microsoft of coming with the HR module back into Finance & Operations, it makes sense to integrate everything together?

Elliott:
I think that makes a lot of sense because you have customers who have been Microsoft dedicated for years. They have gone through the evolvement of a AX7 to 2000- all the different versions. And they have requested these improvements of Leave & Absence, of benefits management, of personell management. They've requested these things, but when you start to separate your software to say well, you only get this and you will only get this. Whether they use it or not Ivo, it should be available as it was before. Whether you use it or not. It's available in the functionality is there.

I think that enriches your clients to say "I don't need that extra piece over there. Need that extra piece of software. Everything is in the playground. I have just decided I wanted to play with it. I have a toy box. I have got all these tools in my toy box. And I make the decision whether I want to play with it or not, and Microsoft has provided me with that kit that I can say, oh, I want leaving absence.".

So by them bringing it back. There's some functionality that's in F&O that HR only clients are missing, and there's functionality in HR that F&O clients were missing. And by them consolidating, I think it'll make it a better fit for people who may want to use Leave and Absence, and they just don't have a tool right now in F&O that accommodates that feature. They're using Chronos or they're using somewhere else where they're not happy with it. But what choice do they have?

Ivo:
Yeah, I see. I that's that's a great point. I think yeah, if you need convincing about that, here's Elliottt for you. Alright, I think this was super super insightful, super interesting. I just have one last challenge for you, yeah. So imagine that you you have the plateau now you know and in front of you it's a bunch of HR professionals, still afraid of technology or just they love spreadsheets and because they can they can manage everything in there and data. And you want to move them to technology you know. Don't be afraid so you have the stage: What would you say to those people?

Elliott:
Me, I would probably say I know it's intimidating. Because I'm not an apps person. I'm learning slowly, but I guarantee if you give yourself an opportunity to expand mentally and just say if you don't get anything else, you find one benefit in you using one module that is similar to that spreadsheet, but you can do it at the click of 1 button. It'll change your mind if you give it an opportunity just by going through the process of learning that one feature. I think they'll change their mind.

Ivo:
Alright, there you go. I think that's clear. OK, Elliott thank you so much for for taking the time. This was really interesting. I hope you enjoyed it too. I did.

Elliott:
I did. I was nervous at first because I was like "Podcast. I don't do podcasts. Why do they want to talk to me?"

Ivo:
I think it went pretty well and the people listening will enjoy this one, so I really appreciate your time. Take it easy. Take care and for everyone out there listening, we'll see you next time.

Elliott:
Thank you Ivo!


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