Although it is happening a bit more slowly than many of us would have liked, the worlds of applicant tracking and assessment are slowly beginning to overlap. This is a good thing, because these two components of the modern staffing system actually complement one another very well. For instance, applicant tracking systems add value because they:
- Help companies effectively manage excessive resume volume
- Help companies manage the tasks of staffing a distributed organization
- Provide a way to capture important data about the hiring process (i.e., applicant source data, EEO statistics)
- Provide staffing professionals with a dashboard from which they can connect many aspects of the staffing process Those of you who regularly follow my writings have probably heard me rant about the inability of applicant tracking systems to provide quality decision-making tools. This is really unfortunate, because ATSs are sold based on their ability to deliver quality, leaving customers somewhat dismayed when they discover that the act of spending tons of money on an ATS does not automatically add any value to the staffing process. One of the most unfortunate things about the current ATS market is that vendors are trying to skirt the issue of their systems’ shortcomings by touting their ability to allow users to create high-level qualifications screening questions. Anyone who has seen the haphazard (and dangerous) manner in which this functionality is most often deployed will realize that, when used incorrectly, this type of functionality can actually create more problems than it solves. Those of us who have been using data-based predictive tools to help increase the value of the staffing process understand that delivering quality requires an additional component. No matter what type of tool is used, this component must be something that can actually use information provided by candidates to make reliable, accurate predictions about how well that candidate will perform on the job, or how well they “fit” with an organization. This is where assessment comes in. Assessment is useful because it:
- Uses scientifically derived tools in a standardized manner to facilitate quality decision making
- Can be used to clearly demonstrate the value of hiring decisions
- Helps to ensure the legal defensibility of the staffing process
- Can be used to build a bridge between assessment and many other key HR systems (i.e., training, performance management)
I want to make it clear that I am not completely biased here. I feel that the world of assessment is far from perfect as well. Most assessment companies have not really advanced the model too far from the use of paper and pencil tools. While delivery systems are now far more advanced and great efficiency has been added to the process of assessment, there are still some problems to be dealt with. For instance, assessment is still labor intensive. There is still a big tradeoff between the ease of configuration and the amount of value the system can provide. Secondly, off-the-shelf, pre-packaged assessments will work but may miss subtleties that are critical for effective performance. On the other hand, setting up a customized assessment is labor intensive and can be time consuming. Perhaps the biggest problem with assessment is that assessment providers are not making it easy enough for corporations to understand the value their tools are providing using the language of the bottom line. You can see where I am headed with this. The complementary functionalities and abilities of these two components of the modern staffing systems make them a great match for one another. I think there are several reasons for this including:
- ATS providers are trying to remedy the fact that customers are frustrated with their inability to deliver quality.
- More companies are starting to have an interest in learning about the value of assessment.
- The overall level of experience with staffing technology has advanced to a level where integrating these two functions is getting easier.
No matter what the reasons, for those of us following these industries, the trend towards integration is hard to ignore. Despite the general sense that things are starting to happen, the way in which this will play out is not yet clear. This is to be expected given the relative immaturity of this marketplace and the level of fragmentation that has continued to define it. So while it is too early to be certain about how the integration of assessment and applicant tracking is playing out, given the existing state of things, I am guessing that we will see each of the following paths to integration over the next three to five years. End-to-End Services Companies are attempting to provide end-to-end services by offering both ATS and assessment products. Recently, we have seen ATS companies buying assessment companies and assessment companies buying ATS companies. This model allows the vendor to have complete control over the product and its integration and to sell on a “whatever you need, we’ve got you covered” model. The Pros:
- One-stop shopping easy for customers
- Increased customer control over ability to demonstrate value of the system using metrics and measurement
- Increased ability to integrate the two systems more completely
- Does not allow client much control over selecting system components
- Many vendors don’t yet have a wide variety of assessment content available
- This model requires vendors to assume the overhead of employing specialists to support implementation of both types of products.
Plug-and-Play Integration Companies are learning to integrate with one another. Some assessment companies are using experience gleaned from client implementation to create pre-configured plug-ins. This provides a large amount of flexibility such that both types of vendors can provide services in many situations. The Pros:
- Provides customer with options
- Allows providers to gain experience that can be used to improve products and services
- No matter what, each situation has some differences that can’t be accounted for in an off-the-shelf integration
- Not realistic for all vendor combinations to be accounted for
Strategic Relationships Companies are forming strategic marketing, referral, and sales-based relationships with one another. These may require custom integration work but these integrations are not productized. The Pros:
- Allows a high degree of flexibility for all parties involved
- Allows companies to avoid overhead by using the other vendor’s expertise and implementation support resources
- Extra hands from different organizations can complicate the implementation process
- Relationships often not based on substance or reality of which systems actually complement one another best
- Can create revenue imbalance in the favor of the organization that initially brings in the business
CRM Tsunami Although it hasn’t happened yet, it’s a good bet that some of the larger CRM companies are eyeing this market and waiting for the right time to retool their products to meet the emerging demands. The Pros:
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- These companies understand data and how to use it to support decision making
- Large amount of resources to throw at creating new and innovative solutions
- May not have assessment experience needed to really make a difference
- Big company means big prices
- Quality of implementation resources will be critical to success.
Light Functionality Some ATS companies are firmly locked into serving the middle market with tools that are effective without requiring a large amount of customization. Increased consolidation in this market segment will eventually involve the addition of assessment tools that are equally inexpensive and easy to implement. The Pros:
- Provides an easy and affordable tool for companies that are not in the target market for big ATS providers but that can still benefit from ATS-type services
- Less expensive and easier to implement
- Lack of customization means sacrifice in efficiency for both ATS and assessment
- Quality control over assessment product will be crucial to success (Many technical issues must be ironed out before assessment will be able to be deployed in a hands-off, scaleable manner.)
Totally Agnostic Some companies just let the market dictate how and with whom their services are coupled. This is certainly the simplest approach and in reality probably suits the way these things often happen. The Pros:
- Customer has lots of flexibility
- Does not force customer to use a less then optimal solution just because of a relationship between two vendors
- Less experienced customers may need to look to vendor for ideas, recommendations, etc.
- May make implementation process take longer and be less smooth
- Does not promote innovation on the part of either vendor
I am going to avoid saying any one of these approaches is best or predicting which one will become dominant. At the end of the day, the best approach is the one that will get you the results you need. I do know that companies that make assessments and companies that make ATS software have DNA that is different enough that either will have trouble single-handedly building out both types of functionality. It goes without saying that a good partnership between ATS and assessment is one that will create and support a staffing process that provides users with a clear understanding of its efficiency and effectiveness in terms of measurable bottom line results. I believe that some form of integration is a must for making this happen. Finally, I think it is also important to note that vendors are not entirely to blame for the current problems with adopting the tools required to support effective staffing decisions. The burden for ensuring quality hiring must be shared by the organization. The continued inability of HR to gain support for staffing innovation from organizational leadership is a serious problem. Still, I want to keep this discussion positive by recognizing the progress that has been made over the past three years and encouraging all parties involved not to lose sight of our end goal: getting the right people into the right jobs.