by Gregg Dourgarian, founder of TempWorks Software

I have been developing staffing apps since the days of the first micro-computers back in the 1970s. A lot of things have changed since then, but the need for a strong support system hasn’t.

Back then, a staffing system consisted of a landline phone, a tag board and a calculator. Mom did the books while Dad sold.  Today, leading systems integrate everything from your mobile phone to your deep back office and touch everyone from your sales manager and customer to your candidate and back office staff.

Today, you enjoy many choices for staffing and software, choices that can overwhelm even the most disciplined business planners.  That makes it as necessary as ever to systematically approach your package process, and it’s my hope that this guide will help you do just that.

I’ve structured the guide as a series of key components most often sought from staffing systems, and within each component I drill down on what may differentiate one product from the other.   I hope you find it helpful.

Provide Top Service From Front Office to Back

Evaluate your needs for a centralized database that combines both back and front office. If both deliver critical benefits to your clients and candidates, then give more weight to solutions that fully integrate those processes and make it easy to do payroll and invoicing off the same transactions.

Be careful in this evaluation because some systems will advertise themselves as fully integrated, when in fact, they are two different systems that have been bridged together. In other words, each has its own employee and customer table and you have to move from one interface to another to fully service a candidate or client.

Yet other systems claim full integration when in fact they rely on third party invoicing or payroll engines. Although these systems may appear cohesive in a demo, the vendor lacks control over the source code and can’t respond to special processing like combined weekly, bi-weekly, and semi-monthly processing.

Questions for potential vendors:

• How does your software achieve full front and back office integration?
• What third party software products do you rely upon to get that done?
• How rapidly can you process a transaction through payroll and invoicing?
• How can branch personnel easily respond to back office service requests from customers and employees?
• How does the system allow me to pay weekly and bill monthly or pay bi-weekly and bill weekly?

Make Self-Service A Great Option For Clients & Candidates

If you make it easy enough for them, clients will welcome the opportunity to do their own self-service and will reward you for it as well. Although some question whether self-service negates the human touch that underpins great staffing relationships, the reality is that it augments it by cutting out the busy work that makes personal service possible.

Customers thrive when they can get detailed reports online about their staffing spend. They feel in control when they can review and approve timecards via the web. When you automate things for them, you are sending a message that you care more than the next agency. Candidates similarly feel empowered when they can search for jobs and apply online, and they like the ability to review their paychecks online or declare their availability for a job. Ultimately, your candidates are your products, and when you respect their time, you can recruit and retain better and make more money.

Questions for potential vendors:

• How does your software enable self-service?
• How do your customer and employee portals work?
• Can I style them according to my brand?
• Can candidates apply online?
• Can I build my own set of interview questions for them online?
• Does it automatically store I-9s, W-4s and other documents?

Choose Industry-Specific Staffing Software

Determine the software needs of your staffing specialty. If you do nursing, can the software do day pay? If you do large commercial accounts, does the software do VMS and consolidated billing? If you recruit professionals, does the software integrate with a wide array of job boards using standard interfaces? If you do labor, does it help manage transportation or labor hall dispatching? If you sell skilled services, does the software do key-skill selling?

Key questions for potential vendors:

• What current clients do you have that service my market niche?
• When can we visit them?
• Can I do industrial in one branch and clerical or technical in another, all using the same system?
• If I start up a new niche, how can I be sure the software can adapt to it?

Select Web-Based Systems That Are Easy To Use

If you want flexible access to your system, make sure that you examine its fit for the web.
Although most software today gets described as ‘web-based’, not all web-based software is alike. Some for example, can’t provide you with access via an iPad, iPhone or Android. Others allow you access via the browser, but don’t provide a robust desktop version.

Key questions for potential vendors:

• Is your software web-based?
• Can I access the system with my mobile phone? From my iPad? From my Android?
• Do you provide a robust desktop app for heads down use that works through the web? Does it support n-tier (cloud) access?

Email Is Still King; Make Sure Your Systems Play Nice With It

Key questions for potential vendors:

• How does the software allow you to integrate with Outlook and Gmail?
• Can you easily use email services from Exchange, Gmail and Yahoo all on the same system?
• How can you execute on email marketing from the system?
• Can you do it natively?
• Can you easily email a client or candidate from the system?
• Can you create your own templates?
• Can you easily create candidate or client contact records from an email?
• Or append an email message to an already existing contact record?

Many businesses rely on Microsoft Exchange. If you do, make sure the software can work efficiently with both exchange and Microsoft Outlook. In other words, does the software let you integrate with the database right from Outlook?

Increase Profits By Going Paperless

Consider the costs of paper to your business. What does it mean to have paperless timecards and applications? Evaluate how important it is to your candidates to get onboarded paperlessly, or for your customers to view timecards online.

Many systems today claim some notion of paperless processing, but important differences remain. Can paper timecards be easily digitized and attached to transactions? Can applicants fill out the entirety of your range of employment forms – W-2, I-9, direct deposit forms, healthcare plan selections, security clearances, and on and on – all online? And if so, how easy is it for them? Do they have to re-enter data repeatedly or is it all efficiently pre-filled? Can you easily update the forms used by employees or does it require programming?

Many systems provide some form of online access for customers and employees, but again, big differences remain. How easily can the client navigate through the system? Is it built to run fast using html5/css technology? Or is it based on older web technologies that are often much slower and susceptible to hackers?

Does it let employees easily enter timecards by day or week? Can they assign project codes so data automatically flows to accounting properly? Can customers optionally enter the employee hours or easily approve employee entered hours? Are you able to pull customized reports or see job order status or invoice lists?

Key questions for potential vendors:

• How does your software eliminate paper from my processes?
• Can I visit a site that uses your paperless systems and see how they operate?
• Does the software provide online signature capabilities?
• Does it work both online (remote) and with in-office kiosks?

Create Excellent Employee Experiences

Although many systems offer some form of document management, great employee relationships require efficient handling of the entire employment process; from onboarding, to assignment transitions and even terminations.

For example, when you transition an employee from one assignment to another, does the software make it easy to assure that the employee completes new documents that may be required?

Tier 1 clients often demand extraordinary accuracy from temporary staffing suppliers regarding documents. How easily does the software make it to both execute on those demands and audit the result?

Key questions for potential vendors:

• Describe your document management capabilities?
• How does it handle the life cycle of an employee?

Improve Cash Flow With Automated Billing & Accounts Receivable

How quickly and completely you get paid by clients can make or break a staffing business, and your software can play a big role in which way that goes. Examine your software for its ability to quickly get invoices processed and securely delivered by snail mail or email.

Key questions for potential vendors:

• Does the software do e-billing?
• Can electronic timesheets accompany those invoices?
• Can I invoice weekly, monthly or without any set schedule?
• Can I sort and split up invoices based on shift, department, hiring manager or any other way that I track job orders?
• Can I easily show on the invoice header or on line items purchase order numbers, project and location codes, or supervisor names?
• In A/R how easily can I create reports?
• How quickly can I post payments?
• How flexibly can payments be posted?

Help Clients Reduce Their Costs With Time Clocks & Better Reporting

Efficient time collection can mean everything to your clients. It serves as both a security mechanism and as a cost containment, and premium contracts are not infrequently awarded based on the staffing supplier’s ability to accommodate time collection requirements.

Key questions for potential vendors:

• What time clock solutions do you offer?
• Does the data flow automatically to payroll and invoicing?
• How much do the clocks cost?
• Can I connect them to the web?
• How robust are the devices?
• How will they be serviced and by whom?
• How can I accommodate special requests from clients regarding start times, missed punches, breaks and extra input data?

Choose A Vendor That Will Cover Your Back

You want a vendor who will cover your back for the long-term, so you shouldn’t hesitate to dig deep into your vendor’s company history.

Take the time to meet the vendor’s owner and understand if their support philosophy matches yours.  Find out who owns the software firm and what their long term business plans are.

Take no short cuts in evaluating your software vendor’s customer support.  When you call references, ask probing questions about the vendor’s support practices.

Key questions for potential vendors:
• Who owns the company?
• Has there been any ownership change or are they planning on any?
• Can you meet the owner and find out if their support philosophy matches yours?
• Can you call and expect to get a knowledgeable support person on the phone at any time of day (good)?
• Or is it a call-back or email based system (not so good)?
• Is the vendor willing to provide both a positive and  negative client reference regarding service levels?

Take A Test Drive

Often the only way to truly get comfortable with software is to use it. Ask your vendor how you can use the software on a trial basis. Have different people in your organization take it for a test drive. Solicit feedback and use the information to help drive your decision.

Hope this primer has helped. If you have any specific questions or comments, I would love to continue the conversation. Good luck!

Gregg Dourgarian