Whether in business or in your personal life, the word ‘free’ will always draw your attention. In this article, I’ll talk to you about how to decide whether ‘free’ is the right choice for you, and the advantages and disadvantages of using a free HR software for your small/medium business or enterprise.
How to decide whether free HR software is apt for you?
Today, almost every budding organization has realized that spreadsheets are not the best way to manage HR operations. They're a big hassle in more ways than one. So, moving over to a technology tool is the only answer to your HR woes. However, for small/medium companies, cost plays a decisive factor when choosing the ideal HR Software. This is where the ‘free’ factor plays a big role on their minds.
When evaluating a free HR software, you should keep in mind the following points/questions:
Do the features of the HR software match your current HR processes?
Often, the free HR software might appear suitable but when you dwell deeper and explore its features inside, you may find that it lacks compatibility with your existing HR processes. You can ignore this point if you don’t have any fixed HR processes and are willing to compromise/change them for the software (though I doubt this generally happens).
Does it have the capability to adapt/customize to your requirements?
Let’s say the software has the general features you need, but will the features have any customization options. By customization, I don't specifically mean changing the way the HRM is designed to work, but I’m referring more about tweaks and adjustments. HR software should allow you to make granular changes to the features in order to control how your HR operations work.
Is there an option for employees to join the HR process?
This can be a very important aspect for any organization today. The basic objective of any software is to reduce the burden/load on the management, but how can one achieve this if all the work is meant to be done by the administrators themselves. The general term in HR software industry for this aspect is "Employee Self-Service". If the free HR software features Employee Self-Service, it means employees can contribute to their own HR management by updating their profiles, applying for leaves, etc. What’s more, it gives the organization an option to distribute HR work and information amongst employees more efficiently.
How user-friendly is the free HR software for you, your HR team, and your employees in general?
The software should visually appeal to you, not only by way of appearance but also in ease-of-use. Is it easy to understand, navigate and use? How difficult is the setting up process? Answers to these questions can often spell the future of this software in your organization. The more old-fashioned, difficult to setup, and complex the product is, the less likely your colleagues will accept/adapt it.
Will you get any support from the providers of free HR software, if you’re stuck anywhere or you need any clarifications?
Support! This is the backbone of any product or service a customer receives. Whether you buy a car or outsource your website development, one of the top things on your mind will always be “after-sales” service. What kind of support commitments will there be? What will be the availability of the support staff? What channels of communication can you use to contact them? Buying and using software from the internet can be a whole different experience, with the kind of support you get.
What will be your investment? What will be the costs to buy/implement/run the software?
Yes, I’m aware that this article is about “free” Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), but like the age old saying goes, “There's no such thing as a free lunch”. What I mean to say is, the HR software may be offered free but more often than not, there’s always a catch. Things like, limited features for free but you have to pay-up for the ‘real stuff’. Let’s say that there’s really no catch, but what about implementation? Wouldn’t there be some cost/effort in customizing it? And will the support be free too? Assuming you’ve decided to go for it, won’t there be some cost of hosting it online or in your premises? This may be the last question in this list but it’s probably the only one spells the difference between "Yes" or "No".
Advantages of Free HR management Software
I think this is the toughest part for me to write – figuring out the ‘advantages’ of free HR software. I’ll be honest, I’ve done a lot of research online about the various options available out there, and I really can’t list down any notable advantages in this case. Let me make it easier for you – when evaluating the HR Software using the above questions, if you get a favorable/positive answer, just add that as an advantage to my list below.
My list of advantages is short:
1) It’s free
That’s it! No one time cost, no recurring costs, no license fees, no AMC, etc.
Disadvantages of Choosing Free HR Management Software
Now this is where the ‘free-ness’ advantage takes a big hit. The list of disadvantages of using a free HR management software can be intimidating, to say the least:
1) Limited features
When the objective is no-profit, the effort spent by the developer of a free software is bound to be biased too. Features in free HR software will mostly be limited or always come with the catch of paid-upgrades or a “pro/paid” option.
2) Low or scrappy product quality
Yes, I know it’s wrong to generalize but whatever little I’ve seen so far, I’m pretty confident that the free options are mostly not built to last. After all, they’re offering it to you for free!
3) Customization can be tough
If the software is a standard package built with little or no customization option, it’s anyway a big disadvantage. Now imagine if the scope for customization is transferred on your shoulder, wouldn’t you have to pay a bomb to local developers for re-engineering it to your needs?
4) Lackluster looks, mediocre user-friendliness
Think of it this way, there’s always going be a major difference between a home-video and a studio production, right? The same way, any software made with no business interest and offered free, may not get a lot of attention in the “looks & appearance” department.
5) Little or no upgrades
Most of the times, there will be no one out there looking after the up-keep of this free product. This means, you won’t see any upgrades to the features or technologies too. Of course, unless the free HR software is being produced and managed by an open-source community, for whom this may be a part-time hobby/pet project.
6) Most probably, no support
What if you’re stuck somewhere while setting up? This is not a simple Gmail/Facebook account we’re talking about. It’s a software for your organization. You’re bound to need help/assistance from time to time. But when someone’s giving you something free, how much more can you expect?
7) Security/Safety guarantees
If the free HR software will be web-based, you’ll be transferring all your data online to their servers. This means, your data will be in their hands. Though software companies will mostly put in some basic measures to ensure security/safety of your data, but since they’re doing it for free, I doubt it will be a great wall of China, if you know what I mean.
Conclusion: To Go For Free HR Software or Not?
I think the best way to take this decision is to evaluate your needs first. You may get help from the list of questions I’ve mentioned above. Let’s say that you’ve evaluated and you find something suitable, don’t jump the gun. Make sure you take a test-drive. Most software these days have a “Free Trial” option available, so make maximum use of it. There’s no better way to judge than using it real-time. Though I’m confident that there’s hardly any free software out there which provides support, I’d urge you to see if there’s any community/forum which caters to that particular software. At the end of the day, you must remember that this free HR software will be the backbone of your company’s HR management processes. Irrespective of whether you choose the free option or the paid one, make sure you take an informed and long-term decision.