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“Bespoke” vs “Off-the-Shelf”…That is NOT the Question


I will admit, recently, we have unfortunately been unsuccessful in a couple of different pitches for reward related systems.  With the main reason cited as being that despite feeling that “we had a deeper connection in understanding their needs” and “despite knowing more compromises will have to be made”… “we’ve gone with the ‘safer’ off-the-shelf vanilla solution”. This made me come back to the age-old conundrum of “bespoke vs off the shelf” software as it would appear to still be very prevalent today. Don’t worry though, I’m not about to start putting my two-penneth in for why I think bespoke software is the way to go, as you know what, despite working for a bespoke reward software provider, I actually don’t necessarily think this is necessarily true ALL of the time. Let me explain why.

Irrespective of what industry, there are numerous arguments around as to why some people think “off-the-shelf” is the clear winner when looking to implement software – just check out these convincing articles:

We even get the following pushing for a hybrid solution between the two – a third option nonetheless:  and

However, rather than now bombard you with similar reads advocating the “bespoke” approach; I thought I would just share the following article with you instead:

This is an excellent eBook debunking some of the negative perceptions around “bespoke” solutions whilst at the same time, interrogating some of the positive affirmations around “off-the-shelf” software.

What does become plain to see is that in nearly all cases, the two options are not starting off on the same level playing field out of 10:

bespoke vs off-the-shelf scale

The “bespoke” option is almost always starting off on the back foot, usually, as the Helastel eBook explains, from an opinion built up more often than not on myths and misconceptions. Just to then get to the same level as the “off-the-shelf” solution where comparisons can start to be done around functionality and fit etc.

What I am advocating instead is that the 1st question asked is not the “bespoke vs off-the-shelf” one but rather, what will best fit my needs, both now and going forward? And from here a number of additional needs will then also come out. Of course deployment time, cost and functionality are needs, but in my opinion, so also are:

✔ Trust in the partnership – are you both looking to achieve the same thing?

✔ Does the provider truly understand your reward processes, mechanics and procedures?

✔ Does the provider truly understand your compensation cycle?

✔ Does the provider fit your business model, e.g. if you’re an agile business, is the service and software agile enough to ensure you remain ahead of your competition?

✔ What level of service are you likely to receive – and not just during the implementation cycle but more importantly, post sales?

✔ Will the provider move and change with you when you need them to, in the way that you need them to?

Indeed, getting one of the above wrong can have a big impact on deployment time, cost and functionality. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the following picture depicting perfectly how something “straightforward” such as functionality can turn out if all are not on the same page from point 1:

Software Development

You of course are likely to have your own list and it’s likely to differ from mine above. The point is that the decision to go with a “bespoke” or “off-the-shelf” solution should not be the main question to base your procurement decision on. All of your requirements need to be factored in to identify the provider that best meets those needs – and you know what; it could be “bespoke” or “off-the-shelf” or dare I say it, “neither”!


Claire Bedwell

Client Services Director, HWC

Artificial & Human Intelligence in Compensation Software – how to achieve the right mix

humans vs robots

About 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the following 20 years, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte.

Despite this most companies still use Excel to do a large proportion of their reward administration and management. Is it just that our industry is behind the times or are there other underlying issues that could help explain this?

Sometimes too much automation and not enough human involvement can be dangerous in the area of compensation software. In my opinion, a successful implementation of compensation software is when you have the right balance of both elements working together – in the right roles and carrying out the right activity.

Let’s start with a couple of key facts.

The average HR professional spends 60-80% of their time on performing administrative tasks.

According to a 2012 WorldatWork / Deloitte consulting survey “90% of HR professionals use Excel to accomplish their daily tasks.”

Whilst these two stats are not intrinsically linked, from them you can draw the conclusion that HR professionals are spending too much of their time performing administrative tasks and nearly all of these people are using Excel to do it.

So why do we think this is when all we hear in the news is that technology is taking over the world? It’s true technology has automated many of the tasks we once had to labour through. According to a survey of 1,900 experts by the Pew Research Centre, an overwhelming majority believe artificial intelligence will have a very big part in our lives by 2025 – the Boston Consulting Group argues robots will take 25% of all tasks by 2025, up from the 10% they do today. At a far more practical level, it’s no secret that we can all reel off some of the attractions of implementing technology in compensation management:

✔ Transparency.
✔ Consistency – all users access the same source data.
✔ Auditing and tracking.
✔ Data analysis & reporting.
✔ Automation of labour intensive processes.
✔ Mitigation of human keying errors.
✔ Increased efficiency.
✔ Increases accuracy of data.
✔ Real-time control of the process.
✔ Reward team members can focus more on what they are paid to do, rather than be over-qualified data entry clerks.

And yet in a 2015 survey conducted by Mercer in the US, only 22% of Total Rewards professionals were satisfied with their system implementation. Some of the reasons provided for this lack of satisfaction included:

✘Most systems are complex to implement and manage.
✘There was a significant gap between the approach to compensation inherent in the system and our company’s approach.
✘Buggy and difficult to administer.
✘The functions available are rudimentary.
✘The compensation module is not designed to support our global processes.
✘It houses only minimal information and provides no analytics.
✘We have a very bare bones system until our next upgrade with little to no customization available to us.
✘All we can really say is that it works to the minimum specifications.
✘We had to do several workarounds.
✘Core HRIS and Benefits = Satisfied but Compensation is Dissatisfied; Talent Management is Dissatisfied.

Whether these beliefs are justified or not is not for this blog. However, it could be indicative as to some of the reasons why the majority of people still use Excel in their compensation management.

In direct contradiction to the above, some words that have been used to describe the use of Excel in HR processes include things like: flexibility; user-friendly and easy to use; powerful modelling and analysis; metrics and measurements can be adjusted on the fly to fit the specific and evolving needs of any company and it goes on. One could sum this up as enabling a company to apply its own reward processes and procedures and enabling a human to apply its own thought processes and unique way of thinking, visualising, analysing and interpreting results. It allows the user to be a human with a bit of automation thrown in to help reduce the labour intensity a little.

In this day and age I find it hard to believe that a technical solution cannot achieve these key fundamentals. But perhaps that is not the problem. We keep being reminded that we can do anything with technology these days; however I am not questioning technology’s ability to provide this functionality. I think the real issue lies in seeing the role of the human in compensation management as a separate function and entity compared with that of the role of the technology itself. It would appear, somewhat ironically, that in the world of HR and Talent Management systems, that people and their contributions have been forgotten.

Perhaps therefore the solution going forward is actually more of a hybrid between the two – between the adaptable yet unstable Excel and the almost robotic, mechanised system alternatives.

It’s true, Excel is a relatively fragile application that is unable to support communication or provide users with access to real-time data. In addition, the application’s lack of version control can result in serious errors slipping through the cracks. So what if there was a way to remove these limitations so that compensation and reward professionals could continue to benefit from the positive human behaviour traits Excel helps to facilitate?

Compensation software solutions that have the right combination of human and artificial intelligence are able to make the most of the human ability to analyse and process information, whilst being complemented by the speed, accessibility and accuracy that technology can provide. Technology can free up the humans’ hands but humans can, and should, keep technology on its toes by constantly asking why, how, what and if. The end result being a far better, more sophisticated and fit for purpose compensation management solution.

If you are interested in hearing more about our thoughts on how to achieve the right mix of Artificial & Human Intelligence, then please come and visit us at e-reward’s “Showcase: Compensation Management Software” event in London on 19th November 2015 – .

Claire Bedwell, Client Services Director

2.5 Days in 15 Quotes

Black and white speech bubbles

This post is somewhat later than I had hoped, but back in May I attended WorldatWork’s 2015 Total Reward Conference in Minneapolis. Having been a 1st time attendee last year in Dallas and being so very impressed with the conference streams, subject matter and sheer honesty of all of the speakers and fellow attendees, to say I had high expectations for this year’s event would be an understatement of the century! I am pleased to say that this year’s conference did not disappoint and I left Minneapolis really motivated and buzzing with ideas that we are now implementing to help continue to add value in everything we do for our clients. Great stuff.

However, that’s not what I want this post to be about. I heard some really insightful statistics, viewpoints and general remarks and so I thought it might be nice to share some of them with you. I hope I have quoted people correctly, if not, I apologise!

“Executive compensation is the most highly regulated and scrutinised area of our industry” – Anne Ruddy, President, WorldatWork.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw – Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics.

“Employees want to feel they have a voice, are valued and regularly receive feedback.” Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry.

“There is more and more complexity in executive compensation…”
“There is more and more complexity with payout structures too, for example, many companies are using more than just Threshold, Target and Max as their payout levels now.” – Linda Steffen, Farient Advisors.

“Every plan design choice has an impact on the expected payout value of performance based awards and the probability of an executive achieving the goals. Awards should be set with certain expectations of achieving each payout level. All of this also needs to be matched with the executive’s perceived value of the award.”
“Don’t add additional complexity to your remuneration plans if the outcome doesn’t really change by doing it.” – Jack Zwingli, Institutional Shareholder Services.

“Displaying too much data and information resulted in some of the key functionality being missed by users.”
“Employees didn’t previously understand the company’s compensation programmes properly – systems may make the information more readily available but they still need to understand what they are consuming.” – Michael Murray, Hermann Miller.

“I’m looking for a workplace that’s fun, flexible and innovative” – taken from Aon Hewitt’s “Inside the Employee Mindset – Key Findings on What Differentiates, What Rewards and What Communicates” paper.

“Long-term incentives provide the incentive to remain with the company, i.e. retention but these often counteract incentives to maximise short-term performance.”
“Managers are better motivated to pursue innovation when they are given more incentive compensation with longer vesting periods.”
“Bonuses provide incentive to attain usually short-term goals, which are sometimes asserted to be at the expense of longer-term value maximisation.” – Steven Balsam, Ph.D.C.P.A. – Professor of Account and Senior Merves Research Fellow, Temple University, Fox School of Business and Management.

“Our Counsel: Don’t Set the Bar Too High.”
“A car only has enough horsepower to pull a certain specification car. If you keep bolting things on, you will eventually run out of gas…” – Darrell Cira and Steve Seykora, Mercer.

And so to San Diego in 2016 here I come!

Claire Bedwell
Client Services Director, HWC

Hindsight Really Can Be a Wonderful Thing

Hindsight is a wonderful thing

Back in October 2014 I wrote a blog about the “5 Common Misconceptions about Compensation Software and the Actual Truth.” One of the 5 points was #4 – ““Rip & Replace” is Necessary”; where I explained that if you are looking to implement a new compensation software solution, people often think this means you have to rip out all existing systems and replace them with this new system. I did caveat this with the belief that sometimes this is the right thing to do but the main point was that this shouldn’t be seen as the ONLY option on the table. In this blog, I want to explore this thought in a little bit more detail, based on a recent experience with a client.

Together, back in 2003/4, we designed, developed and implemented an online Worldwide all employee share plan system covering over 50k+ participants in over 70 countries and we translated it into 4 languages. People thought we were mad! We ran it paper-based for the preceding 6 months prior to launch to ensure that we fully understood exactly what was needed and I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to do anything similar.

So, 11 years on and we are, as one would expect, discussing with the client what to do with this system and where to take it next. Sure there have been various iterations and improvements over the years; the system still works and is fit for purpose but how do we ensure that it’s fit for purpose for the next 10 years? The world has changed substantially over the past 11 years; can we honestly say the system has changed with the world? Is it enough that the system “works”? Why fix something if it isn’t broken? All perfectly valid and pertinent questions to ask.

And so we decided to take a slightly different approach. What if we were to pretend that here we were in 2015 without a system at all? How would we go about designing a system now, both in terms of its functionality and the tech behind it? How would we see this scaling and flexing over the forthcoming years? And so we decided to explore this concept. We took a cross-selection of some of the 25k users, across the 4 different access levels and invited their feedback; taking care to manage expectations from the outset of course. And so we asked the obvious questions:
– What was working for them currently?
– What could be improved?
– What was missing?

But the important thing during this process was to not start from a position of what we already had; the real gems came from the type of questions that asked the users:
– What would you NEED from a share plan system in order to make YOUR role and responsibilities easier to fulfil?

Or to the participants:
– How would YOU want to be communicated to about this plan?
– What would make YOU feel more value and engaged?

From this, we were then able to carry out a gap analysis to the current situation and look to implement a system roadmap for improvements. Admittedly, it would be silly to think we could implement everything and in the next 6 months at that, but being able to put in place some quick wins after listening to the system stakeholders was of paramount importance.

So why am I sharing this story with you? I think the point I want to share with you is that it is easy to forget the value you get from the initial requirements gathering part of the process that you carry out when looking to implement a new system of any kind. However, you don’t have to be looking to implement a new system to still go about doing this part of the process. Yes this takes up valuable time but you will learn things that will surprise you and perhaps the greatest value of all is that your system stakeholders remain engaged and understand that it is their system too and their opinion does matter.

Do you really want to run the risk of underestimating the power of that?

Claire Bedwell, Client Services Director

5 Common Misconceptions about Compensation Software & the Actual Truth

HWC Bricks

Here at HWC, I firmly believe that there are already enough challenges for companies when looking to implement compensation software without having to also deal with some of the many myths that naturally occur in the world of IT (and often business in general to be honest).

Here are just a few that I have come across in our industry.

1) “Best Practice is the Best Solution”
I firmly believe that Best Fit rather than Best Practice should be adopted by companies.
Best practice may result in you needing to completely change the way you manage your compensation processes. Don’t get me wrong, this may be a good thing sometimes, but it should not be the rule. The technology should fit your processes NOT the other way around and so you shouldn’t have to compromise on the solution you adopt. The type of solution should be what best fits your requirements. The point is to not start with the solution – you should work out what you need first and let the solution come from that.

2) “What You Want = What You Need”
People will quite often know what they want; however, despite best intentions, in my experience this doesn’t necessarily translate into what companies actually need. Start with the end result and work backwards, NOT the other way around. Don’t start with what you already have. Visualise what success looks like; know what your aims and objectives are; ask yourself “Why?” – you may not even need a system at all!
A meeting of minds of all potential stakeholders as early as possible will help mitigate changing requirements half way through the process and it will also help to ensure that the aims and objectives are for the whole project team, not just for one individual. More time upfront means far less time in the long run, which means far less expense!

3) “Everything Must Talk to Each Other”
Integration seems to be a big buzzword in compensation software at the moment and that you shouldn’t even look at solutions if you aren’t able to integrate them into say your payroll software, your HRIS etc. I take a slightly different opinion. It should all come down again to what is right for you and what you are looking to achieve with your compensation solution you are looking to implement. Integration may be right if your population is 20,000 employees around the world; it may not be if you have 200 top executives whose data is of utmost sensitivity.

4) ““Rip and Replace” is Necessary”
Too many times I hear from reward professionals I meet that they have had to rip out all existing systems to replace them with their new compensation software solution. Whilst in some instances this may be the best option if it is indeed a complete replacement, it shouldn’t be seen as the only solution. More often than not, there is functionality, data or process manipulation that is carried out in other places that may be perfect for what is required. So why get rid of it? All or nothing doesn’t have to be the only two options on the cards – existing platforms and systems can be assimilated to provide the most appropriate solution to fit your needs.

5) “We Must All Live in the “Cloudy” World of IT”
The misconception is that many people have gotten the term ‘Cloud Computing’ confused with simply offering the software online, commonly referred to as ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS). Without meaning to be too controversial, this is possibly a purposeful muddying of the water in the marketing world to make something old look like something new. People need to be clear on the differences and what they mean to them.
What is right for you will depend on a lot of things and you will definitely need to take into account what your security requirements are when making this decision – likewise, you alone will not be able to make this decision. You will need to work with your IT Department in order to meet all guidelines and requirements that they may have. This will need to be brought into the equation when selecting your solution provider – how far can they meet your requirements and if there are compromises to be made are these acceptable to all stakeholders?

There are of course many more misconceptions about compensation software than just those listed above; if you are interested in hearing about these and others in more detail, then please come and visit us at e-reward’s “Spotlight on Compensation Planning Software” event in London on 14th October 2014 –

Claire Bedwell, Client Services Director

More Haste, Less Speed

More Haste, Less Speed

This principle has come up in conversation recently with both a new contact and a long standing existing client. Whilst I am sure in principle most people would agree and avidly support the concept, reality is for many quite different as these real-life examples will demonstrate.

It was refreshing to have discussions with a prospective client who actually wholeheartedly supported our desire to delay the implementation of a new, bespoke remuneration system in favour of spending a good few months really qualifying and agreeing the requirements up front. With many different iterations not only expected but encouraged, they recognised that whilst the temptation was to have a system that would considerably improve their day to day share plan administration with immediate effect, there would invariably be more issues in the long-run, if short cuts and assumptions were made in the most important phase. How otherwise would we know we were building what was actually really needed?

This subject came up again with an existing client – in a conversation of a more operational nature, relating to the need to check reports and how many checks should be done before it was deemed enough had been carried out? Was it ok to accept that 90% would be ok but 10% would not? How large would the potential ramifications be as a result of this tolerance?

And yet we all do this and often accept it as ok. For me, this wasn’t necessarily anything new, however in an ever-increasingly busy and hectic life; there is daily temptation to fall into this trap.

Indeed, as the same client pointed out in an email to me – this trap is often experienced in our personal lives. How many of us have not rinsed the dishes BEFORE putting them in the dishwasher only in the morning to find baked, hard cheese and tomato sauce on all of the plates? Suddenly a 10 minute job has become a 30 minute one with a far lower quality for the efforts put in.

Without wanting to teach people to suck eggs, as someone involved in the industry, I cannot emphasise the importance of this philosophy enough. When looking at potentially implementing compensation software, no matter how “simple” you may think your requirements are, more time upfront means far less time, energy and cost in the long-run I guarantee it.

I reiterate, just because we all know and agree with this principle doesn’t necessarily mean we rigidly adhere to it in practice – whether at home or in the office! Nevertheless, how many of us admit to still paying the price for when we didn’t and instead we fell prey to the “happy ears” trap of rushing those early parts of the process?…

Claire Bedwell

Client Servers Director, HWC

Desire of the end will point out the means

Desire of the end will point out the means

Admittedly this is a bit of a late reflection on an event held at the end of February but I came away from ifs ProShare’s Celebrating Excellence event with a couple of impressions that stuck in my head and then spiralled off into a million other trains of thought. I will try and summarise just a few here.

Passion was a particular impression I came away with – let me explain. It was really inspiring (and dare I say it somewhat refreshing) to see first-hand genuine and authentic passion in the company speakers. Those that stuck with me in particular were Pat Simms from Rio Tinto, Anchal Kausal from Rackspace and Shelly Ribbons from Henderson Global Investors. A lot of time, energy and cost is invested in trying to foster and encourage employee engagement in the reward and benefits they receive from their employers but does anyone think about how the engagement of the HR / Reward Team and its internal and external partners are perceived by the employees?

To me, the aforementioned company presenters clearly demonstrated their engagement and passion through their communication to their audience. But can we all honestly say we do the same in how we communicate internally?

We all know we live in a world where reward and benefits should be tailored to the specific factors that will Attract, Retain and Motivate individuals. What attracts Bob wouldn’t necessarily retain Joan but it might just motivate Anna if it was communicate in such a way that she would respond to. It’s nothing new but it might just be that we are finally witnessing and more importantly recognising and accepting the breaking down in companies of internal facing vs external facing teams. Is trying to improve every step of the “employee” lifecycle any different to actively seeking to improve each step of the “customer” journey? As Sir George Bernard Shaw famously said: “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

And so for me, the over-riding theme from ifs ProShare’s event was the importance of “fit for purpose.” Whether this was at the business strategy level of aligning reward policy with company objectives or whether it was right down to how an employee can pick up the phone to someone to discuss his / her options at share plan maturity. Inactivity and indecision are the biggest dangers – doing the same thing in anything over and over again and expecting different results is Einstein’s definition of insanity. Today’s “fit for purpose” may very well be passed its sell by date tomorrow – fluidity and flexibility is therefore key in ARMing our talent pools. As it should be in how we manage and administer their performance and reward throughout their employee lifecyle.

Have I raised any ground-breaking new ideas? No. Do we all know and believe that reward and its communication to employees should not be designed around stereotypes and a one size fits all approach?


And yet instead of utilising technology to facilitate this bespoke approach, too many companies are having to bang a square peg into a round hole and make a rectangle box when what they should be doing is asking the question: “what shape will best support our reward policies both now and in the future?”

Kipling’s Cherry on Top…

hand and cherry

Rudyard Kipling has brought us many things in life – his poetry and stories have likely influenced us all in some way, even today, long after we first stumbled across him probably sat at a wooden desk in a classroom, looking out of the window and wishing we were anywhere else but there.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit and here I am, sat with his poem “The Elephant’s Child” in front of me, just reminding me of the importance of each and every word of it.

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

We could all take our pick out of the many, many challenges in reward that we are currently facing. Nevertheless, we all know that beneath the surface no two problems are the same –– as Maslow infamously said “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

One person’s iceberg is another person’s Everest. One person may have only just started their climb, whereas another is already wearing the t-shirt. One reward team’s “nice to have” is another’s “absolute must.” And yet it is so easy to find ourselves starting with the solution without even knowing truly what the problem or challenge is – how often do we ask ourselves if we honestly know what success looks like?

And so I find myself coming back to “The Elephant’s Child” time and time again.

I can’t help but notice that a 7th is missing – the “Which”– well, I guess history can’t spoon feed us everything – some things have to be left to us to decide for ourselves don’t they…?

For those in peril in Reward…

Cosmonaut - resized for blog 2

I listen to a lot of people. Directors mainly, working in Reward, in a multitude of different industries. I hear a lot about the tidal wave of legislation on the horizon and how the management of reward and remuneration gets more and more complex every day. Even more annoying when it really doesn’t need to. It’s of genuine interest to me to hear how various issues and challenges are dealt with using only guile, determination and a perilously large excel spreadsheet. I am in awe of those reward teams that make it all happen effortlessly it seems, like a swan gliding on the surface of the lake, delivering the pay review, the share vesting and the increased engagement levels without even breaking a sweat. That’s exactly how it is, right?


For those who demand so much from the Reward Team, but don’t actually know what happens behind those doors, scratch the surface and tell me what you find.

I often see good people stressed by the fear and the consequences of what happens when that 150 column spreadsheet finally collapses under the strain. It is often the case that simple issues escalate to become major problems and then the attempts to solve them also escalate accordingly.

I am reminded of the NASA approach to the problem of making a biro work in zero gravity aboard the space shuttle. Without gravity, the ink wouldn’t flow. Millions of dollars, time and resource were spent in the name of research to resolve the issue. Triumphantly, they announced that the problem had been solved!

The Russians had switched to pencils.

Problems may be complex on the surface. But solutions do exist.

National Lottery’s Anniversary 5 mile run at the London Olympic Park

Claire Bedwell 5 Mile Run

It seems HWC’s Business Development Team have laid down the gauntlet. First there was Oliver, HWC’s Business Development Manager, doing the London to Brighton 54 mile cycle ride, and now it is the Business Development Director’s turn.

On 21st July 2013, Claire took part in the first public event to be held at the London Olympic Park since the closing ceremony. This was for the National Lottery’s Anniversary 5 mile run. Alongside 12,000 other participants, including the likes of Victoria Pendleton, Paula Radcliffe and the Spice Girls’ Mel C, Claire enjoyed running through the Olympic Park, taking in many of the 2012 Olympic Games sites, including the Velodrome and of course Chris Hoy himself starting the race!

Finishing in a respectable time of just under 44 minutes in a position of 4.090, Claire would definitely recommend this event to others. “It was open to runners of all abilities; the atmosphere amongst runners and spectators was amazing, and finishing actually on the running track in the Olympic stadium itself in front of 25,000 people, is something I will never forget.”

And so we wonder what is next for a member of the HWC Team?