The ultimate HRMS demo guide

When it comes to the HRMS buying process, the demo is the test drive.

Just as with buying a new automobile, you want to take it for a spin and see what it can do – and compare it to a couple of other models.

And let’s be clear, when we say “demo” we’re talking about a scripted run-through of the key features, usually on your premises, observed by a team of carefully chosen people. Online YouTube videos can be great at giving you an overview of a system (and go to the end of this guide for a great starter list) but that’s just ‘reading the brochure’ - you’re not actually ‘driving the car’. Use the online demos to help you set up the real thing.

The following text looks at the key issues associated with HRMS demos, including:

  • Drawing up your vendor shortlist
  • Deciding on your HRMS demo team.
  • Pre- demo preparation
  • During the demo
  • Evaluating demos and next steps


Drawing up your vendor shortlist

There are a number of ways to decide who’s on your shortlist to invite to a demo.

  • RFP: sending a request for proposal to a selection of likely candidates gives them a list of your organisation’s HRMS requirements and invites them to pitch their product as a match for that list. You then evaluate the replies and invite the three best-looking options.
  • Recommendations: word of mouth – i.e. an endorsement from a trusted source – is still a powerful way to assess a vendor’s reputation. Use your network of business contacts and industry peers, check HRMS websites and forums, and online reviews.
  • Industry experts: HR technology attracts plenty of pundits and commentators and there’s no shortage of HRMS analyst reports, reviews and articles out there; for example, Gartner’s Magic Quadrants and Forrester's Wave reports.
  • The direct approach: another alternative to RFPs is to simply contact a selection of  HRMS vendors, outline your baseline requirements make an initial assessment of their system that way.
  • The HRMS consultant: if you lack in-house expertise you can always buy it in. HRMS consultants offer market and technology expertise and, if required, can guide you through the demo and purchasing stages and beyond. 

However you do it, the aim is that every vendor on your shortlist is a potential ‘winner’, giving you some genuine choice during the demos.

Ideally, aim to demo just three systems. More than that and you’re risking an administrative nightmare of scheduling conflicts, ‘assessment burnout’, and confusion when it comes to evaluate the candidates’ performances.


Deciding on your HRMS demo team

An HRMS demo is a team effort – you could go it alone but why would you when a well-chosen group will make a better, more informed decision? However, the key word is “well-chosen” and your demo team should include a mix of expertise and responsibilities, including people from the HRMS project team, key stakeholders, and some specialist representatives. Consider the following representatives:

  • Human Resources (obvious, but necessary)
  • IT (practical technical advice)
  • Procurement (procedural compliance)
  • Finance (budgeting and accounting)
  • Senior management and/or C-suite for strategic input and sign-off
  • And if you’ve engaged an HRMS consultant then of course, they should be there too!

You won’t necessarily need every single person present for the whole of each demo. This may mean some nifty scheduling (and sticking rigidly to time during the demos) but it may also be easier to find three half-hour slots in a person’s diary than expecting them to block out a whole day. The practical reality is that expertise and relevance often have to be balanced against availability when choosing your team.

Understand how these stakeholders fit into the wider selection process with our HRMS selection survival guide


Pre- demo preparation

First, a couple of practical details…

You’re hosting software presentations that require the presence of hardware, an HRMS demo team of maybe half a dozen people, plus however many turn up on behalf of the vendor (hopefully no more than a couple!) so you’ll need a room large enough, for a start.

"Conceivably, one or more people might be attending virtually so think about video conferencing facilities."

You’ll also need to confirm the technical needs of each vendor: power points, projectors, screens, etc. Conceivably, one or more people might be attending virtually so think about video conferencing facilities.

And finally, you’ll probably need a waiting and/or refreshments area (if you’re going to be there all day, you might need a cup of coffee!)

A template structure for your HRMS demos

Planning ahead means you won’t forget something critical. The following list is a basic demo template, listing the suggested key points to insist upon. Use it as structure and insert your specific requirements and scripted scenarios. Feel free to ditch what you don’t need and add any extras that you do.


System specification

  • System overview: log in, menus, switching between processes and modules.
  • User experience: interface, screen, field and process customization, search facilities.
  • HR functions: employee records management, recruitment, onboarding, benefits administration, payroll, performance management, learning and development, talent management & succession planning, etc.
  • Document storage: capture/input/scanning/retrieval.
  • Mobile functionality: including device management and any BYOD implications.
  • Self-service functionality: employees/all users, managers, C-suite.
  • HR analytics: essential and desirable reports and metrics.
  • Integration: other HR or business intelligence software that you need the system to link up to.

Broader issues

  • Data security – protection from threats (external and internal); disaster recovery; data storage issues.
  • Compliance – SSAE 16 audit certification, etc.
  • Implementation timescales – realistically when will it be up and running.
  • Pricing model – licensed or subscription? Including maintenance and update/upgrade/support costs? Total cost of ownership (TCO) including hidden costs such as:
      • System installation
      • System upgrades
      • System maintenance costs: IT costs specifically related to maintaining the system
      • Direct labor costs: staff necessary to support the system
      • Direct non-labor costs: consultants, vendor fees and facilities, and any related overheads
      • Indirect labor costs: labor costs for employees involved in ‘HR activity’ (e.g., collection of staff data, timesheet approvals, answering staff questions, etc.)


HRMS demo scripts

The real test is how vendors’ products perform against a set of some common scenarios that give them a chance to shine in exactly those functional areas that your organisation is looking for.

"Current wisdom suggests you design scenarios that deliberately seek to expose potential weaknesses"

Current wisdom suggests you design scenarios that deliberately seek to expose potential weaknesses, focusing on any elements of your business that are unique or different to the mainstream. To give you some ideas, try these:

Get more info on vendor presentations with this five step guide to mastering HRMS demos

  • Payroll for mobile workers with multiple locations, e.g. sales or service employees (especially if their pay is taxable by more than one jurisdiction).
  • Telecommuters or home workers working ‘non-standard’ hours – look at clocking in, scheduling, and absence management.
  • Employees who have multiple part-time roles within your organization (think about payroll, performance management, locations, etc.)
  • Members of the workforce who are not employees; e.g. independent contractors, leased employees, PEO services (professional employer organizations), casual workers, and consultants.
  • Mergers, acquisitions, partnerships or joint  ventures that join two workforces together (think about handling those different sets of terms and conditions).
  • The impact of outsourcing a major business process or function.
  • Changes in legislation or regulations that affect different members of the workforce in different ways; e.g. changes to taxation/payroll, or mandatory breaks, or healthcare provision. 

Naturally, you share the scripts with the vendors beforehand, giving them plenty of notice and answering any questions they may have (you’re being tough on the system but also looking to see each contender at its best).


During the demo

In the course of each HRMS demo, a couple of hallmarks of a good performance – apart from outstanding handling of your scripted scenarios, of course – include:

Volume and diversity of data

Working with a static or over-simple dataset may be reflective of a simple system. Look for a dataset that incorporates a variety of employee profiles with varying roles and periods of service. And think about volume of data, too – if you employ 1,000s then a demo with a database of just 20 employees is no test at all.

User interaction

These days, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a highly intuitive user interface, requiring minimal training on accessing basic functionality. Bonus points if one of your demo team is put in the ‘driving seat’ and allowed to test the system’s user-friendliness.

During each HRMS demo, remember you’re the customer (and therefore, always right!) and maintain control over the demo process. Using your prepared list of key points is a good way of handling a vendor who is guiding the process away from your structure or script. Another option is to switch focus for a while and focus in on some important vendor issues, such as:

  • What relevant references or endorsements can you provide?
  • How financially stable is your company?
  • How scalable is the system – i.e. will it keep pace as we grow?
  • How well do you understand our business?


Evaluating demos and next steps

After the demos are done it’s time, as a team, to compare different system performances and make a decision (and remember you don’t have to choose any of them – however disappoint that might be, it’s better than choosing a system that isn’t fit for your purpose).

Ideally, you meet, debrief and evaluate on the same day as the HRMS demos took place, while everyone’s memory is still fresh and their notes still comprehensible.


As with any meeting, it’s good to have an agenda. Here’s a suggestion to run through for each demoed system:

  • System functions (performance of the various features and processes you’re looking for)
  • User experience (How intuitive is the system? How different to what you currently use? How much training will users need?)
  • Self-service (For employees? For managers? For C-suite?)
  • Mobile (comparable performance compare to that for office employees?)
  • Integration (A smooth fit with your other business intelligence systems, or will it need significant patches and workarounds?)
  • Data security (Where is the data stored? What recovery plans are in place?)

Wider issues

As well as the more ‘scorable’ criteria, consider the other issues you’ve explored as part of the selection and demo process so far, including implementation timescale; the stability of the vendor’s business; system scalability; and pricing model and overall cost.

Making a decision

Opinions within your demo team may differ, of course. Debate is healthy up to a point and but you’re aiming for a consensus and ultimately someone has to have the casting vote. Given that different team members have different expertise, the tiebreaker doesn’t have to be the same person for every criteria or requirement.

When the HRMS demos are done and you’ve decided on your new HRMS, you can start think about what’s next: checking references, negotiating a contract, and system implementation.


Online HRMS demo resources

As promised, the following list of links will take you to the ‘brochure’ demos of some leading HRMS packages. Use it as a jumping off point in your demo process…

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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall

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