Advertising Technology

Advertising’s HR Technology Mess

Over the past year I’ve met with dozens of advertising agencies, media companies and ad tech firms to discuss their challenges in human resources technology. Since the solution that my company is building needs to work with all this tech stuff, I’ve become something of an expert on the HR tech landscape. Like Terry Kawaja’s ad tech LUMAscape, it’s a complicated picture. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

Too many systems. Between payroll, performance management, applicant tracking, timesheets and other software, the average advertising company HR technology stack is comprised of at least a half dozen disparate systems.

Too little integration. Most HR systems used by these organizations don’t speak to one other. For example, ADP, the largest payroll company in the world, lacks a widely available API from which data can be automatically pulled and integrated into other systems. This forces HR teams to either adopt all of ADP’s tools — many of which are not appropriate for the advertising business — or manually maintain multiple systems.

Too big. Much of the HR software on the market is overkill for what most agencies and startups need. Performance review systems like SAP’s Success Factors are more appropriate for giant corporations instead of nimble, professional services companies. Over-engineering is rampant in the HR technology space.

Too expensive. Even the most basic HR system can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to use, and the setup costs drive the initial cost even higher. For big systems like PeopleSoft or Workday, an agency holding company can easily spend millions of dollars each year to maintain the system.

Too slow. Agencies move at a velocity that most HR software simply cannot keep up with. As a result, agencies end up using Microsoft Excel to manage their teams and projects — which is not ideal.

Too ugly. The consumerization of business software is in full swing, with companies like Dropbox and making systems that are fun to use. But when it comes to things like payroll and time tracking, most of these systems appear to be frozen in time, with user interfaces from the 20th century.

Too inaccessible. Much of the data in HR systems is locked away from the very people who can use it the most: managers and employees. The agencies I’ve spoken with want to give their people an increased level of transparency, but their systems often work against them.

Over the next decade, many of these issues will hopefully be resolved by newer, cloud-based systems that are easy to use. But it’s going to take a concerted effort on the part of all the HR technology companies to clean up the mess that has been made from years of too many systems and not enough interoperability.


Matt is the publisher of The Makegood, an entrepreneur and former media agency guy. He is the CEO of Namely, the talent management platform used by the world’s most dynamic companies.