Platform-as-a-Service Helps Solve Cloud Customization Challenges

By Dave Zielinski July 17, 2018

​Platform-as-a-service (PAAS) ranks among the most-unknown but useful technologies in the human resources arena. PAAS solutions are cloud-hosted environments that include infrastructure but no data or software. One of the chief benefits of PAAS is its ability to resolve a nagging problem for human resource information systems (HRIS) leaders: It can extend the functionality of software-as-a-service (SAAS) solutions that otherwise can't be customized to meet HR's unique needs.

PAAS allows HR functions to develop and run new software applications without having to build or maintain infrastructure usually needed to administer those apps. It also enables HRIS staff to add new functions to cloud software without conflicting with the frequent software updates delivered by SAAS vendors. Vendors offering PAAS applications include Workday, Oracle, SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand.

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One client of consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) used PAAS to address a unique need that couldn't be met by its existing cloud compensation application, said Dan Staley, PwC's global HR technology leader. The company had a team-award process through which individuals could nominate others, as well as themselves, for monetary year-end awards. The process required multiple approvers to review or revise nominations before a final sign-off. Because that functionality wasn't part of the company's core SAAS compensation application, PAAS was used to build in that team-award feature, Staley said.

"PAAS can help close functionality gaps that arise during implementation of SAAS systems," Staley said. "In the case of the cloud compensation application example, a process that was going to require a manual workaround could be automated and integrated as a seamless extension of the existing SAAS application."

Experts say PAAS helps users address the biggest complaint of SAAS systems—the fact they can be configured but not customized—by providing the flexibility to create business processes tailored to unique needs.

"When you work with PAAS, you load your data into a database, and you can run proprietary software on top to create a do-it-yourself SAAS product," said Franz Gilbert, vice president of solution provider programs at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting. "PAAS has made development time shorter, as its tools often have built-in services and connectors that allow you to easily add functionality, such as a chatbot."

One of PAAS' most important features is that its use doesn't conflict with regular software upgrades delivered by SAAS vendors. "PAAS extensions don't prevent you from upgrading, which was a bigger issue with on-premise software," Staley said. "You could modify the core baseline code with on-premise software, but that would often prevent you from taking updates because it would impact your customization."

Building Awareness

PAAS still remains a little-used tool in HR, a fact many experts expect to change as awareness of the capabilities of the technology continues to grow. Only 14 percent of organizations are leveraging PAAS infrastructure technology in conjunction with their HR systems, according to the 2017-2018 Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, with another 17 percent evaluating the technology. Of those using PAAS today, more than 50 percent are engaging third-party vendors for their current development work.

Jason Averbook, CEO and co-founder of consulting firm Leapgen in Manhattan Beach, Calif., which helps organizations create digital strategies and HR technology solutions, said PAAS remains underutilized in human resource system strategies.

"PAAS is an untapped resource that many HR functions either aren't aware of or haven't yet taken advantage of," Averbook said. "It allows you to capitalize on elements of your business or your HR processes that are unique, and it gets HR back into a build-versus-buy mentality in the cloud environment."

For example, a company might have a cloud-based human resource management system that meets most of its needs, Averbook said, but it may not address HR's unique approach to a process like performance management. PAAS would allow the organization to build or extend functionality to customize its technology to that new process.

Averbook said he's used PAAS in his own company to customize financial software that wasn't previously equipped to support international business. "We used PAAS so we could recognize revenue in currencies that our finance software didn't support out of the box," Averbook said. "We built a quick application for PAAS that now supports multiple currencies. It allowed us to add capability and extend our investment in the existing software without the expense of having to upgrade the whole system."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.



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