HR Software

An honest review of ‘off the shelf’ HR software

Team Comparing Hr Software Prices


If you are in the market for HR software, you will have two general choices: ‘Off-the-shelf’ HR software or mid-upper mid-market HR software 

Deciding on which solution is best for your business can be a challenging concept. And the answer isn’t always dependent on business size. In fact, it has much more to do with the level of complexity within your business and your budget.  

In this article, we will cover: 

  • The advantages of off-the shelf HR software 
  • The disadvantages of off-the-shelf HR software 
  • Making the distinction between the two 
  • How to make the best decision for your business 

As an ‘off-the-shelf’ HR software provider, you may think we’re a little biased here at Access PeopleHR. And whilst we’re confident in our technology, we are also very transparent about our limitations (and those of similar off the shelf solutions).

With that in mind, we aim to give you an honest, un-biased review of ‘off-the-shelf’ HR software, helping you decide on what’s best for your business.

What is off-the-shelf HR software?

‘Off-the-shelf’ HR software is a pre-built solution designed to meet the core HR needs of most businesses. They are typically available on a subscription basis and offer a range of functionalities. These include employee data management, time and attendance tracking and performance tracking. More advanced ‘off the shelf’ solutions also provide additional modules for recruitment and payroll processing. Off the shelf HR software is designed to be easy to implement and use, it’s also considered a cost-effective and time-efficient solution for businesses.

What are the advantages of off-the-shelf HR software?

1. Ready to use

Off the shelf HR systems are designed to be readily available and easy to implement. This makes them ideal for businesses who don’t have the time or resources to develop and customise a system from scratch.  

In fact, off the shelf systems often work off a ‘plug in and play’ model. This means that the software can be implemented in a matter of weeks, as long as your employee data is clean and up to date. For this reason, the cost of implementation for off the shelf solutions tends to be very low – or even free in some cases. Although, this ‘cost’ is often absorbed as part of your ongoing monthly fee. More on this later.  

As they are pre-built with a standardised set of features, they are ideal for businesses who want an immediate solution to managing their HR processes.  

With an easy-to-use interface and a comprehensive set of features, there is no need for extensive training or resources, making the process streamlined and simple.  

As you may have guessed, off-the-shelf HR systems tend to be the favoured choice amongst SMBs.

2. Inexpensive

As an off-the-shelf HR system is designed with pre-built, standardised features, the initial set up tends to be much cheaper than more bespoke, complex solutions. The latter will involve a CapEx cost to purchase the software. This, however, is a long-term investment with the view that you will get ROI over time.  

With off-the-shelf HR software, you are normally charged on a monthly basis, with little-to-no up-front cost. Some providers charge on a per employee, per month basis; others charge on a per business, per month basis.  

Off-the-shelf HR systems may also offer different pricing tiers, meaning you unlock more functionality the more you pay.

3. User-friendly

As off the shelf HR tech caters to a wide range of industries and companies, they are typically designed with the user in mind. The interface and functionalities of the software tends to be streamlined and intuitive, making it easy for users to navigate and use. 

As they are not focussed on complex processes or requirements, they are designed to be adaptable to a range of scenarios. For example, time tracking, payroll and benefits management.  

Bottom line: You can minimise the learning curve and get up and running quickly, with little-to-no impact on your other business activities.

4. Good functionality

Off-the-shelf HR solutions have come a long way in recent years. As such, you can benefit from a wide range of functionality and features. Such features tend to meet the core needs of most businesses.  

These features include (but are not limited to)  

  • Employee data management 
  • Payroll processing  
  • Recruitment, 
  • Onboarding 
  • Performance management, and more.  

Some off the shelf providers now offer modular features. This allows businesses to pick and choose the features most relevant to their specific needs. This ensures you only pay for what you need, rather than being forced to pay for something you ‘may’ need.  

So, whilst off-the-shelf HR tech isn’t customisable, you can customise the features to suit your requirements in many cases.

What are the disadvantages of off-the-shelf HR software?

1. Hidden fees 

When selecting an ‘off-the-shelf’ HR software, you should be aware of any hidden fees that were not made clear from the outset. For example, many providers don’t display the cost of implementation or training on their website. The last thing you need is a nasty surprise in your first month’s invoice.  

Other hidden fees could include: 

  • Added functionality 
  • Adding additional users 

It’s crucial you review the pricing and contractual terms of any off-the-shelf solutions carefully. Ask questions about any fees that are not clear and ensure you fully understand the pricing model.  

It’s also important you select a reputable and transparent provider that has a good track record of providing clear pricing and contract terms. This will ensure you’re not caught off guard by unexpected fees.

2. ‘One size fits all’ approach

Off-the-shelf products are built to be structured and standardised. Therefore, businesses must be comfortable with using software that may not have been designed specifically for their processes and staff. 

As off-the-shelf HR software is standardised, you may need to adjust your existing processes to fit the software’s framework. This may require a period of adjustment, for both managers and the wider team.

3. Lack of control

Another potential downside of using an off-the-shelf HR software is the lack of control you may have over the platform – especially when compared to bespoke, in-house software. With the latter, you will get complete control over the development and maintenance of the software. With off-the-shelf solutions, this is owned and managed by the provider. In this instance, it will be useful to understand your chosen provider’s development roadmap.  

Whilst software updates and changes are necessary, they can be disruptive to business operations. This is amplified if you don’t have any control over when these updates take place.  

Software updates may require additional training; this is also a consideration.  

To mitigate this risk, you should choose a provider that communicates with you about software updates and changes, as well as any training and support that may be necessary. 

4. Inability to add bespoke features

As we have mentioned throughout, off-the-shelf HR systems have a standardised set of features and functionality that are common across most businesses. Whilst this is a benefit for those looking for a straightforward solution, it can be a limitation for larger, more complex businesses that require additional capabilities.  

With a mid-upper mid-market solution, it is more tailored to your individual requirements, giving you access to the tools needed to support strategic HR goals. This includes developing talent, succession planning and driving engagement and recognition.  

Verdict: Is an off-the-shelf solution right for your business?

Off-the-shelf HR software can be ideal for small to medium-sized businesses that require generic functionality that’s easy to use and implement. These solutions are generally more affordable in the short-term and are designed to cater to a wide range of industries.  

However, if you are a larger, more complex business, you may find that an off-the-shelf solution is not able to meet your needs – especially if you require bespoke functionality or have unique business processes.  

If you are looking for a more flexible solution, you may benefit from HR software with a modular setup. This type of software allows you to select the specific features you need – with the ability to add further functionality as you grow.  

Ultimately, you should evaluate your needs, budget and resources in order to choose the HR software solution that’s right for you.

Interested in a more bespoke HR software solution? 

As part of the Access Group, we have an integrated HR software (PeopleXD). This is a modular, all-in-one HR system designed for mid – upper-mid market businesses. Feel free to check out the aforementioned link to find out more.

Choosing the best HR software solution

To conclude, off-the-shelf HR software can be a great option for small and medium-sized businesses who require generic functionality and a simple set-up. Larger, more complex businesses may require more bespoke functionality that cannot be provided by off-the-shelf products.  

You should also be aware of hidden fees or limitations associated with your chosen solution. We strongly recommend you take free trials and demos to gain a better understanding of how the software works, and whether it’s the right fit for you.  

We have a guide on how to choose the right HR software solution which you may find useful. You can also get started with a free trial of Access PeopleHR, so you can begin weighing up your options right away.

Rich Newsome
By Rich Newsome Digital Content Writer

Rich is a content writer at Access PeopleHR and has a wealth of experience within the tech space, including HR software. Passionate about providing website visitors with informative and easy-to-understand content, Rich is committed to helping SMBs find the best solutions for their needs. With a flair for writing, Rich's content engages and educates readers, guiding them towards informed decisions.