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HRTech Talk Thursday: What does a vendor mean when they say “scalable”?

Over the last few months there has been an increase in questions around technology coming in, so we are going to start answering them in simple, easy to understand, non-buzzword terms on HRTech Talk each Thursday.  If you have a question about a buzzword, technology, why something matters in your business; or if you are a vendor and feel like you keep getting asked the same questions – email them in

HRTech Talk Thursday: What does a vendor mean by scalable software?

Q: We are looking at new hr software, and the vendors are saying it is “scaleable.”  What does that even mean? 

A:  When a vendor talks about having “scalable software” they usually mean that their offering can support companies as they get larger, or they support companies of all sizes (Small business to Enterprise).   Their technology can “scale” or grow with you.

What is Scalability?

Not all scalable software is the same.  Like many other things in HR Tech, this has become a marketing buzzword that is being used by technology that should say scalable* – the asterisk highlighting that it isn’t designed to scale entirely, but should work in most scenarios.

It comes down to the architecture of the product – or how it was developed to start with – on just how scalable it is.  I have seen some vendors claim it, but once large global teams were using it, it had lag and load issues.  It was slow and like using dial-up to get what you needed.

If it is built correctly to start with and is genuinely scalable – then your HR Technology can function equally well with small and large workloads.  As your employee count, usage activities (learning, performance, requisitions, etc.), or candidate application flow increases, your technology will be able to support you with the same speed and functionality – even if you double, triple or more in size.

Do I need to take this into account when buying software?

That depends on how large you are currently and how large you are going to be.  With most newer SasS solutions on the market today if you are smaller than a small enterprise client (Under 5,000) employees you will be fine.   Make sure as you demo and pilot the software you use similar data numbers.  If you are checking referrals, ask to talk to companies that are the same size – that matters WAY more than industry match.

Why should HR buyers and Companies Care about this?

Slow systems impact adoption and waste time.  If you spend all day waiting for page loads or fielding calls from other people complaining about the product, it’s not very good use of time.

If you are planning on growing, acquiring or adding on new processes you also don’t want to buy new technology in a few years because your system can’t keep up.   This is where IT, HR and Business need to make sure we are all on the same page when building a HR Tech Stack strategy.

Can my on-premise or non-SaaS technology be scalable?

Let’s leave that for another day…along with the conversation about the actual cost of saas vs on prem.

Sarah Brennan

Sarah Brennan is a recognized HCM industry analyst and advisor focused on improving the impact of technology on people, business and the future of work.  Sarah Brennan has been named a top global influencer in HR Technology by more than 50 publications and shared her insights at speaking engagements around the world. As Chief Advisor at Accelir, she partners with HR Technology vendors and investors as an advisor, interim CxO role and on engagements focused on growth strategies, product roadmap & market education/evangelism. She also works with corporate teams enhancing talent strategies.

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