Rethinking Reporting in Ag HR Software

March 12, 2024

Reports in HR software, there are so many, and they never get you the answers you need! I was talking to an HR manager at a large tree fruit company in Washington, and he said, "Having a robust reporting tool within an IT solution is the most important feature we could ask for." So why do the current software solutions on the market still suck, and what are the key considerations to look for in new systems?

As someone on the software side, I have some thoughts. Our growers are always asking for a new reporting feature in Harvust. And they always ask for different things. This has posed a lingering challenge for me as the product lead at Harvust. Should I dedicate engineering resources to building out every new report that's asked for but end up making the app more confusing? Or should I hold out until a consensus builds around a specific report, and then build that?

To address this challenge, I've been researching with our customers for about a year. I have come to a few conclusions on the most important things to think about when it comes to HR reporting for ag employers.

There are two main kinds of reports

Of all the different reports asked of us, they can almost always categorized as either an operational report or an analytical/audit report. 

An operational report is a fast, simple report used by front-line HR reps to see the status of an action they are currently involved in or just finished. An excellent example of this in Harvust is our onboarding report, where an HR rep can see the status of everyone they've hired that day, and get answers to questions like: How many people did I hire? Does anyone have unfinished documents? 

The other kind is what I call an analytical report or audit report. This isn't  used to enable an activity with employees in real-time. Instead, it is an after-the-fact analysis of your farm's information. This report can answer detailed things like "Show me every I-9 completed in July" or "I want all onboarding documents of people who worked on the melon crew." This report will be used by HR managers to answer very specific questions. The biggest factor in determining whether it will answer those questions is if it can accommodate as many dimensions of data as possible. The more specific the data you can filter on and retrieve, the better.

Who is going to run the report?

Identifying the person who will interact with the software to pull the information is critical because it informs the software's design and how it will be consumed. Suppose the person pulling the reports has prior data analysis experience (Excel, Tableau, etc.). In that case, they'll be comfortable with a more " query-based report," relying on rules and compositions to get precisely the data they need. However, software designed like this could be challenging for a front-line HR representative to use. They may prefer a more straightforward design with simple filters and few dimensions of data, like shopping on Amazon.

The same report looked at by two different people can yield drastically different conclusions. Let's take, for example, a report on injury data. Our digital accident log in Harvust collects all the information needed for an OSHA 300 report. Your HR manager might need this report to identify trends in unsafe work locations, while payroll will want to know which employees require sick leave to be paid out. The reporting tool should be biased in providing too much information so that multiple people can benefit from it.

Who is the final audience of the report?

Reports matter to management the most. They summarize information about the HR department's execution into high-level numbers that ownership can act on. The software needs the detailed reports I mentioned above, but it also needs to highlight the most important metrics in a way that can be easily digested by decision-makers. This is where we get into the challenges I mentioned at the beginning: each farm has different most important metrics. So, an HR system should have user-customizable metrics, and not lock you into some pre-programmed and irrelevant ones.

How you can use this when evaluating HR software for agriculture

If you're looking at ag labor management and HR systems, ask the software vendor to see their reporting functionality. You'll be spending a lot of time in it! Come up with sample questions you'd like answered by a report ahead of time, and ask them to demonstrate how their system will answer them. While you're at it, take the principles you agreed with from above and think about how your current systems align with them.

(yes, you're going to end up on our email list, but we don't send that many)

(yes, you're going to end up on our email list, but we don't send that many)


James Christopher Hall

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