The Best Cloud-Based HR Management Products

The Best Cloud-Based HR Management Products

March 14

Over the past few years there’s been a surge in human resource (HR) management software. What’s driving the increased interest? Well, the cloud, of course. Companies like Zenefits have exploded onto the scene and promised to bring cloud-based HR management to companies of every size. They raised $500 million and paved the way for others to join them in this lucrative market.

Digital Dictionary Human Resources Management Concept

Mention HR management software to most people and they imagine expensive, complex, and proprietary software from SAP. It’s  software only an HR managers could love. But the cloud has ushered in offerings that promise to delight both HR managers and employees. The best products perform the following basic tasks:

  1. Assist in onboarding new employees
  2. Manage payroll and employee records
  3. Manage benefits administration
  4. Monitor compliance (insurance, workers compensation, time-off, etc.)
  5. Manage employee reviews
  6. Offer business intelligence and/or reporting

Most products today offer a base set of features (modules) for free while charging for advanced modules such as business intelligence. I recently reviewed a number of these products for a company, and found that many offer 30-day trials. 30 days is usually enough time to determine if the software is a good fit for your company.

This week I’d like to look at a few of the best cloud-based HR management products. I’ll look at the basic modules each offers along with advanced features you can tailor to your company’s needs. I’ll do the best I can to provide comparative pricing, but keep in mind that’s not an easy task. As with other cloud-based products, companies are adding new features and modules all the time.

Zenefits Z2

Few companies have garnered good and bad news like Zenefits has over the past year. They became one of the giants in cloud-based HR management by raising over $500 million in venture capital. But they also ran into hot water with the State of Washington over their freemium software model. Let’s hope the drama is behind them.

So what does Zenefits have going for it? Quite a bit, including the best-in-class benefits administration, excellent design and a new HR-as-a-service (HRaaS) app for small business owners and HR administrators. Of all the products I tested, Zenefits was the only one I could navigate without feeling confused or overwhelmed. Each module is well designed without feeling dumbed down for new employees.

Zenefits helps employees select in-network providers

Zenefits has an impressive module for onboarding new employees as well as independent contractors. It offers a number of advanced modules that include managing stock options, expense reports and recruiting. Zenefits makes expense reporting even easier by integrating with Expensify, Google’s G-Suite and Microsoft Office 365. One of the most helpful modules I tested is one called HR Advisor. It costs an extra $5 a month, but it helps HR administrators create performance reviews and job descriptions. A lot of thought has been put into how each module interacts with other modules. This results in a product that feels as right for employee as it does for HR.

Target Customer: Small to midsize businesses with 20 to 2,000 employees.
Price: Tiered offerings ranging from free to $12/month per employee. Additional modules from $2 to $5/month.


BambooHR is one of the more expensive product, but it makes up for it by offering a comprehensive number of modules that cover all aspects of HR management. It also offers an open API which makes it an excellent choice for those companies that need to integrate with other HR vendors such as payroll or recruiting.

BambooHR does a good job at balancing features with ease-of-use. At first look, it appears simplistic. But dive a little deeper and you’ll find BambooHR covers the basics and then some. It takes a module like employee onboarding and makes it simple to understand. HR administrators typically gather information from an employee at hire and enter their data into the system. BambooHR makes it easy for employees to directly enter their own information into the system.

BambooHR makes it easy to track hiring by department

Performance Management is one of the advanced modules. This module promises to change how companies review employees by breaking the process down into smaller goals. Employees  set goals within the system and BambooHR will sent automated reminders throughout the review period. This approach to reviews is indicative of the product because it’s attempting to rethink HR management instead of merely move all the traditional features to the cloud. It’s not as advanced as Zenefits, but it feels more modern. I believe smaller, more agile companies will appreciate its approach.

Target Customer: Small to midsize businesses.
Price: Tiered offerings ranging from free to $7/month per employee. Additional modules from $1 to $8/month.


Namely sets itself apart from other products in this roundup by being the most configurable. HR managers will appreciate this, but employees might find it overwhelming. As I worked my way through Namely, I felt it was designed for those in the technical field. For example, while other products offered two or three levels of user access, Namely offers an unlimited number of levels. This configurability can feel like a boon or a burden depending on your needs. Defining employee templates and standardizing on a set modules right from the beginning should reduce this complexity.

In terms of features, Namely includes a few that are found in products aimed at larger companies. These include a global calendar, employee directory and organizational chart. Namely also includes the standard fare such as employee onboarding, performance management, and time-off manager. It also integrates with applicant tracking systems such as Jobvite and Lever.

Namely offered advanced performance review metrics

Namely includes a benefits manager module, but it’s offered as an add-on. At least it includes support for COBRA and the Affordable Care Act compliance. I found it odd that a product with features designed for larger companies didn’t offer a stock options manager. But Namely offers a solid toolset for HR administrators and employees. Each module is well-designed, and the number of features found here helps justify its higher cost.

Target Customer: Medium to large businesses.
Price: Starts at $12/month per employee. Additional modules require a custom quote.


Fairsail makes no apologies that it’s going after the enterprise. It’s extremely configurable and takes a lot of time to setup properly. This makes it less feasible for companies with fewer than 200 employees. Fairsail is the only offering I tested that offered full multinational support.

Fairsail is unique in that it was built on top of Salesforce’s technology platform. If you’re already using Salesforce the Fairsail UI will look familiar. It’s also the only product I know of that includes two portals: one for employees and managers and another for HR administrators. Administrators determine which modules to use and then configure them for everyone else. Did I mention the setup can be overwhelming? There’s an unbelieveable amount of features and business intelligence built into Fairsail, but it will take some practice to uncover.

Fairsail takes the pain out of employee data management

Fairsail reminds me of the first digital camera a purchased many years ago. The sales salesperson told me I’d selected a camera built by a team of engineers while what I needed was a camera designed by photography buffs. Fairsail feels like HR managers designed it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Fairsail offers powerful applicant tracking, performance management, and benefits administration. It also support for iOS and the Apple Watch. If you run HR at a large company, you’ll appreciate all that Fairsail has to offer. But small to medium sized companies should look at Zenefits or BambooHR.

Target Customer: Large companies.
Price: Basic tiers range from $9 to $12/month per employee. Additional modules can get pricey.


Migrating business applications to the cloud is happening in full force. Who could have predicted that so many innovative products would spring up around HR management?

Then again, it makes a lot of sense because every company needs a way to onboard employees, manage their benefits and track their performance. Zenefits and BambooHR focus on the small to medium sized companies with products that are approachable to both HR and employees. Fairsail aims for the enterprise and makes no apologies for it. Namely tries to bridge the gap between the small and large, and does an admirable job.

Before making an investment in any of these products, take it for a month-long test run. Invite employees from various departments to take it for a spin, and then gather feedback. Most companies offer a 30-day free trial, but I found some will extend the trial if you need more time to evaluate. Good luck!