Small to midsize business (SMB) looking for human resources (HR) software will find a lot to like about APS OnLine, which begins at $3 per employee per month. The company says its sweet spot is customers with between 100 and 2,000 employees and it says its mission is to deliver enterprise-level HR management features into this segment. For the most part, it delivers on that promise with a service that’s more robust than others targeting SMBs such as Zenefits Z2, one with many features found in platforms targeting much larger companies plus a few of its own special touches. But, due to a feature set slightly behind that of Editors’ Choice winner BambooHR, and a price tag that looks low but tends to climb very quickly as you add the functionality you need, potential customers should evaluate it thoroughly to make sure it’ll suit both their needs and their budget.
APS OnLine is one of a few vendors that sell core HR tech with built-in payroll, not surprising since the 20-year-old business started out as a payroll processor. The company expanded from there, adding time and attendance and then HR management. APS sold on-premises software before switching to a cloud-based platform a dozen years ago.
Log onto APS OnLine and what you’ll see depends on who you are. Like Sage People, APS OnLine splits users between two portals. System administrators access the mSelfServe (MSS) portal to configure and manage the service. Everyone else—employees, HR staff, and managers—use the eSelfServe.com (ESS) portal. The dual website setup isn’t as au courant as services such as BambooHR and Zenefits that are built on a single portal with varying access levels, but it gets the job done.
The MSS home screen has a main navigation menu running across the top with drop-down menus that APS calls “consoles” for the service’s major functions, including Admin, Employee, HR, Payroll, Reporting, and Time & Attendance. The rest of the dashboard can be configured to display a system admin’s choice of charts and what APS calls “tiles” or boxes representing each console. Inside each tile are tasks that need tending to such as (under Benefits Administration) “1 New Hire Eligible, 12 Pending Elections” and “Pending Opt-Outs.”
Employee Self-Service (ESS)
The ESS portal’s home screen puts time and attendance front and center, giving employees the option of clocking in for work or logging onto the main dashboard. Choose the latter and an employee is transported to a main menu across the top that includes Benefits, Docs, Info, Pay, Reviews, Time Off, and Training. The rest of the ESS home screen displays shortcuts to activities that need the person’s attention, including a to-do list, performance goals, and reviews.
A department head or manager can click on a green People icon on the top left-hand corner of the ESS home screen to toggle between their own account and a dashboard for managing their direct reports. The manager dashboard also has a main menu running across the top for Attendance, Events, and Staff. The rest of the dashboard screen is a list of main functions that shows urgent tasks in each, who on their team has a birthday or work anniversary, and who is out of the office.
Applicant Tracking Through APS Hire
APS Hire is the applicant tracking (AT) system of APS’s unified HR solution. With this tool, you can recruit new hires, onboard candidates, post jobs, schedule interviews, and easily convert applicants into employees within the overarching APS Online product suite.
This is an ideal software integration for companies that prefer to manage files from application to retirement within one easy system. Unlike some other products which don’t offer AT at all, you’ll have to purchase a separate tool to track and manage recruits, and then onboard them onto your HR tool once they’ve been given a job.
Paperless Performance Management
APS OnLine handles performance management and reviews entirely online, delivering core performance evaluation questionnaires in a survey-based style and then routing those files through the review chain as customized by the HR admin. APS OnLine allows for goal tracking in what amounts to a task-tracking system. This might seem straightforward at the start but I think it could get fairly cumbersome if one manager’s employee count rises too high.
APS OnLine makes good use of other components of its HR system for performance management. By utilizing data from its payroll and benefits administration (BA) modules, APS OnLine can give managers a full compensation history in the same Employee view that tracks tasks, goals, and performance feedback. This makes it much easier and efficient to evaluate workers on all key data points.
For those looking to link training to performance management, APS recently announced an agreement with CypherWorx, where it offers its workforce management solution to CypherWorx customers. CypherWorx is a maker of online learning solutions, so this integration can build a more seamless workflow between training and HR management if that’s important to your company.
All-In-One Benefits Administration
APS OnLine’s benefits administration (BA) is comprehensive and easy to manage. The APS core HR solution tracks and manages multiple plan types, including medical, dental, life, and disability. The platform also automates a lot, automatically assigning individual employee deduction amounts at the end of open enrollment periods and automatically saving benefits information to employee records. As far as automation and ease of use goes on the platform across desktop, mobile, and tablet apps, APS OnLine is on par with Editors’ Choice Zenefits.
The HR database also includes a long list of integrations with benefits providers and, more importantly for benefits admins, makes it easy to run a variety of benefits reports and ensure compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other federal compliance standards. The APS OnLine user interface (UI) isn’t quite as smooth and modern as Zenefits’ or that of Namely. APS OnLine also doesn’t include premium benefits features such as stock option management and custom-set perks, but it integrates well with the core APS HR platform and payroll management. This integration lets benefits admins track and manage plans from a single dashboard and gives employees easy, self-service access to their benefits data from anywhere.
Scheduling and Attendance
The APS Scheduling tool works as part of the centralized APS database, which means you’re able to analyze and track employees on a granular level to create schedules, manage expenses, and make important staffing decisions. APS OnLine’s exhaustive reporting, which includes real-time analysis, features more than 85 standardized reports. The Scheduling tool’s handful of reports can easily be combined with any of the 85 overarching tools, and the hundreds of accompanying HR-related fields, to run massive, exhaustive reports.
Although the Scheduling tool’s UI features colors such as drab mossy greens and cloudy grays, it’s intuitive and neatly laid out. Every user can create his or her own dashboards for action items, including things such as how many employees are approaching overtime, how many time-off requests are in limbo, and how close you are to going over budget. These tiles are helpful in that they let you find important data without needing to run very basic reports.
The tool walks users through creating new templates on a step-by-step basis, and APS OnLine helps you create templates during one-on-one training, which comes standard with every account (once your training is done, every account has a dedicated account manager who is available by phone and email). The tool also makes it easy to add an employee to bulk shifts. When you’re in a Schedule view, simply click “Add to Selection” for every shift you’d like to apply to an employee and then click “Apply Selection to Employee.” If the employee is not allowed to be assigned to a certain shift, then a pop-up window will alert you that you’re attempting to create a conflict. Whenever you try to populate a shift, you’ll see expenses associated with each employee, which helps to ensure you don’t go over budget for staffing needs. Shift population provides you with a drop-down menu of available employees; what’s cool about this feature is that it only shows employees within that specific department and it won’t show employees with conflicts.
The Attendance Setup feature is a nifty administrative tool that lets managers monitor and control how employees use the system’s attendance-tracking features. For example, you can restrict employee punch-ins if an employee punches in five minutes after a shift starts. You can also create variances. If an employee punches in five minutes after his or her shift has started, then you can receive an alert. But if a similar attempt is made after 15 minutes, then the employee is restricted from clocking into the system. Unfortunately, this is a company-wide setting only. Admins won’t be able to add loose restrictions for senior employees and tight restrictions for new employees.
To use the Scheduling tool, you’ll need to at least purchase the APS Payroll and Time & Attendance consoles. That’s a starting price of $5 per user per month. With that fee, you’ll be given access to an unlimited number of users, unlimited permissions levels, and a self-service portal for all of your employees. Unfortunately, there are a lot of features missing from the Scheduling tool. There is no free trial, no scheduling-specific Android or Apple iOS apps, no 24/7 support, no user forums, no shift swapping, no out-of-the-box templates, and no drag-and-drop editing. Plus, it’s only available in English. Because of these limitations, we do not recommend purchasing APS OnLine as a standalone Scheduling tool. However, when combined with the rest of its HR and payroll tools, APS OnLine is a powerhouse human capital management suite.
Some Elegant Touches
APS OnLine lacks the internal news feed that HR software vendors such as Sage People and Namely include in their services to let companies share updates and publicly recognize employees. However, the service has other thoughtful touches that boost its user-friendliness. For example, APS knows that HR personnel at its clients often use two monitors, so clicking on the MSS portal’s Reports function to create a new report automatically opens it on a second screen. Customer service is equally as well-thought-out. New clients get a project manager and training manager as part the fee-based implementation process, which can take 4-8 weeks depending on a company’s head count and the services they’re buying. Once a company is up and running, a system admin can click on a “Get Help” life preserver icon on the upper right-hand corner of the MSS home screen to open a pop-up window, with photos and contact info for a dedicated account team. Customers also get 24/7 online, phone, and email support plus training and webinars.
APS OnLine offers Android and iOS apps that employees can use to request time off, look at a pay stub, or clock in for work. If they want, subscribers can activate a “clock zone” feature in the app. If they do this, then the GPS-based feature can determine if an employee is inside a specified geographic area—and prevent them from punching in for work if they’re not.
Overall, I liked this app well enough barring some minor dings. But treating SMBs like the big boys doesn’t come cheap. APS OnLine charges $3 per employee per month for payroll, which is required for using its other services. Time and attendance is an additional $3 per employee per month, and HR management is $5 per employee per month. Depending on which services for which they pay, clients get up to 80 pre-formatted reports plus a custom report builder. That means, once you’ve added all the functionality you’ll need to the suite, you could be looking at up to $11 per employee per month or more, and that’s getting pricey. Or you could opt for HR PEMP, which is $8 per employee per month and includes AT, ACA compliance and reporting, Carrier Connections (automated benefit provider integration), and HR compliance.
APS OnLine doesn’t offer everything you would find in an HR management suite for large enterprises but it’s a good option for SMBs. This is especially true for ones looking for built-in payroll and the ability to configure some functions to match their existing people management practices.