Human Resource Resource

Dean Haller of HRSentry offers online HR help for small and medium-sized businesses

by Keith Morrill

hr_lead80Dean Haller founded his Colchester business, HRSentry LLC, in 2003, the capstone of a career covering years of experience in human resources at all levels. The company offers businesses Web-based human resource information, guidance, and tools so they can be self-sufficient in administering their human resources and maintain regulatory compliance.

From its vantage point at the top of Mountain View Road in Colchester, the offices of HRSentry have a commanding view of the Green Mountains, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks. It seems fitting for the view to reach so far, considering that founder, president, and CEO Dean Haller and the staff of HRSentry have effectively conquered their niche in the business world.

HRSentry offers Web-based services designed to allow small and medium-sized businesses to easily meet their human resource needs. In the short time the company has been in business (it launched its services in January 2004), HRSentry has acquired customers in all 50 states and, through its iPhone and iPad apps, in 28 countries.

Since inception, the business has been driven by four guiding principles: ease of use, simplicity in design, depth of content, and affordability. “We provide information, guidance, and tools for the end users so they can become self-sufficient in the administration of human resources and maintain a posture of regulatory compliance,” says Haller. “What we’re about is regulatory compliance or best practices.”

Haller says that while they are in no way unique in offering Web-based HR resources, they do target different clientele than most companies do. Other sites are designed with the trained human resource professional in mind. For everyone else, including businesses too small to have an HR department or even a designated HR director, navigating such sites is at best daunting, and at worst a labyrinth of professional jargon and hidden forms.

HRSentry’s alternative comes in the form of its flagship service called HR Made Simple, a massive library consisting of over 10,000 resources, from employment applications to guides for creating employee handbooks, covering the minutiae that an organization must track in order to remain compliant with state and federal regulations.

It’s a powerful resource for businesses and a better alternative to grabbing documents that are floating around the Internet free of change, says Haller. “You can go out and you can Google employment applications, and I can guarantee you’ll have access to hundreds, but you won’t know whether they’re compliant, or whether they’re accurate, or asking questions they should be,” he says.

He should know. Informing his practice is 38 years’ experience in human resources. A native of Pennsylvania, he grew up just outside Philadelphia, and graduated from Henderson High School in West Chester — the same high school his future wife, Sandy, attended. They didn’t date until Haller was studying psychology at Norwich University and Sandy was enrolled at Green Mountain College. When he transferred to Duquesne University and Sandy transferred to Penn State, they became more serious. After graduation, they married and settled in Pittsburgh.

Haller spent the next 18 years in the banking industry, ending his tenure as vice president of employment and training for PNC Financial Corp. During those years, he traveled extensively, visiting colleges nationwide in order to recruit for the company; he says in one year alone he boarded a plane ”well over a hundred times.” It wasn’t a schedule that allowed him to spend much time with Sandy and their two children, Danielle and Benjamin, then ages 2 and 4.

Recalling fond memories of childhood summers spent visiting his mother’s family in Vermont and his two years at Norwich, Haller decided the Green Mountain State would be the ideal place to raise his family. He resigned from his job, drove up to Vermont, and spent two weeks shopping his resume around to every business with a door to knock on, he says. At the end of the two weeks his prospects looked grim at best, and Haller was convinced he had made a horrible mistake. He headed home.

Traveling down U.S. 7 on his way back to Pittsburgh, he made one last stop — this time at IDX — and spent the day in the waiting room just for a chance to talk to Rich Tarrant, the CEO and co-founder of the company. Tarrant was so impressed that, after a few interviews, he hired Haller as director of human resources.

Haller says it was one of the best things that ever happened to him. Even though it’s been years since he’s worked at IDX, he’s remained good friends with Tarrant, who has served as his mentor.

Tarrant provided invaluable counsel while Haller was crafting his business plan for HRSentry, and liked the plan so much he wanted in on it. He has been a funding partner of the business and frequent contributor of ideas ever since.

Haller left IDX in ’97 to assume a position at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters as vice president of administration. In 2000, he left there to start his own consulting business, called Black Diamond Human Resources until he was joined by Mary Margaret Lee and the name was changed to Haller Lee. Over these years, Haller made some observations that spurred him to create HRSentry.

“Most organizations had a need for the same kinds of things,” he says. “They wanted me to help them develop an employee handbook, or interpret a regulation, or create documents they could use, whether it be an employment application or an employee evaluation.”

He put together his business plan with Tarrant’s feedback and, in June 2003, began the initial design of his process, HR Made Simple. He launched it in January 2004.

Originally, Haller intended to serve only the Vermont area, because its business community largely fit his target client profile. Things changed, though, and he has since identified a new client base whose profile seems the perfect match for HRSentry’s services.

These clients include organizations such as the Vermont League of Cities and Towns — entities that pool together under a single organization. Other states — Arizona and Massachusetts are the largest — and Amerind, which oversees nearly all of the federally recognized Native reservations, have taken a similar approach. All use HRSentry’s services, purchasing licenses in large quantities then distributing them to their townships.

John Kelly, operations manager with Massachusetts Inerlocal Insurance Association, speaks highly of Haller and HRSentry. “Our company deals with many vendors and service providers,” says Kelly. “HRSentry is one of those rare products that deliver exactly what is promised. Furthermore, they are always pushing to improve the product. I admire that. They are real professionals.”

One of those improvements is currently in development: a system suited for such conglomerate pools as the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association. The system will allow the hub of these pools to monitor satellite users and identify issues a site might be experiencing.

For instance, says Haller, a user having difficulty with interviewing might access related material in the HR Made Simple library. The system operator would be able to see that and coordinate a webinar or training session to assist. HRSentry expects the system to launch this fall.

Haller lives in Underhill Center with Sandy; they have a house on the lake in North Hero where he enjoys boating and fishing. Spending time with his family is his number one concern outside the office, he says, although he admits it’s more difficult now that Danielle and Benjamin, 25 and 23, live out of state.

Haller and his company have stayed on the cutting edge technologically, even developing apps for iPhone and the iPad. The iPad app was accepted on its first submission to Apple, and when the iPad launched in April of this year, HR At Your Fingertips was the only HR application available for users.

Since then, Haller says, sales haven’t slowed down; the company has made sales every single day. Haller anticipates further advances with HR At Your Fingertips in the future.

Haller is quick to praise his staff of six and credits this explosion of creative energy and technical savvy to the dedication and talents of his employees — three full-time and three part-time.

David Lapointe is director of information technology. Lapointe helped Haller with the initial design and launch of HRSentry, and single-handedly wrote the iPhone and iPad applications. Patrick Williams is director of marketing and customer relations and Christopher “Topher” Liddle is coordinator of marketing and sales.

The part-timers are Brenda Sabin, director of operations and site administration, and Maddi Arthur and Barbara Needham, senior site administrators. This part-time trifecta keeps HRSentry’s massive resource library up to date. HRSentry also has one independent sales agent, Zeke Hanzl.

“We’ve got 1,500, maybe 1,800 customers. We’ve got clients in all 50 states. We’ve got 10,000 resources. That’s a lot for a small group,” Haller says, “and you couldn’t have that if you didn’t have the type of group that works here. Where we are now is light-years ahead of where I ever thought we’d be.”

“In here, we’re all equal,” he continues. “The only boss that we have is HRSentry.” •