All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

The Vendors’ Viewpoint

My HRE colleagues and I spend a lot of time during the show meeting with vendors, and while some of them seem to want to spend all of our limited time hawking their products (boring!) others are genuinely interested in talking about the state of the HCM market (and yeah, I know human capital management is a tiresome and annoying buzzword to some, but I digress).

Anyway, Charles Coy, director of product marketing at Cornerstone OnDemand, said product differentiation is getting tougher and tougher every year for talent-management vendors like his firm. “Look around the show floor,” he told me, gesturing at the crowded booths covering the exhibit floor at this year’s HR Technology®  Conference.

“So many of us are selling what are essentially the same products, delivered the same way [via SaaS]–how do you stand out from the crowd?” Cornerstone’s strategy will be to distinguish itself from others by pointing out to prospective clients that its suite of tools were developed “organically” (in-house), unlike other vendors, who are assembling suites by going out and purchasing other vendors and integrating their products. “Our products run on the same data platform,” said Coy. “I may be wrong, but I do think that’s a differentiator.”

Coy also chatted at length about the Cornerstone Foundation, a nonprofit foundation created by his firm which — among other things — donates free Cornerstone software to outfits like Teach for America and various charities. “Nonprofits are really underserved in this area,” he said. Interesting …

Michael Custers and Brad Everett of Northgate Arinso chatted about their firm, which recently completed its purchase of Convergys Corp.’s HR business-process outsourcing operations, which makes them one of the largest such vendors in North America, putting them in direct competition with the folks at Hewitt, IBM and Accenture. “We’re a global firm, not US-centric, and we think that will differentiate us,” said Everett.

Over at Saba, they’re feeling pretty confident that collaboration as an actual, workable reality (as opposed to a topic that no one but industry analysts is talking about) is finally taking off, said Yvette Cameron, vice president and general manager. 

“HR people are really starting to drive collaboration and networking within their organizations, and we think that’s great–we want to see them get out in front of this, not hang back and let other departments take the lead,” she told me. Yvette has some self-interest at stake, of course: Saba’s just  introduced Saba People Systems, a suite of collaboration, learning and performance applications that’s designed to “power up the individuals in the organization.” Hmmmmm …  

Meanwhile, Successfactors and Workday are vigorously going after the core HR systems market, with Successfactors asserting that the market is eager for core HR products from best-of-breed vendors. Successfactors can indeed boast of winning over giant technology firm EMC, which is replacing its PeopleSoft enterprise system with SuccessFactors’ EmployeeCentral product for core HR.

And Workday is continuing to go after the large-enterprise market, having used the show to demonstrate how Flextronics (which itself is practially the size of a small country) is one of the small-but-growing cadre of big corporations that are moving away from ERP to SaaS-based enterprise systems.

And what about the regular stream of software updates that SaaS customers receive–which, if you’re a large and complex organization like Flextronics, can wreak havoc on your internal processes?

 “We’re getting much more proactive at communication, letting our customers know ahead of time what these updates will do so they can make sure nothing gets messed up,” said Workday’s Andy McCarthy. Interesting times. We’ll see how things look next year in Las Vegas, where the 2011 HR Technology®  Conference will be held at the Mandalay Bay resort.

The Great HCM Debate, Part 2

Workforce planning and analytics: What do they really mean, and what does a workforce planning strategy look like? HR Technology® Conference co-chair Bill Kutik asked the two participants in The Great Technology Debate, Gartner managing vice president Jim Holincheck and Knowledge Infusion CEO Jason Averbook, to give their thoughts on the topic.

“Analytics are great if you have a great data structure in place,” said Averbook. “It also helps if analytics are really ‘in your face’–Amazon, for example, has a great metric: ‘People who bought this book also bought this book.’ That’s an analytic that creates some action–‘Hey, maybe I should check out this other book.’ When you create analytics that are actionable, that’s when this space will take off.”

A metric that alerts a business executive that sales are down in a particular region because of a shortage of trained salespeople is a good example of an “actionable analytic,” said Averbook.

Workforce planning technnology that lets companies predict labor trends and costs, and adjust their training and recruiting programs accordingly, is still in its first generation, he said. “That’s why this space is so exciting–we’re moving toward that predictability model.”

When asked about social media, Holincheck admitted he is “something of a curmudgeon” on the topic–particularly with respect to what he said is the trend of “everyone trying to embed social media everywhere–it just doesn’t make sense.”

“Some HR departments are very progressive about social media in the workplace but for many others, that’s not the case,” he said. “And, employees are already using Facebook and Twitter–why would they abandon those in favor of enterprise versions you’ve installed?”

Above all, said Holincheck, HR should not attempt to implement a social-media strategy without closely consulting with other departments within the organization. “Other departments are using social media–work with them, have a companywide strategy–otherwise, HR is going to be viewed as just trying to do their own thing, and the effort will fall flat.”

The Great HCM Debate

Although the HR Technology® Conference’s Industry Analyst Panel switched formats this year to a debate between two industry experts standing behind lecterns instead of the four-member seated panel of conferences past, it featured the same occasionally heated and always-fascinating dialogue between folks who live and breathe this stuff. Moderator and conference co-chair Bill Kutik (who also lives and breathes this stuff) kicked things off by asking the two debaters, Gartner managing vice president Jim Holincheck and Knowledge Infusion founder and CEO Jason Averbook, to define “strategic human capital management.”

“It’s plain and simple–strategic HCM helps companies execute their business strategy,” said Holincheck. “Much of what passes for talent managent has focused on automating existing processes. But that’s not strategic. What you want to be thinking about is, what is my company’s business strategy, and how can talent management help me address that?”

“It’s certainly not about buying technology,” said Averbook. “It’s about answering the question ‘Are we going to buy or build our talent and how are we going to do it?’ It’s a business process, not an HR process.”

A bit later on during the debate, Averbook noted that the days of companies buying software licenses for HR “super users” are long gone. ” “Back in the day, we implemented HR systems for HR users. Today, the consumer is no longer the HR department, it’s the workforce. We want everyone in the company to use these tools,” he said, adding that meant HR had to focus on pushing the new systems out to the workforce and ensuring they’re intuitive and user friendly, much like Amazon and Facebook.

Kutik asked both men to share their thoughts regarding Oracle Corp.’s new Fusion system.

“I see a lot of Gartner clients pursuing a ‘coexistence strategy’–they’re using Fusion on top of their existing Oracle products rather than making plans to install a new system,” said Holincheck.

Regardless of whether Fusion meets expectations, Averbook said, it will still give Oracle a big advantage simply because of the integration factor. “We tell folks to go look at best-of-breed solutions–well, what good is best of breed if you don’t have a way to tie those systems together? If you don’t have a foundation to do that, then best of breed is a waste of time.”

“You don’t need a single vendor to tie it all together,” said Holincheck.

“I’m not saying you need a single vendor, but you do need a strategy,” replied Averbook.

Further on, Averbook castigated vendors for luring customers to SaaS solutions with the “false promise” that they won’t need IT support. “The market’s screwed up because vendors are telling HR clients this–our customers encounter failure when they have no IT support for their SaaS solutions.”

Saving Time with Social Learning

Innovations and new discoveries occur all the time inside organizations. But how can you shorten the time between the moment those discoveries are made and the results  those discoveries will have in terms of increased customer satisfaction or more-efficient internal processes? Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based health-technology company, believes it’s found the answer, said Robert Campbell, the company’s chief learning officer.

Campbell spoke at a panel discussion on social learning at the HR Technology® Conference on Sept. 29. “We created UCern to reduce the time between discovery and adoption,” he said.

UCern is a virtual learning center consisting of threaded discussion lists, a point system that lets users rate the quality of contributors to those discussions, embedded videos and wikis, he said. When employees need the answer to a question, rather than searching for someone within their workgroup who can help them, they can access the discussion lists or the archived discussions for their particular topic. Solutions to vexing problems can be posted on the company’s publicly available wikis, said Campbell, which are available in “published” and “draft” versions. Material posted on published wikis has been verified for accuracy by the company’s experts; material on draft wikis has not yet been verified and is “use at your own risk,” said Campbell. Either way, it’s drastically shortened the time the company previously needed to document and publish information for employees and customers, he said.

Social media technology can, as in Cerner’s example, allow employees to quickly access the experience and knowledge of their colleagues, rather than waiting to take a formalized course or search for documents that may or may not be properly archived, said Jeanne Meister, the panel’s moderator and author of the book The 2020 Workplace.  Nevertheless, many HR leaders are reluctant to embrace social media, she said. They shouldn’t be, she added.

“You have to ask yourself whether your competitors haven’t already embarked on doing this, ” she said. A good place to find out is the website www.socialmediagovernance.com, a database of hundreds of different social-media policies from a wide variety of companies. The database can be searched by industry, so HR can determine whether their company’s competitors are on the social-media bandwagon, said Meister. “Don’t be left behind,” she said.

‘Yelp’ for Rating Managers??

Many of us turn to the website Yelp.com–the site that compiles user reviews of local restaurants and other service providers–when we’re looking for a good place to eat in whatever location we happen to be. But the folks at Cisco Systems are giving some serious thought to creating a homegrown version of Yelp that would let Cisco employees post reviews of their managers in a public forum available to all of the company’s employees, in a fashion similar to the way Yelp.com users rate the newest sushi joint or Italian bistro.

“We’re trying to figure out how ‘ungoverned’ we can be without getting into legal trouble,” said Don McLaughlin, Cisco’s chief learning officer, during a panel discussion on using social media for corporate learning at the HR Technology® Conference.

McLaughlin said he thinks it’s a great idea, although he admitted he’d be a bit worried about getting negatively “Yelped” himself. But the concept ties into Cisco’s long-term strategy with respect to social learning, he said, which is to create a new “capability set” for the company’s next generation of leaders.

Some in the audience were receptive to the idea of a Yelp for managers. “How can you really know what sort of training a manager might need without really frank, honest feedback from his or her direct reports?” one attendee asked.

Others were skeptical. “You might have people afraid to post honestly for fear of reprisals,” said another audience member. “Then you’d also run the risk of managers who are afraid to do anything that might be unpopular for fear of getting trashed.”

“What about combining the employee reviews with hard data, such as metrics on turnover in a manager’s group, and its business performance?” said another. “That might be really powerful.”

Moderator Jeanne Meister, author of the book The 2020 Workplace, said the concept could be an improvement over performance reviews. “Aren’t we all tired of performance feedback that arrives too late? Why not find out immediately if there’s something we may need to improve, skills we need to learn, rather than waiting six or twelve months down the line?”

Wellne$$

Remember C. Everett Koop, the distinguished-looking gentleman with the Amish-style beard who served as the U.S. Surgeon General during the Reagan administration? Well, there’s an award named after him—the C. Everett Koop National Health Award, administered by The Health Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to bring about “critical attitudinal and behavioral changes in the American health care system.”

Three employers have been selected to receive this year’s Koop Award, it was announced today: Medical Mutual of Ohio, Pfizer Corp and the Volvo Group of North America, for their efforts to improve employee health and reduce costs.

 Medical Mutual of Ohio was cited for its comprehensive health promotion program that includes health assessments, biometric screenings and “building a healthy company culture.” Pfizer was lauded for health promotion programs that include full coverage for preventative services and “multi-channel marketing and communication.” Finally, Volvo’s union-endorsed “Health for Life” program was praised its use of incentives and leadership support to encourage employee participation.

 All three companies were able to demonstrate that their programs cut costs and improved the health of participating employees (Volvo says its program cut its annual medical cost trend in half, from 10 percent to 5 percent). Something to consider, given that there’s a fair amount of head scratching going on in the business community today about how (and whether to) measure the ROI of wellness programs. It’s a topic we’ll be addressing in an upcoming issue of the magazine, and in other forums as well.

The Value of the Liberal Arts

For those of us (like me) who studied the humanities in college, a typical question we got was “So what are you going to do with a degree in [blank]?” I got tired of hearing it after a while and so I’d retort with this snappy comeback (especially if it was asked by a business major): “I’m gonna write about how computers are taking over your job.”

Aside from provoking extreme defensiveness, I do think studying English, history, political science, etc, really does give you the broad education that a college degree was always intended to provide. It forces you to learn to write clearly, digest huge amounts of information and do lots of critical analysis. These are skills that are important in any profession, including the medical field.

In fact, New York-based Mount Sinai medical school, considered to be among the top such schools in the country, sets aside slots for about 35 undergraduates a year specifically for humanities and social sciences majors.

Students admitted to the program can bypass the MCAT, the rigorous entrance test that applicants to most medical school programs must take before being admitted. Instead, Mount Sinai conducts a “boot camp” with accelerated courses on organic chemistry, physics and so on during the summer prior to when they enter med school. Students are admitted to the program on the basis of their SAT scores, high school and early college grades, two personal essays and interviews.

So how well do these lit majors and history buffs actually do in medical school? Turns out they do just as well as their counterparts who went the traditional pre-med, MCAT route, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by Mount Sinai that compared outcomes for 85 students in the Humanities and Medicine Program with those of 606 traditionally prepared classmates.

So let’s hear it for liberal arts grads. We may not come equipped with specific skills, but we’re eminently trainable and have a thirst for knowledge.

Do You Hate Your Talent Management System?

Or, do you absolutely love it? Or do you love your system but hate the vendor that produced it? Or, do you feel it’s reasonably good but there are certain areas in which it, and other systems you’ve seen, need to improve?

Bersin & Associates wants to hear from you: they’re conducting their second annual “customer experience research study” and are trying to round up as many HR folks as they can to participate.

Given the rapid pace of consolidation in the HR vendor community of late, it’s more important than ever for the folks these vendors are targeting to make their voices heard. Click on the link to take the survey.  

A Goliath Gets Even Bigger

ADP’s recently announced acquisition of Workscape, a provider of compensation-planning tools, will be “hugely disruptive” to the talent management marketplace, says Josh Bersin, CEO of Bersin Associates, who was briefed on the deal by ADP earlier today.

The acquisition will enable ADP, the $9 billion provider of HR, payroll and ben. admin. services to 570,000 clients throughout the U.S. and the world, to offer Workscape’s world-class compensation planning tools to the thousands upon thousands of small-to-medium-sized companies that already use ADP for payroll processing.

ADP already distributes Cornerstone OnDemand’s suite of performance management and succession planning tools. The Workscape acquisition (ADP did not disclose the terms of the deal) will enable the Roseland, N.J.-based behemoth to gobble up an even bigger share of the TM marketplace by reaching out to the vast number of mid-sized firms that are just starting to focus on talent management, he says.

“The compensation-management platform from Workscape is the most sophisticated of its kind out there,” says Bersin. “If ADP is already providing payroll services, not to mention performance management [through Cornerstone] to these companies, and now they can sell comp planning as well, they’re going to have a huge leg up on other TM vendors. ”

ADP may also be able to differentiate itself from other software vendors through its  pricing, says Bersin.

“They get paid by their clients via a monthly charge, on a per-employee, per-check basis,” he says. “My guess is, they’ll embed the Workscape services into that monthly charge, just adding to it slightly, which will enable them to price it in a way that a typical software company could never price it. This will help them gain a lot of market share.”

“The big question is how aggressive ADP will get with it–how well will they train their salesforce and how heavily they’ll promote it,” says Bersin.

“I like to think of ADP as the General Electric of the software industry–they don’t think of it as tools, but as a business,” he adds. “When they buy a company, they look at how rapidly they can integrate it into their sales organization and sell it. I think they’re going to get a lot of traction, and other vendors–especially in the mid-sized market that ADP sells into–they’re going to have to deal with ADP.”

Professor: College is a Rip-Off

Richard K. Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University whom I recently interviewed for a news story about a report from Georgetown U. that predicts employers will face a huge shortage of college grads to fill positions by 2018, has a decidedly unorthodox take on what ails higher education in today’s America.

Vedder is cofounder of the Center for College Productivity and Affordability, a nonprofit that advocates for a decidedly conservative approach to how colleges should operate. Vedder and his colleagues argue, in a series of editorials that have appeared in various magazines and newspapers which are  available on the organization’s website www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org , that government funding (in the forms of Pell Grants, state subsidies to public colleges and universities, etc) has allowed academia to avoid the market-driven reforms that other industry sectors have been forced to undergo. Colleges continue to operate without regard to efficiency or expediency because they can, write Vedder et al.

Low-interest student loans, Pell Grants, and the like have the effect of shielding students and their parents from the true costs of college, they write. This translates into less market-driven pressure on colleges to aggressively adopt reforms (such as more online classes, fewer staff, greater use of technology to improve efficiency etc) that would make them more affordable.

Vedder argues for replacing state subsidies to colleges with direct vouchers to students. He also argues in favor of for-profit schools, such as DeVry University, saying that their continued growth and expansion will force nonprofit, public institutions such as the University of Michigan to become more market-oriented and to even, perhaps, privatize themselves.

I find Vedder’s views a bit extreme, but interesting nonetheless. Many students today graduate with a crippling debt load, and often go on to accrue more debt in grad school because they feel that’s their only route to a decent livelihood. And colleges can count on plenty more coming their way becasue we’ve drummed into kids that they must, MUST go to college if they want a decent job. Something’s askew here–in other countries, like Germany, it is NOT necessary to go to college in order to earn a decent income, and many parents often overlook the fact that  it’s not true in this country, either. Plumbers and electricians, for example, make decent wages and their jobs can’t be outsourced.  This is an area that’s due for a lot more examination, and viewpoints such as Vedder’s, radical though they may be, definitely add to the conversation.