Cornerstone unveils app marketplace, launches API strategy

© Videovol - Fotolia.comCloud-based talent management provider Cornerstone OnDemand yesterday became the latest enterprise applications vendor to open its own app store. Cornerstone Marketplace launches with a small selection of 25 technology, content and service offerings from existing partners.

At this stage, there’s not much to make you sit up and take notice, but it becomes a lot more interesting once you understand how it’s planned to develop.

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The roadmap over the next nine months will see today’s online catalog evolve into a full-fledged marketplace with built-in single sign-on, licensing and trials. At the same time, Cornerstone will roll out an API strategy and developer portal designed to allow customers and partners to build their own applications or integrations that draw on Cornerstone application functionality.

Not a PaaS strategy

Analysts at a pre-briefing on Monday suggested this was a platform-as-a-service strategy but Jason Corsello, VP of corporate strategy, explained that he preferred to class it as an API strategy:

“We are not building PaaS, we think we can do a lot with APIs …

“APIs are what I think of as the digital currency or the digital glue to what any SaaS vendor has to have.”

Jason Corsello, CSOD

Jason Corsello, CSOD

This may sound like splitting hairs but the distinction is important in that an API strategy is more loosely coupled and implies less lock-in than a platform strategy. What this means is that Cornerstone plans to publish APIs to its data and applications without tying developers into a vendor-specific platform of supporting capabilities.

Thus a key part of the announcement is the introduction of a new API-driven means of “embedding” third-party functionality “into the worflow of a Cornerstone application.” Clearly, achieving that depends on a fairly extensive API that extends into business logic and UX layers as well as data and access management.

Comparisons to AppExchange

Winning support for this more limited objective of a rich set of APIs may be easier for a vendor of Cornerstone’s size and reach than a more all-encompassing platform. One of the obstacles to the success of an app store is the ability to gain a sufficient groundswell of support to sustain momentum.

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The obvious parallel in the SaaS world is the Salesforce.com AppExchange, which is now coming up to ten years since it first launched. There have been very few successful imitators of the AppExchange model, which illustrates how difficult it is for vendors to develop an ecosystem around their product. You have to simultaneously bring a large enough customer base to be attractive to developers, while attracting enough developers to persuade customers that it’s worth committing to the ecosystem.

At least with an API strategy, no one is getting locked into a potentially failed platform play. So long as the vendor continues to support the API, the ecosystem’s investment in any development is protected.

Although the focus of this week’s announcement has been on the partners named as part of the launch, the real success of the strategy will be determined by how many customers begin developing integrations and custom applications to the API. They will be able to have more confidence that Cornerstone will continue to support the API for its core product set than they would be able to have in a brand new platform play.

But without a platform round it, it’s all the more important for Cornerstone is to get the API right. Here the AppExchange parallel is instructive, in that it has taken several iterations for Salesforce.com to hone its API, most recently with the launch of the Salesforce1 platform last year, when the vendor introduced a swathe of new mobile-focused API calls. Cornerstone hopefully will learn from the Salesforce experience.

Getting feedback

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Over the next nine months, Cornerstone plans several iterations of the API as it builds out the functions included at each release. The first version this June will be a limited beta release and it plans to open out each subsequent release to a wider pool of beta testers until a full 1.0 release becomes available next spring. This will give it plenty of opportunity to get feedback from partners and customers to make sure the API does the job.

Once the API has been built out for core functionality, tools and integrations, the vendor then plans to add APIs for each of its application modules, starting with recruiting, and then adding learning, performance, compensation and so on.

In parallel, the Marketplace will add functions such as search, reviews and ratings, single sign-on, licensing and trials/downloads, along with a developer portal that will become the home of a community of API users. Later on, the plan is to extend beyond the initial library of applications, content and services to add resources such as forms, reports and specific datasets.

The initial line-up of partner offerings to join the Marketplace falls into three categories:

  • Technology. These are add-ons that extend the core talent management offering with third-party application functions such as video interviewing, assessments and virtual classrooms. Partners include Achievers, AppLearn, Broadbean, Citrix, Corporate Executive Board, HireVue, HireRight, Visier, and Webex.
  • Content. Specialized content designed to improve learning and development, from providers such as: Big Think, Cegos, Cornerstone Compliance, getAbstract, JJ Keller, Korn Ferry, Speexx and Skillsoft.
  • Services. Service provider offerings from the likes of Appirio, Bluewater Learning, Deloitte, NeoSpheres, Tribridge and XpertLearning.

Cornerstone Onboarding

Yesterday’s annual conference also saw the vendor’s application line-up extended with the launch of Cornerstone Onboarding, which brings together the various processes involved in welcoming a new hire. Available from June, the new module includes these features according to the company:

  • Personalized welcome portals. Engage new hires before day one by offering social, self-service portals where employees can learn about the company and access critical information, take courses, make internal connections and communicate with their team.
  • Real-time task and training management. Keep track of the entire onboarding process and time-to-productivity metrics with the ability to set goals and reminders, track milestones and report on task progress.
  • Centralized onboarding documentation. Generate, assign and route new hire forms from one centralized location. Upcoming functionality will enable integration with eVerify and other services to manage critical compliance information.
  • Socially engage new hires. Drive new hire engagement by establishing virtual communities and connecting new hires with their colleagues.

Disclosure: Salesforce.com is a diginomica premier partner. Cornerstone OnDemand paid some travel and expenses to attend an analyst briefing.

Image credits: Marketplace © Videovol – Fotolia.com

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant since 1998. As well as documenting the transformation of 21st century enterprises by digital technology, he is co-founder of industry advocacy group EuroCloud.
Phil Wainewright

@philww

web cloud SaaS expert, blogger @diginomica, LibDem, dad
Phil Wainewright