Brian Sommer's Month in Brief - July

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer August 4, 2020
The COVID crisis continues, but life goes on in the enterprise tech sector. Here are July's highlights...

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While there are a number of HR stories this month (it is a pandemic after all), bad technology executive behavior was once twice again in the news. Read on for a full litany of stories you should have followed….

Tech’s 'Bad Boys' 

I’ve previously pointed readers to exposés on the CEOs of different technology firms. The industry is full of these types.  Just last November, I wrote on The Wall Street Journal’s big piece on the WeWork implosion. In 2016, Phil Wainwright, Dennis Howlett and I covered issues at Zenefits which the new team at Zenefits appears to have addressed. Phil Fersht of Horses for Sources recently wrote about another bad boy story – this one involved UiPath.

Now we get two new stories to watch. Vanity Fair has a great piece this month on Jack Dorsey, CEO of both Twitter and Square. This article has it all:

  • Strange eating habits
  • A battle between the CEO and the folks from Elliott Management (the same bunch that took on SAP last year)
  • A demand for new board members and/or new CEO
  • A little on coronavirus
  • And even a small bit on romance

The article ends with some uncertainty but I doubt this is the last we’ll hear on this. A good read folks.

And rounding out the recent bad boy stories, we have “Inside the Boys Club” – a story in Bloomberg Businessweek.  This one’s about a sexual misconduct scandal at Ubisoft, the folks who sell Assassin’s Creed.  Here’s just one sentence in this story: 

On July 10 the French newspaper Liberation reported that Hascoët had allegedly made sexually explicit comments to staff, pushed subordinates to drink excessively, and given colleagues cakes containing marijuana without their knowledge.

I’m not going to get on my soapbox re: these firms and their leaders. I’ll let you, the readers, fire a few missives their way.


In the May-June Harvard Business Review, there’s a solid piece titled “What Managers Get Wrong About Capital”.  For a couple of decades, I’ve seen companies squander scarce capital on the wrong assets. They’ll pour more capital into: remodeling money-losing stores, old product lines that should be wound down, etc. This misallocation of capital is why I liked the analysis that folks at Stern Stewart and others bring to companies. 

This article illustrates some new metrics/measures to be employed to make smart short and long-term capital deployment decisions. It’s a piece that Finance pros should definitely read and I’ll bet a number of activist shareholder and PE executives are looking at it, too. 

CPM/EPM vendor Anaplan announced financial results. Anaplan booked over $100 million in Q1 2020 with subscription revenue accounting for almost 90% of that.  These revenue numbers are up approximately 40% from the same period last year. 

OneStream and the market interest in planning/consolidation tools. The CPM/EPM (corporate performance management/enterprise performance management) segment has seen a lot of interest since the pandemic erupted onto the scene.  Last week, OneStream announced these data points:

OneStream reported 75 percent growth in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) as of June 30th, demonstrating continued market demand for its solutions during uncertain times. The company also reported a 40 percent year-over-year growth in new customer acquisition, to well over 500, and a 67 percent increase in employees over that period. New customers added in the first half of 2020 include The Timken Company, Ontic Engineering & Manufacturing UK, Cronos Group, Buckeye Partners and Jardine Motors.

In addition, more than 50 existing customers added additional user licenses during the first six months of the year. OneStream continues to replace spreadsheets, multiple legacy applications such as Oracle Hyperion, SAP BPC, and IBM Cognos as well as cloud-based point solutions with its unified CPM platform to streamline processes such as financial close and consolidation, reporting, planning, forecasting and account reconciliations.

Supply-chain financing got into the news as a new vulnerability to watch during the pandemic. According to this Wall Street Journal piece, this type of financing is largely off-balance-sheet. Suppose a company typically buys an annual commodity (e.g., a seed crop) today but won’t take delivery for of it for almost a year. The company chooses to finance the purchase via a supply-chain financing arrangement. For most of the year, the company’s books look great as the payable is nowhere to be seen and the cash balance looks great. The problem is that lenders have already paid the suppliers but could call in these notes early. This could stress borrowers especially if they haven’t been able to conserve cash of late. This is one to watch. 

I got a quick update from FinancialForce as part of their virtual user conference. FinancialForce is an interesting solution as it is the only financial accounting solution built on the platform. This product line continues to develop ever deeper functionality and accounting sophistication. That makes the product more viable in ever larger firms. 

A lot of their recent momentum concerns their GainSight partnership, their Risk Tracker functionality and new Einstein functionality. There was also a lot of discussion re: their PSA products. 

Elsewhere diginomica’s Phil Wainwright covered this and more in his piece. 


There’s still a lot of innovation percolating in the HR space. I had several briefings this month and here are snippets from a few of these.

First, there is Aduro. Aduro’s been around for approximately 12 years. Their core mission revolves around ‘the interaction between well-being and performance’.  In my briefing with their CEO, Darren White, I pushed hard on the issues I have with many of their competitors: firms who promote solutions with poor science and/or no real provable/value. Darren pleasantly surprised me as they’ve worked hard to really understand the root causes of poor workforce performance and the methods needed to deal with these. Once the root causes are dealt with, only then can performance improvements have a chance of materializing. 

With other solutions, I’ve had issues with firms trying to cure several, often unknown root cause problems (e.g., bad bosses, employees under a lot of stress, employees having problems at home, etc.) with a single tool/technique (e.g., you need to implement an atta-boy/girl solution). Aduro sees 6-8 groupings of root cause issues and has a portfolio of tools/techniques to deal with each. 

You might think that your firm already has a collection of tools (e.g., EAP, mentoring programs, etc.) but the challenge with this a la carte approach is that employees don’t necessary know what program to use and there is no overall coordinator to ensure continuity across an employee’s solution choices or to make sure the employee’s issue is actually rectified. Your firm might have a lot of pieces but these pieces don’t make for an optimal solution and that can be reflected in lots of cost with poor business results.   

Given the pandemic, layoffs, work from home and other recent employee stress creators, something like Aduro could really help people in some of the world’s largest employers. 

Another HR firm I was briefed on is Arena. Arena is a player in the AI/big data recruiting space. Arena’s differentiation revolves around the removal of bias in recruiting and in facilitating more employee career mobility.  Arena’s had a lot of success in the health care vertical. 

Smart recruiting technologies are hot right now and many firms are putting machine learning/AI to use in these roles. I strongly recommend you read this MIT Technology Review piece on this exact topic.  That article discusses one such tool that can predict which jobseekers might be more likely to be job hoppers. 

Getting back to Arena, Arena takes in all kinds of data from a company’s HRIS, ATS (applicant tracking system), real-time labor and market data, and other information into the Arena platform. Arena’s ML tools evaluate some 6-8,000 datapoints per person.  Interestingly, Arena doesn’t really get a lot of useable clues from resumes. Arena can predict employee retention as well as alternate roles for the employee, engagement and time/attendance behavior. More predictive factors are in the works. 

Arena can point to some solid benefits their rapidly growing solution delivers. One stat they mentioned involved their ability to reduce headcount turnover by 45%. In recruiting scenarios, reduced turnover obviously lessens the workload on recruiters. But Arena also alters the amount of time recruiters spend in screening candidates. The Arena software is providing a lot of that screening analysis for recruiters. 

Arena insists its results are ‘insanely consistent’ and that they help identify a number of non-traditional applicants for employers. Non-traditional is a good thing as it often helps broaden the workforce to include more workers of different ethnicities, genders, education levels, etc. 

I sat in on a bit of Neeyamo’s recent news webcast. Neeyamo has a big global payroll offering.  

Brian S

They’re going to be competing with a lot of firms I’ve covered over the years including NGA HR, ADP, CloudPay, Ceridian, etc.  From my perspective, global payroll is a market segment that can use a lot of help. In my work with multinationals, they all struggle with payroll-to-general ledger interfaces/integrations and all of the error corrections that permeate the process. I know the market is looking for a firm to be the unequivocal leader in making global payroll a painless, always accurate and timely solution. I wish Neeyamo well in their pursuits here. 

Speaking of Payroll, Infor had some news. Specifically, Infor now offers a multi-tenant version of their Payroll module. Infor reported:

Infor… today announced the arrival of its new Payroll module for Infor Global Human Resources (Global HR). Infor Payroll provides in-house payroll processing capabilities with multiple options for service partners to help manage back-end payroll processes, including employment tax filing, wage payments, wage garnishments, and other value-added services.

Infor also announced some positive financial condition news. It recently reported:

Since its acquisition by a subsidiary of Koch Industries in April, Infor has repaid over $5 billion in debt and achieved an investment-grade rating from Moody’s and Standard & Poor's. Infor is committed to maintaining these solid investment-grade ratings and unique financial advantage.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with the folks at OpenSesame. OpenSesame is in the Learning and Development (L&D) space and competes with firms like Cornerstone OnDemand, SkillSoft and LinkedIn Learning.  The company does curation of high-quality online training from around the world. They capture user ratings of these courses and use this information to improve the offerings customers use.

Like other L&D/LMS vendors, they’ve seen a marked increase in business due to the pandemic. Obviously, areas like safety and compliance are in demand but so are solutions in other categories like business skills, technology and industry specific topics. 

This week, I got a newsletter from OpenSesame. The first paragraph stated:

To help companies keep their employees healthy and productive during the coronavirus pandemic, OpenSesame offered unlimited free access to curated elearning courses for any organization. Learners from thousands of organizations worldwide took advantage of this offer, with more than 300,000 enrollments in courses that covered critical topics like preventing the spread of infection and identifying COVID-19 symptoms, managing remote teams and virtual collaboration, and returning to work after quarantine.

Also HR

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance had this tidbit:

Some 12% of employers have suspended matching contributions to their 401(k) plans, and an additional 23% were planning to cut their match or were considering it, according to a survey conducted in late April by Willis Towers Watson, a human-resources consulting firm. A separate survey by the Plan Sponsor Council of America found that nearly 22% of companies with 1,000 or more employees are suspending or reducing matching contributions to 401(k) plans.

This may represent a re-opening challenge for firms. Returning workers will want ALL of their pay and benefits restored especially if they’ve been drawing unemployment the last few months. Pay cuts, shorter hours and reduced benefits will make for restless workers. Likewise, employees who have been working from home will only accept reduced pay and benefits for a time. 

Smart firms will get on top of this NOW or face real blowback and job losses once the economy starts to recover. 

COVID costs are mounting. HR Executive had a piece describing Walmart’s $428 million in bonuses that they’re paying to workers:

Walmart on Tuesday said it will pay out another cash bonus to frontline employees working in stores, clubs and its distribution and fulfillment centers for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The retailer will pay a bonus of $300 for full-time hourly associates and $150 for part-time hourly and temporary associates. Drivers, managers, assistant managers and its health and wellness workers will reap rewards as well—amounting to approximately $428 million in all.

A solid story in the recent Strategy + Business is “Six Keys to Unlocking Upskilling at Scale”.  In one of the anecdotes in the article, readers learn of a PWC program that creates what one employee called “the Infinite Learner”. It describes the journey employees took to learn new technologies like AI, chatbots, robotics, etc.  

The story describes a program that succeeded in re/upskilling project managers to a whole new level of market relevance and value creation for clients. Instead of stories of robots taking away jobs, this one showed a viable path forward. A good read. 

Legal & Tech

Bloomberg reported how companies are trying to get out of contracts, including technology deals, by invoking Force Majeure clauses. I know from reading a number of these over the years that the writers of these clauses weren’t necessarily thinking of a pandemic as most examples were about wars, earthquakes, etc. Nonetheless, courts will likely fill with plaintiffs seeking to void all or parts of contracts due to COVID-19. 

Techies everywhere know how many user conferences and other confabs have been cancelled this year. Event organizers, convention center managers, travel planners, etc. have been poring over their contracts to see what, if any, wiggle room they have to avoid paying big cancellation fees, damages and other fees related to this pandemic. Like the Bloomberg story, the events industry has been looking at Force Majeure clauses, too. 

Now, we see new force majeure language appearing in contracts as a reaction to the pandemic. NorthStar Meeting Group offered up a couple of sample wordings to its readers today for the hotel industry. Given how many people in technology plan and attend offsite events, this new advice is worth reviewing. 

Finally...a request! 

While diginomica’s Jon Reed has been on a tear about the poor quality of many virtual events (and I concur), I’m at my wits end getting PR pitches about how firms can build more, wait for it, wait for it, agile, resilient organizations.   AAAARGGGHHH!!!!!!   

Let’s stipulate that this need is omnipresent and one that everyone recognizes. Let’s also stipulate that I (and my clients for that matter) have heard this, too. So, please vendors, knock it off or tone it down. And don’t try to ‘resilient wash’ your old solutions either. You’re not getting my time or attention if you make me hit the delete button. 

Please stay safe!