Main content

Brian Sommer's Month in Review - April 2020

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer May 12, 2020
April was was a month that was inevitably dominated by COVID-19 related news and information.

(Free for use)

Most everything to hit my desk/phone in April had a Coronavirus angle to it. That’s understandable. There were a couple of surprises mixed in and several of those focused on work from home challenges. And, there were also interesting product news bits, a little M&A news and other enterprise software updates, too.

The COVID-19 Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

WFH (Work from Home) Isn’t Working in Japan – The Associated Press reported that:

Many Japanese lack the basic tools needed to work from home. Contrary to the ultramodern image of Japan Inc. with its robots, design finesse and gadgetry galore, in many respects the country is technologically challenged.

But the bigger obstacle is Japanese corporate culture, experts say. Offices still often rely on faxes instead of email. Many homes lack high-speed internet connections, and documents often must be stamped in-person with carved seals called “hanko,” which serve as signatures. So many Japanese really cannot work remotely, at least not all the time.

It’s actually a fascinating article with insights into WFH efforts in India, US and Britain, too. It also delves into the cultural and managerial differences out there. It just goes to show that a one-sized fits all approach to WFH isn’t viable. Hopefully, HR and ERP vendors will take note of this.

WFH Everyday Challenges – WFH can come with some tech obstacles many of us must overcome. Sure, who doesn’t have the barking dog, screaming kid, etc. to mess with their conference calls. The common tribulations aren’t very interesting but some new ones still pop up. In my case, my cable modem gave up the ghost late one night this month. It was too hot to pick up! My cable provider wasn’t much help but thankfully I knew enough to buy and configure a new one in time for the next morning’s Zoom call.

Further to this point, I was speaking with Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri earlier this month and he related how his family was sucking up the Internet bandwidth at his house. Now that he does non-stop Zoom meetings, he had to add a second set of cable modems, routers, etc. just to get the bandwidth his WFH job now demands.

What COVID did to Zoom – Oracle to the Rescue

I listened in to a fast briefing by Zoom’s CIO and an executive from Oracle. It seems that everyone is now a Zoom user/expert given lockdown or WFH mandates. The big data point for me in this announcement was to see Zoom’s business growing 30X in the last few weeks. Talk about growing pains! That’s the obvious case for Zoom leaning on Oracle for extra compute capacity.


OSHA is creating COVID-19 workplace rules – While businesses have been trying to adapt to closures, layoffs, product shortages, etc., many changes they must make involve the safety and security of workers and customers. In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has devised rules for worker safety in this new age. Employers must look at these requirements while they consider plans for re-opening and these plans must also address customer safety, too.  HR solutions may need updating and HR departments may have a lot of work in front of them to get their firms in compliance.

Cornerstone completes the SABA deal - Cornerstone OnDemand has closed its acquisition deal to acquire Saba. What caught my attention is that the purchase price was lowered due to recent changes in the economy/stock market/valuations. Cornerstone will provide additional color on this on May 11. Its short press release stated:

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — April 22, 2020 — Cornerstone OnDemand, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSOD), a global leader in people development solutions, today announced the closing of its acquisition of Saba Software, a global leader in talent experience solutions and a portfolio company of Vector Capital. In light of current market conditions, the total transaction value has been reduced from $1.395 billion at the time of announcement to approximately $1.295 billion at closing.

Cornerstone sees demand for training explodeCornerstone’s Institute for People Development provided some interesting statistics on training in the COVID-19 work world. Given lockdowns, WFH activities, etc, it reported:

  • “Learners spending 27.5 million hours on Cornerstone Learning in March 2020
  • Nearly half (40%) of Cornerstone Learning clients saw an increase in logins in March compared to February. Moreover, these clients experienced a significant spike in logins, 135% on average. 
  • By industry, the insights reveal nearly 60% of healthcare clients, and nearly 50% of public administration, education and non-profit clients, reported an uptick in logins. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District saw a 20x increase in logins in March. 
  • The data also reveals a 50% increase in companies moving their in-person trainings to a virtual, online format, with the verticals most affected being healthcare, finance and education.
  • The renewed focus on online learning can be seen worldwide. Organizations in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands are seeing major increases in usage, with a near 2x increase in online learning usage from January to March. In South Korea, clients are seeing a 5x increase in online learning usage.”

This infographic has more detail.

COVID-19 layoffs mean older workers will get shafted (again!) MSN had a piece that told how after the 30-odd million layoffs we’ve encountered in recent weeks, those cuts will have a disproportionate and unfortunate impact on older workers. These two paragraphs are particularly disconcerting:

History offers a lesson in what the future holds for older Americans hoping to get back to work. In the last big jobs wipeout—the “Great Recession” of a dozen years ago—a study by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said that although older workers generally experienced lower unemployment than their workers aged 25 to 34, it took twice as long to find work. A third of older job seekers (34%) were still looking after a year, and two-fifths (41%) were still searching after a year and a half.

And after finally finding a job after all that time on the sidelines, what did they get? A median pay cut of a whopping 23% (median means half, so half took a pay cut worse than that). By contrast, workers aged 25-34 typically took an 11% haircut”

HR leaders and recruiters did a particularly bad job during the Great Recession of 2009 re: age discrimination. The Ageism they exhibited was appalling, illegal and reprehensible. Let’s hope they grew a conscience since then and behave differently now.


FinancialForce, an accounting/PSA solution built on the Salesforce platform had a pile of product enhancements to announce this Spring. The software now possesses:

  • Material User Experience (UX) enhancements – FinancialForce is using Salesforce’s Lightning UX (LEX) in much of the product line. FinancialForce is developing entire applications on LEX with more apps on LEX soon. FinancialForce is also using Salesforce’s Einstein AI tools to create more personalized or role-based dashboards and analytics as part of the new user experiences.
  • International and Multi-book Accounting enhancements – FinancialForce better supports statutory books (e.g., Plan Comptable, FERC, etc.) in additional to traditional GAAP/IFRS accounting. More country-specific localizations are also available, specifically, for French and Spanish users.

Other enhancements include:

  • (Financials) New Income Statement
  • (Financials) New Deferred Revenue Reconciliation Report for faster closes
  • (PSA) Enhanced Gantt chart
  • (PSA) Project Burnup view (uses Einstein) to warn of projects that may overrun
  • (PSA) Advanced visualization of resource schedules against staffing requests
  • (PSA) Streamlined sales-to-service handoff
  • (ACCELERATE) ACCELERATE represents FinancialForce’s methods and tools to help customers get implemented quickly and successfully. Now, it includes Customer Lifecycle eXperience Hub, a collaborative workspace, to help customers better manage their configurations and more.

FloQast made WFH a reality – It’s interesting to see stories about how cloud solutions made WFH possible. A recent announcement from FloQast had this anecdote:

Jerry Raphael is the chief financial officer at Stack Overflow, a popular website for developers and technologists with advertising, recruiting, and SaaS collaboration products. He credits FloQast software for helping his accounting and finance teams make a seamless transition to its current fully remote environment. “It would have taken us at least a month to get everyone set up at home if we hadn’t already been using FloQast before the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, we were ready on the first day of shelter-in-place.” He adds, “We’ve had a lot on our plate including onboarding a new controller, our first 100% remote month-end close, our annual audit, and financial reporting for a board meeting — and we managed it all with zero loss of productivity, thanks to FloQast.”

I’m hearing lots of stories from corporate accounting types on doing closes remotely. I’ll likely develop an article on this soon.

The business of software

CEO Recession Suggestions - I caught a conference call this month by the Software Equity Group. It featured three founder/CEOs of tech firms. Each of them had survived the Great Recession of 2009 and they offered a number of tips for tech firms today.

The advice was consistent across speakers and eye-opening, too. They spoke of:

  • Cash and venture capital would dry up. If they haven’t already, tech firms need to horde cash, slash travel and other expenses and learn how to grow via bootstrapping because no one’s going to bail them out.
  • Freeze hiring. If you must do layoffs, do them deep and now. You can always rehire talent in the recession and, contrary to recent labor market dynamics, there will be lots of great talent looking for work.
  • Get close to all of your customers and stay close. New customer acquisitions will become scarce so check in with the ones you have and make sure you are doing everything to help them get every application they’ve subscribed to fully operational and performing in a manner that will deliver maximum value.
  • Don’t sell puffy value proposition concepts. Sell and deliver real ROI instead.

In my own calls with the CEOs of software firms, the advice about being close to customers is one being adopted in spades. One CEO told me how these calls run the gamut with some firms growing massively during the pandemic while others have been savaged. Helping customers get value is key to retaining them post-pandemic. But the smartest CEOs are also being empathic and finding ways to help customers specific to their individual situations.

KNOA, WFH and COVID-19 – KNOA has been in the SAP space for quite a well. I’ve seen them at many Sapphire events but they’ve become quite relevant since WFH has been a factor. Specifically, KNOA can tell an IT group where people are struggling in their use of technology at home. That knowledge can be used as a proxy for employee engagement especially when workers either cannot or cannot effectively use business applications at home. Given that the remote phenomena may continue for some time, companies would be wise to understand what’s really happening outside of the office.

Big Data

The problem with consumer data. (People lie!)Harvard Business Review reported that marketers that rely on purchased consumer demographic data may be getting a bum steer. I audibly laughed when I read this as I’ve made up all kinds of bogus info just to trip up firms that obtrusively collect and surreptitiously sell my information. One time I created four additional children for our household, shaved 20 years off my age and more.  We’re still getting junk mail for those non-existent kids. HBR stated:

Across all our tests, we found that the consumer information sold by data brokers varies greatly in quality. A lot of it is similar to or even worse than what you’d get if you used random chance to create a target list. Demographic data was particularly disappointing. For example, the average accuracy of gender segments classifying males was only 42.5% — which is lower than the 50% natural chance of identifying men. Data on age was slightly better, but not much – on average, in 77% of cases the age tier was also incorrect.

Planning/Service Management

Cherwell and Planview Get Close – This recent alliance puts a great project portfolio management (PPM) firm (Austin-based Planview) and IT service management (ITSM) firm (Colorado-based Cherwell) together.

One of the stimuli for this alliance is that Cherwell’s install base frequently demands a PPM solution with more functional oomph than their mid-market offering. With Planview’s PPM Pro product, Cherwell can better compete against ITSM firm ServiceNow.

Both products will be available on the AWS Cloud.

In my conversation with execs from both firms, this deal seems more bromance than alliance. Both firms are eager to cross-sell to each other’s install bases. Both firms have a number of complementary solutions and little functional overlap. And, this deal gives both companies more solutions to solve large enterprise issues. They both see lots of upside (and they may well be right).

(Note: Planview possesses solid PPM and new product development (NPD) functionality.)   

Cherwell and WFH - Cherwell also announced this month several applications that organizations can use to productively drive workforce productivity in these WFH times.  One of these helps firms automate operations for remote employees and the other automates crisis management communications.

Cherwell’s partners get in on the act, too – Firms like Everbridge (streamline incident response and accelerate resolution time), BeyondTrust (allows remote support session details be appended to service tickets) and ComAround (a knowledge management solution) are all offering COVID tools to Cherwell customers.

Looking forward

Colleague Dion Hinchcliffe over at Constellation Research produced a nice piece on the Post-Pandemic CIO Playbook.  I wrote a related albeit quite different piece a couple of weeks ago.  I can tell neither Dion or I knew of each other’s articles yet each piece complements the other. Both pieces are recommended for IT leaders everywhere.

End on an upbeat note

Colleagues Jon Reed, Phil Wainwright and I have written on Zoho and their social responsibility efforts in recent months. Zoho’s actions in recent weeks have been notable especially in their willingness to help so many small businesses who’ve been impacted by COVID-19.   Their efforts have been substantial and thousands of firms have taken advantage of them already.

Zoho’s not done with this. They’ve created a number of applications for impacted organizations in retail, government and other sectors. You really should see the list of capabilities they’ve made available (click here).  While many ERP and other application vendors have made some apps available for a limited time, I believe Zoho’s efforts are much more helpful to a larger group of customers. Kudos!

And, on that note, please everyone, “Stay safe and healthy!

A grey colored placeholder image