A Fall HR tech round-up (with bonus book review)

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer November 18, 2019
Looking over the more interesting things re: HR software for the second half of this year, from macro trends through vendor strategies to a book review to consider.

hr book cover

A quick review of some of the more interesting things re: HR software for the second half of this year. We’ll start with a quick look at several macro trends and then dive into the details of behind several vendors. (There’s even a book review to consider too!)

Global pay

Most any business with more than a couple of employees is doing something across global borders. The need for a single, global payroll engine has been apparent for a long time although the available solutions have been, in a word, lacking. Severely lacking in my opinion.

Today, many HR solution providers are either introducing their initial payroll product or earnestly trying to expand their payroll app to cover more than a country or two. Kronos has rolled out a U.S. payroll product and will expand into other countries over time. Ceridian has grown beyond its U.S. and Canadian payroll functionality and earlier this year announced support for the Australian payroll market. ADP, via its global payroll functionality and its Celergo acquisition, can support 140+ countries.

Other firms are in play, too. Blue Marble is relatively new to the space but getting a lot of visibility with prospects and at HR shows. Blue Marble claims to support payroll in 135+ countries. Papaya Global moved into Payroll not long ago and supports payroll in 100+ countries.

Payroll providers are also going the other way. Companies like Paylocity are adding HCM functionality to their payroll solutions.

Vendors that provide a basic global gross-to-net payroll function though are still not delivering what customers really want. Software buyers want:

  • Robust payroll to general ledger interfaces/integration
  • Solid integration with cost accounting systems
  • The ability to make error corrections anywhere in the process and ensure that other upstream and downstream systems receive the same adjustments automatically
  • The ability to deliver payroll any day, any time, on-demand
  • A single payroll entry system and a single payroll engine globally

We’re still years away from this vision and businesses will still have to live with a material amount of inefficiency during this timeframe.

Workforce Management

Workforce Management (WFM) is red hot right now. It seems every ERP and HRMS vendor either has developed their own WFM technology or is partnering with an existing provider. SAP and Kronos have one such alliance.

WFM is important for several reasons and verticals. Many positions require workers have current certifications and are trained to do the tasks asked of them. WFM tools track and ensure currency with such. You will see WFM getting a lot of interest in health care, utility companies, railroads, regulated industries and many service industries.

WFM functionality can also include a robust scheduling tool to ensure that only the right people get staffed on specific assignments.

WFM functionality is targeted today for service organizations but it can do more for manufacturers and others. This is why service management solutions are exploding in the hard industries as these firms add more service capabilities (e.g., repair, warranty and workover activities) to existing offerings. Servitization is another driver of this phenomenon (e.g., turbine generator uptime as a service).

Here’s just one proof point on how hot this space is getting. This week we saw:

Workforce Insight, a world leader in workforce optimization, announced today that it reached a definitive agreement to acquire Presence of IT Workforce Management North America, LLC, a recognized leader in the Human Capital Management (HCM) and Workforce Management (WFM) space across North America.

Smart Analytics

Seems every HR vendor has a machine-learning enabled analytic application to demonstrate these days. The future of reporting and analytics is clearly moving this way. However, these solutions are still far from being mainstream, common and comprehensive.

Smart analytic applications are mostly beta-products today. You’ll see them at user conferences and in sales pitches but they’re not on the price list of most vendors today as they’re not ready for prime time yet.

Smart software buyers should quiz any software sales team to provide them with resumes of people skilled in these tools and show you their availability to work on your implementation. A tool that can’t be implemented isn’t worth anything.

Book Review - Flat, Fluid and Fast

Brynne Kennedy founded Topia, a talent mobility solution, several years ago. She and her team created/pioneered a number of concepts regarding talent mobility while launching and growing Topia. Now, Brynne’s documented these learnings into her book, Flat, Fluid and Fast.

Talent Mobility is actually a big problem for many firms especially those that still possess old-school ideas re: performance management, time-based career development, etc. The world (and workforce demographics/psychographics) changed but many firms’ attitudes regarding promotions, transfers, assignments, projects, etc. didn’t.  It’s why some firms are struggling to find the talent they need.

These firms struggle because they:

  • Only promote people once they’ve been in a position for a specified time regardless of whether the person may have been ready for new responsibilities months or years prior
  • They don’t look at the skills a person possesses and instead focus on time served in a given role
  • Hire based on experience not skills or accomplishments
  • Don’t look at internal candidates to fill open roles – the bias is to keep existing employees right where they are and look to competitors to supply new people for the open positions

That old school thinking isn’t working and a new generation of workers isn’t settling for it. I’ve seen this first hand as younger workers value employers that promote/hire based on demonstrated results not on time served.

Brynne’s book is structured well and it covers the gamut of talent mobility issues. The first part of the book looks at global mobility and the issues employees face when firms don’t know how to do it well. As someone who’s done a couple of ex-patriate moves in my career, these moves are often handled by HR people who have little to no first-hand knowledge of what the worker will encounter. I got through everything in one piece; however, colleagues at other firms did not.

One colleague spent a year in the UK only to return to an organization that made no provision for his return. Sadly, his is one of many similar stories I’ve heard where the initial expatriate provisioning mostly worked but the re-entry was unplanned and botched.  A company could be Flat, Fluid and Fast and still be a Failure if it doesn’t have a closed-loop process in place for talent mobility.

CHROs are facing a number of strategic challenges these days. They have to support outsized growth, fill many open positions, develop new sources for future skill needs and more.

These CHROs need a new approach to acquiring and utilizing talent if they hope to keep their own jobs. Brynne’s book offers a number of pointers and is worth the read.

Vendor Updates

Kronos - I did a big piece on Kronos in July this year. That article described their offerings: Workforce Central, Dimensions and Ready. At this week’s KronosWorks, the company’s biggest announcement was the availability of its new time clock technology.

Brian S

Photo by Brian Sommer – used with permission

The new time clock, InTouch DX, is more like a consumer grade mobile phone or tablet in its look and feel. It does have a biometric scanner on the top and will soon have a camera capability for facial recognition. The device has a capacitive touch screen and supports a large number of features beyond simple clocking in/out (e.g., scheduling time off, reviewing absences, reviewing a team’s planned time off, etc.).

This device has two modes. It can operate in Community mode. This is useful for badging in large numbers of people in a rapid fashion. Community mode is great for shift changes. It limits some user functionality to make fast entry a reality. Individual mode is the other option. It provides the widest possible amount of functionality. A user need only swipe once and then can affect any number of actions.

Are time clocks still relevant? No matter what you may think, Kronos sold a record number of time clock devices this last year and user interest in the new devices was very strong (and positive). These devices still have a place in numerous verticals and in applications where physical security, cost accounting and/or time tracking are quite necessary. Will cell phones/tablets replace these devices in time? Maybe, but not in the short-term.

Beyond the new time clock, Kronos also announced record revenues of over $1.4 billion and strong EBITDA, too. Market uptake for the new all-cloud Workforce Dimensions continues to grow.  Over 600 customers have signed on with this product including a number of well-known, large firms.

International growth is becoming an ever-important part of the overall growth story behind Kronos.

Alight - Alight is one of the largest HR consulting, implementation and outsourcing firms globally. I recently wrote about their acquisition of NGA HRIn 2019, they also acquired  Hodges-Mace and Carlson Management Consulting (the latter is an implementer of Adaptive Insights – a budgeting/planning/consolidation toolset owned by Workday).

The firm recently announced a smart virtual assistant, Eloise, that “corrects, predicts and prevents costly payroll errors”. Smart tools that eliminate piles of non-value-added (or low-value-added) work in HR are a great use for new machine learning, workflow powered and exception-handling capabilities. OneSource Virtual is also investing in this kind of capability.

Jäbôrd – I did a call today with a new HR recruiting solution, Jäbôrd. For those employers (and jobseekers) seeking a newer alternative to LinkedIn, here’s a potential new offering. Jäbôrd has tools to help employers enhance job postings, facilitate a better 1-click application, a smarter ATS functionality, etc. For jobseekers, the site permits faster applications, a better chance of matching to great jobs, etc.

Jäbôrd is brand new and a demo may be the best way to grasp all of the capabilities that separate it from piles of old school solutions.

Vault – I recently chatted with Vault Platform’s Co-Founder and CEO Neta Meidav. This is a solution that helps firms avoid being implicated in a #MeToo issue. Vault Platform permits workers to have a safe, secure way of reporting issues within their firm. The software documents incidents, timestamps all interactions and stores/saves evidence.

Vault’s sales are being driven more and more by boards of directors not just from HR.

One aspect of the software that I liked was the software’s ability to ‘connect the dots’ when other employees are experiencing a similar issue or different issues from the same perpetrator.  If HR wants to get ahead of potential litigation or avoid the corporate and recruiting brand damage that occurs when rogue behavior becomes public, it might want to consider a more considered solution like Vault’s.

Saba – Saba has grown a lot in recent years. It did a deal to acquire Halogen in May 2017 and then did another deal almost exactly a year ago when it acquired Lumesse.  The Lumesse deal brings additional European customers and sales pipeline to Saba. The combined firm now has over 1,400 employees and over 4,000 customers globally.

The big product news involves their new people experience solution. This solution (me:time), from my perspective, helps employees craft a better, more personalized training program that aligns the person’s immediate and long-term career needs with the needs of the firm. This solution delivers content exactly when needed, to the exact employee requesting it, in the format the employee desires. The best aspect may be in how the training aligns with the direction the employee wants to take their career. Instead of recommending training that aligns with what the employee already does, it can suggest career paths and the training needed to successfully traverse these.

AllyOAllyO is the place to go to see a lot of bots in action in HR and Recruiting. That means there are lots of AI/ML-powered bots to better source, connect, engage, onboard, etc. candidates and employees. Any software selection team needs to, at a minimum, see AllyO’s solutions as a way of understanding how HR must change and what opportunities exist to eliminate more low-value-added work and improve the recruiting and work experience for jobseekers and employees.

AppcastAppcast is what smart recruiters can use to better manage their spending re: job ads. If recruiters aren’t careful, they’ll funnel too much spend to the wrong or low value job boards or destination websites or overpay for the best sites.

85% of the Appcast’s shares were recently sold to a German firm StepStone/Springer .

Visier – Long-time HR analytics leader Visier has been busy, too. I’ve previously documented their OEM deal with mid-market solutions provider Insperity. They recently did another deal with Paycor where HR analytics are available to their mid-market customers, too.

Visier’s entry into the mid-market is notable as many analytic apps are too complex and require so much big data that makes them unusable for all but the largest firms/employers. The new mid-market solutions are targeted for firms with 500 or so employees and should work with mid-market HRMS products from firms like BambooHR, Lever, Greenhouse and others.

PaylocityPaylocity is a payroll service provider that went public in 2014. Their brand has been linked with payroll processing from the get-go. However, what too few people realize is that it has a full HCM/HRMS suite, too. Now, the firm is getting the word out and trying to change the perceptions people have about them.

Not only has the company’s product line grown, but it now has over 3200 employees and over 20,000 customers.

Kahuna WorkforceKahuna Workforce is a competency management solution that has a high degree of connection to workforce management solutions. Like workforce management products, you find Kahuna in vertical industries like oil & gas, utilities, etc.  The software allows you to define the competencies/certifications/etc. needed per role or position. Next, you can assess where your team is along this dimension and identify what training or other steps are needed to get the team in optimal standing. People can be assigned to specific projects based on their fit and compliance level.  The product is designed to work with many HRMS and ERP solutions.

My take

2019 is showing some advancement in HR technology. In fact, I’m more impressed with the innovation in HR apps than the pittance of innovation in many ERP firms (That’s a subject for another piece). Payroll is still a big pain point with many of my clients.  But more firms would do well to start scanning the innovations in HR if only to realize what could be leveraged by their firm (and what is still too immature). It’s from realizing the potential of new solutions that CHROs can begin to tackle some of their most strategic and/or painful workforce issues. It’s time to move from the tired, mundane and costly HR products to ones that can redefine work, talent acquisition and retention.

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