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HR Technology Column

HR Software Never Dies; It Gets Aggregated

There have been lots of mergers and acquisitions in HR technology lately. But nobody has run the table quite like Infor, the venture-capital-backed aggregator and third-largest ERP vendor that owns many of the HR products you used to love or hate.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
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In 1999, I met a Canadian bank finally moving off Information Sciences (InSci) -- the first packaged mainframe HRMS, launched in 1972 -- and finishing implementation of what was then called IBM HR Access, making it one of that product's few customers in North America.

Talk about a hard luck, late-adopting organization. I hope they invested their depositors' money better than their own.

That meeting came to mind recently when my entire life in the HR technology industry flashed before my eyes during a meeting with Infor, the five-year-old $2-billion aggregator of enterprise software. After getting much press lately as "the third largest ERP vendor," though well behind SAP and Oracle in revenues, I had to see what they had for HR.

Well, they have the complete history of our industry.

Their various HR products run on mainframes, IBM iSeries (the former AS/400 minicomputer), client/server, and even on the Web.

Do the names Computer Associates Masterpiece/HR (InSci), MSA, McCormick & Dodge, Dun & Bradstreet Software, E-Series, M-Series and GEAC mean anything to anybody but me and HR IT gurus, such as Row Henson, Dave Duffield and Naomi Lee Bloom? Infor has all of these software dinosaurs, and is supporting their clients, apparently quite nicely.

As Bloom often says, "Companies don't replace big old HR systems that work, especially payroll, until they must accomplish something the systems can't do."

Or as Gary Durbin, founder of Tesseract, once the mainframe HRMS gold standard, told me years ago, "When a company spends four years and $20 million (in 1989) implementing a system, they don't hop off fast."

Closer to the modern era, Atlanta-based Infor also owns Infinium, the HR and Financials vendor once known as Software 2000, running on the iSeries; a partial talent-management suite from Web-based Boniva; and surprisingly, Workbrain, the white-hot workforce-management vendor it bought in June for $196 million.

Workbrain, in fact, will be one of the presenters, along with its client Verizon, at the 10th Anniversary HR Technology® Conference from Oct. 10 through 12 at Chicago's Navy Pier, which happens to be an Infinium customer.

So what's Infor doing with all this stuff? Keeping those great E-Series and M-Series mainframe payrolls from Dun & Bradstreet Software running at places like Wal-Mart. Selling GEAC's SmartStream client/server HRMS to smaller companies with a little Web functionality added for employee and manager self-service.

It's also trying to increase Infinium's large share of the hospitality and entertainment industry, particularly gaming, whose customer logos already make the most eye-dazzling flag page ever seen in a PowerPoint presentation. "Infinium runs 90 percent of the Strip in Vegas," says Bob Clements, Infor's director of HCM product management -- and the page looks like the street at night!

And more importantly, Infor is pursuing the synergy of software aggregation sought by other companies, as it cross-sells the customers of its 21 different enterprise software companies like crazy.

Like ADP, Infor sells completely different HR products that more or less do the same thing to customers of various sizes and complexity. Infor won't be fusing anything. Each product's code is being enhanced separately. There is no single technical platform on the horizon, no forced upgrades (real or feared), although there is a two-year plan to enable some meaningful application integration through a Service-Oriented Architecture.

So how do they go to market? In three layers for HR.

Core HR is either SmartStream, Infinium (with even more self-service), E-Series or M-Series. You can't mix and match because they don't.

Workforce management -- including time and attendance, scheduling, absence management and planning -- are Workbrain's.

The partial talent-management suite is from Boniva, originally a learning vendor that never made a name for itself before being acquired. Boniva's suite has no recruiting. That is provided by partner First Advantage, using a company it acquired, of course.

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Naturally all these products have already been given new generic names, like Infor HCM Talent Management, so you won't know what product you're actually being offered, unless you save this column.

Do all three layers work together? "Seamlessly" does not immediately come to mind.

Boniva works with Infinium and SmartStream, but Workbrain, being such a new acquisition with more modern architecture, is a little tougher.

In mainframe days, vendors argued endlessly about whether their applications were "integrated" or merely "interfaced." The latter meant using a separate holding bin for information to feed the two separate applications, rather than them directly communicating. Workbrain is currently interfaced with those two systems.

The question on every industry-watcher's lips is why Workbrain CEO David Ossip sold his company to Infor, rather than to leading-edge vendors such as Oracle or Lawson. SAP already has a competing product. But he hasn't said.

Infor's future includes more than just living off maintenance revenue. Investments and product enhancements are planned, including a small-company version of Workbrain, non-English versions of Infinium, a new release of Boniva, and whatever it takes to keep those giant payrolls chugging along. That will make a lot of people happy.

HRE's Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is also co-chairman of the 10th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition in Chicago from Oct. 10 through 12. The full program and information on attendee discounts are available at www.HRTechnologyConference.com. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net.

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