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HR Technology Column

SuccessFactors Puts on a Smart Show

SuccessFactors Puts on a Smart Show | Human Resource Executive Online Talent management suite vendor SuccessFactors split its usually lavish user conference into a more Spartan three-city road show in June that was free to customers! Each was a launching pad for its new application, Employee Central, which -- by integrating official record-keeping into the suite -- sets a collision course with HRMS vendors.

Monday, June 29, 2009
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SuccessFactors may have made the smartest, but most costly, move in this year of cancelled, scaled-back and money-losing vendor user conferences.

Rather than just cancel their normally expensively produced single event -- which almost certainly would have attracted fewer users because of its fee and corporate travel restrictions -- SuccessFactors instead brought the conference to its customers.

In June, it staged three two-day user events in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. All for free! Australia and Spain are to follow.

While they undoubtedly cost SuccessFactors even more money, these regional shows kept a considerable number of customers close (and maybe its enemies closer, as Don Corleone always recommended). People still flew in to New York, from as far away as Texas.

Each event featured the same keynote speakers and training but presentations were by local clients. New York's was held in one of the historically low-rent hotels near Grand Central Station -- long the haunt of airline crews laying over between flights in and out of JFK. At a nightly rate of only $209, it was an incredible bargain in the city, and the room and facilities were fine.

Come September, we'll see if Taleo (meeting in Las Vegas) and Plateau (in San Francisco), among many other vendors, made the wiser move by sticking to the traditional one-event format. And, of course, the HR Technology® Conference at the end of the month in Chicago.

It's always a pleasure to listen to CEO Lars Dalgaard deliver a keynote. I only wish I could somehow become an electron passing through the synapses and neural networks in his brain. Then I might finally understand his always curious relationship with facts.

First, he declares from the stage, "SuccessFactors is the fastest growing public software company in the world." Followed within 60 seconds by: "We are the fastest growing public SaaS software company in the world." You decide.

But my favorite keynote memory was from the single New York event two years ago. Lars polled the audience on who wanted a SuccessFactors HRMS. I saw two hands go up, and he declared with a straight face: "About half."

Well, now he has one (kind of), called Employee Central.

Not quite the HRMS of yore, which always included three modules: employee record-keeping, benefits and payroll. That's the "Core HR System" a dozen vendors have been offering for years and that Workday is laboring long and hard to re-invent.

No, Employee Central -- like similar applications already available from such talent management suite vendors as Softscape and iCIMS -- only includes the employee record-keeping function.

This is a trend that makes perfect sense, at least for the small-medium-business market.

All the TM vendors offer an "Employee or Talent Profile," with information from recruiting, performance, goals, development and even compensation taken from their own applications. Plus those profiles often include the kind of personal information, entered through self-service, normally seen on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Separately, the HRMS employee record has always included the official corporate information, such as an employee's salary and bonus history, promotions, paid time off, emergency contact number, etc., plus some bits of the above.

Why not bring the two together with role-based access for viewing? That's what Employee Central does.

This portends a major turnaround, even a collision farther down the road between two sets of vendors.

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For years, TM vendors have had to integrate into existing HRMSes and extract official employee data. Now some can stand alone, so long as the customer is willing to outsource (and integrate) payroll and benefits administration.

And for almost as many years, the major HRMS vendors have been furiously building out and integrating their TM applications (including their own employee profiles) to catch the suite vendors.

Bam!

Employee Central has the added competitive benefit that SuccessFactors' Employee Profile (at the center of the new employee record) already has more whiz-bang social-networking functionality than just about anybody's.

So SuccessFactors can sell Employee Central as "cool" or as a new "system of record."

The latter will be a reach for quite a while, however. Employee Central has no functionality for compliance (to corporate business rules or the government's), nor any way to create workflow processes for organizations requiring more than one person to approve a transaction. VP of Product Marketing Dave Karel says workflow is coming.

Lars says the company will build out the application's core record-keeping aspects versus its Web 2.0 features according to customer requests.

Employee Central is still in beta, including with some large companies, Lars says. General availability is scheduled for July. Only after then will we see if writing this application was as smart a move as splitting up the show.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 12th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition in Chicago, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Read the full 2009 agenda and register online before the discount expires on July 28. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show sm. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net .

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