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Our Software Jurassic Park

Our Software Jurassic Park | Human Resource Executive Online The mainframe HRMS dinosaurs of 20 to 30 years ago continue to roam our earth, most being used by large companies for their bulletproof payrolls. If it ain't broke, why replace it? But one, Cyborg, after a painful recent history, is being brought back to life as Accero.

Monday, July 27, 2009
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I treasure, but can rarely find in my office, a large-company HRMS market-share report by Computer Intelligence in 1989, the year I started following HR technology. It shows McCormick & Dodge and MSA -- before being combined into Dun & Bradstreet Software, purchased by GEAC and then by Infor -- with a combined market share of more than 60 percent.

I know it's in the same file with the 1993 letter-to-the-editor from Row Henson complaining that my column gave too much coverage to PeopleSoft, just months before she left Dun & Bradstreet Software to help make PeopleSoft the most successful and famous HR software company ever.

I well remember the rest of the companies in the report, venerable names all, which had identifiable slices of the HRMS market share pie chart: Integral Systems, Tesseract, Genesys, Cyborg, even pioneer InSci.

The fate of many technology products that outlive their useful lives is to be acquired by companies that milk remaining customers for yearly maintenance payments without investing a dime in updating their products. If you still use one, you know what I mean. Sad and unfair to customers of such dinosaurs, since part of maintenance is supposed to be used exactly for that.

Just to be clear, I'm not tarring the entire list above with that description. Salary.com, for instance, recently acquired Genesys and is busy turning it into an HRMS integrated with its talent management suite. So without going through a full necrology -- all of them continue to exist in one form or another -- let's focus on the former Cyborg, where things are definitely happening.

You may remember Cyborg was a private company based in Chicago. Owner Mike Blair -- long before almost anyone thought about "going global" -- moved himself to the U.K. to start a major operation there, which continues to this day and now includes 25 percent of the company's 250 customers. Ceridian has continued to use the old Cyborg product to deliver Canadian payroll for 20 years.

Then Hewitt bought Cyborg in 2002 for use as part of its Human Resource Outsourcing offering -- an effort that was never successful. At the beginning of 2008, Cyborg was renamed Accero/Cyborg after being acquired by Vista Equity Partners, the same private equity firm that recently won a bidding war for learning vendor SumTotal.

Accero CEO Tom Malone, who was an executive-in-residence at Vista, says there is no intention to merge the two acquisitions. He plans to buy, rather than build, the additional functionality the Cyborg product needs to expand beyond what is today only a basic core HR offering: employee record-keeping, benefits and payroll. He includes time and attendance, recruiting, and talent management in that list.

"This is no 'strip-and-flip' investment," says Malone. "Hewitt already stripped it. Vista is prepared to invest probably another $10-to-$100 million in Accero/Cyborg and tends to hold companies as investments for seven to eight years."

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Evidence of that was already clear by the end of June, when Accero announced Version 6.0, which includes a new Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model and a new browser-based user interface.

Obviously, there is much more work to be done and Malone plans to rewrite the code in layers. He is hoping for a Version 7.0 by early next year with upgraded self-service and other modern enhancements.

Last year was about "recreating a stand-alone company," Malone says, with "Job No.1 making existing clients happy," whom, he says, had grown very dissatisfied with no investment by Hewitt. Now he's preparing to pursue new customers, probably companies with 2,500 to 4,000 employees.

As in the movie, Malone has the DNA to recreate the once-successful company, not from mosquitoes caught in amber, but from the 100 or so Cyborg employees, many of them long-time veterans, still with Accero. It will be hard, but not as fantastical as bringing real dinosaurs back to life.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 12th Annual HR Technology(r) Conference & Exposition in Chicago, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Read the full 2009 agenda and register online before the discount expires on July 31. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show®. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net .

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