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HR Technology Column

What Does iCIMS Actually Mean?

iCIMS does things differently than most other recruiting vendors, which may have led it to second place in the United States with 800 mostly mid-market clients after nearly 10 years. But now it's at a tipping point, and its name speaks volumes about the company's ambitions.

Monday, March 8, 2010
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We put up with a lot of weird company names in HR technology, lately because so few sensible domain names are still available on the Internet.

Foreign languages have become particularly popular: Karen Beaman dipped into Brazilian Portuguese to find Jeitosa, the name of her international HR strategy consultancy.

While we're no strangers to acronyms either (though commonly only three-letter acronyms or TLA), no company has had an odder name during the past decade than iCIMS.

But what it actually means speaks volumes about the company's ambitions and those of its still only 35-year-old founder, Colin Day: "Internet Collaborative Information Management System." Could be used for just about anything, right? And that's his point -- and hope.

Day worked for an IT staffing firm called ComriseTech when he was 24, and carved its technical platform out of the company, giving Comrise part ownership of his new company and getting a $2.5 million start-up loan in return.

Not so different from the early history of Derek Mercer, founder of the former Vurv, now owned by Taleo, though he started in high school since his aunt owned the staffing firm.

Day's first application was recruiting, and his target remains the mid-market, the most idiosyncratically defined thing in our world. SAP considers it to begin at companies with less than $2 billion in annual revenue. IBM, at companies with fewer than 50,000 employees! Day thinks of it as companies with 500 to 10,000 employees.

Like all mid-market software companies, he also has a bunch of exceptionally large customers, including Enterprise Rent-a-Car with 75,000 employees and Whole Foods with 55,000. He recently hired three support people in China just for his client Amazon.com.

He has succeeded quite handily in the mid-market: iCIMS now has 800 customers, 150 employees and $25 million in recurring revenue (it's subscription SaaS, of course, though hair-splitters would disagree with his definition since his software is not multi-tenant).

He claims to have been profitable since 2003, but, more importantly, points out that he and his original partner still own the entire company (except for employee incentive stock grants and options), having accepted no institutional investments in all that time.

What does that make iCIMS? Extremely popular among money guys. Day says he gets "two or three calls a day" from people interested in acquiring, peddling or investing in his company, and in the last three years, he has given two suitors a year a close look at his company, which means signing nondisclosures, opening the books, etc.

His claim is borne out by the metal rack on his desk, holding a dozen beautifully printed and leatherette-bound capabilities brochures from the VCs, private-equity firms and investment bankers that have knocked on his door.

But Day seems most unlikely to sell, having recently added a new "C-level" of executives to his formerly flat organizational structure: a new COO, CFO, CTO, Chief Strategy Officer, and a General Counsel and Business Development person to come.

All in a conscious effort to double his revenue to $50 million with a target of 300 new customers in 2010.

His lack of interest in selling (except maybe at a ridiculous price that no one would offer) comes from his love of his Internet Collaborative Information Management System platform, where he is building out new capabilities as fast as he can. And he sees no limit to the apps it can support. Yes, he has visions of Salesforce.com sugar plums dancing in his head.

If I had to guess, I'd say he has an IPO on his mind, having paid a Big Four accounting firm a ton of money during the last three years to produce a public company-quality financial audit. Why bother with that except for an IPO or the unlikely acquisition?

Though he avoids the label "Talent Management," preferring "Talent Platform," iCIMS has already built some of the functionality traditionally associated with the first, including performance and succession management, and profile and competency management.

But none of it is sold as separate modules! Day has a startling concept -- with the terrible name of "accordion files" -- of tracking a person first as a contact, with his or her record growing as an applicant, and then expanding further when hired as an employee -- eventually becoming what others call a "Talent or Employee Profile." No separate files, no data transfers, just completely integrated and organic growth.

The core concept: Talent is progressive, not modular. First time I've heard it, though other vendors please correct me on the HR Technology® Conference LinkedIn Group , if you do it the same way.

So iCIMS sees itself in the business of Candidate Management (pre-hire) and Employee Management (post-hire), now a common distinction that even ADP makes. And no surprise, given the current trend among talent management vendors, Day is spending 80 percent of his development resources building out what he calls Employee Data Management (EDM) for post-hire.

This is what SuccessFactors calls Employee Central; Silkroad, HeartBeat; and Salary.com, "Genesys-recoded." In short, sort of an HRMS.

Though he wisely won't write payroll, Day is planning for his HRMS to function as more than an electronic filing cabinet by supporting benefits, comp, FMLA and workers' comp to begin with -- but at the moment only for customers with fewer than 500 employees. The size of companies most often using spreadsheets and Access database applications for HR.

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"That's how we started recruiting, for fewer than 500, and then built it out," Days says, adding that EDM development has been going on for a year and almost 20 customers have already bought it, including some stand-alone without recruiting.

He sees his competitors as the usual suspects selling to smaller companies: Perfect Software, NuView, ADP, Paychex and Sage.

The main cautions I would offer to this success story are that Day, clearly an original and independent thinker, has three attitudes based on the love of his platform that may not serve the kind of growth he's looking for.

First, if he gives customers the piece parts, they (with his implementation team) can create certain functionality themselves: such as open enrollment in benefits. Also, new languages and foreign legs and regs that iCIMS has already done dozens of times still have to re-translated and re-implemented for every customer because they are never hard-coded. Certainly not what larger companies expect.

Second, iCIMS is offering only one standard API for integration -- which any potential partner has to code to rather than iCIMS meeting them halfway -- which, given its size, can hardly result in the robust partner ecosystem that every vendor who doesn't offer all functionality (and none does) has to have.

Lastly, only listening to what your customers want rarely results in true innovation, since most customers (there are exceptions) only want it faster, cheaper and a little better. Historically, all vendors listen to customers but lead the way in functional innovation by what springs out of their own knowledgeable heads. And, yes, most customers don't use it right away, but eventually do.

I haven't the slightest concern that Day will listen to any of this. He's made iCIMS into perhaps the second-largest recruiting vendor in the United States (after Taleo and maybe ahead of Kenexa) by following his own vision, including hanging onto that weird name.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 13th Annual HR Technology┬« Conference & Exposition in Chicago, Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, 2010. You can comment on his column at the Conference LinkedIn Group , which does not require attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show ┬«. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net .  

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