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HR Technology Column

The Three Faces of Workscape

All software vendors change direction, but Workscape has been known as one of the best in our world for three different things in just 11 years! Now, the company is looking to knit its pieces together into something completely new and not the same old, same old.

Monday, May 3, 2010
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Every HR software company goes through permutations, changes in focus and direction.

Just look at Salary.com going from salary surveys to offering the Talent Management suite. In fact, look at the origins of all of the TM suite vendors starting from offering just recruiting, learning, or performance management, etc.

But Workscape has always stood out for me -- probably because its changes started earlier in its 11 years in business. Or maybe just because I met CEO Tim Clifford at the beginning of it all in a wood-paneled Wall Street-style conference room and small amphitheater in, of all places, Salt Lake City!

IHRIM's annual conference was underway a few blocks uphill; Clifford had just started the company backed by private equity firm Warburg Pincus (still the majority investor); and he had rented the impressive room to assure the customers of Workscape's first major acquisition that everything was going to be just fine.

But I was less than impressed when Clifford told me how many "lives" Workscape already covered. That made me write him off as an insurance guy (which he had been), and not an HR software guy who talk about "employees," I hope. I had him and Workscape figured for short-timers.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Workscape's first face was as a provider of employee self-service, using its acquisition of the HR part of Edify, which also offered self-service for banking.

Hard to remember today, but in the late '90s the ERPs and HRMS vendors did not offer self-service, which had to be purchased separately from a handful of independents, all now long acquired or dead, including Conduit, Interlynx, iClick and ESSence.

Edify had stood at the top of that heap; became PeopleSoft's only self-service partner; and bulked up for the rush of anticipated business. Six months later, when PeopleSoft rightly realized that self-service should be a core functionality and cancelled the partnership, Edify was broken up and sold. The HR piece went to Workscape: the new employee self-service company!

Other acquisitions would become important later: ECS or Employee Communication Services, which offered benefits communications and some transactions; Noah Software, from former Apple HR systems executive Dave Arella, for compensation.

Remember, this was all back in the day when no one asked about functional integration of applications. HR was completely siloed, so who cared? If each app worked well separately, the customer was happy. And no one wrote sarcastic columns like A Cynic's Six Steps to Application Integration.

It was a short leap for Workscape from employee self-service to the next rage in HR: employee portals running on a private corporate intranet, if you recall that term. Ten years ago, General Motors signed Workscape to build the world's largest portal, available to all of its than 240,000 employees at work and even at home, via a short-lived experiment called AOL-TV.

When GM's CTO Tony Scott showed its progress at the 2002 HR Technology® Conference, Workscape instantly had its second face: the new portal company!

Though I would consider it more of a cheek and jaw than a full face, Workscape built out its benefits capabilities from ECS and bought a tiny 20-person call center in Boise, Idaho, called CallConnect. Workscape expanded that operation to 120 employees (increasing to 225 during open enrollment periods) and moved it into a new custom-designed facility for outsourced benefits administration.

But the enduring magic, and third face to my mind, came from Noah Software. With some heavy development, Workscape turned it into Comp Planner: what most consider the best compensation software in the world. Certainly IBM does, which uses it internally and for its HR outsourcing clients.

Define Comp Planner's "world" as 180 countries, 40 languages and 48 currencies. It manages $125 billion in comp yearly and serves some of the biggest clients with the toughest comp requirements: IBM, Cisco, Disney, Dell and American Airlines. How does Disney pay Snow White, anyway?

So the third face of Workscape: the world leader in comp.

But now it's time to put all the pieces together. Isn't that what every vendor is doing? And that's the challenge facing Clifford and his head of sales and marketing Tony Marzulli.

One obvious opportunity is going down market. Comp Planner has given Workscape the reputation of serving only the largest companies. Now with SaaS delivery available for all its applications, Workscape has created a "National Accounts" division to serve companies from 500 to 5,000 employees, also with a dedicated sales force. The name should make them feel bigger, just as with ADP, which starts at 1,000.

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At the same time, Workscape is well down the path to becoming yet another TM vendor, having added performance management 18 months ago (integrated with comp, of course), and an assessment module (leading to succession planning and career development) scheduled for late this year or early 2011.

But does the market really need one more TM vendor? Especially another one without recruiting or learning in its quiver? I think not.

Instead, Workscape is considering a different way to knit its pieces together -- going to market offering "Total Rewards Management."

Now if that immediately makes you think of Total Rewards statements -- given yearly to employees to show them the company is spending a lot more on them than their salary -- this is not a smart move for Workscape.

But if, instead, you think that Total Rewards Management means managing an employee's health and wealth, then it may be on to something new.

Workscape covers health with its outsourced benefits administration. It covers wealth with compensation integrated with performance leading to pay-for-performance, and an argument can be made to include its upcoming succession planning.

Clifford first heard the suggestion at Workscape's recent Analyst Day and by the time you read this, it may already be on its way to becoming the company's fourth face.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 13th Annual HR Technology┬« Conference & Exposition in Chicago, Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, 2010. This year's program is available online now. You can comment on his column at the Conference LinkedIn Group , which does not require prior 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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