HR Technology Column

Kenexa Puts Its Pieces Together

Headed by one of my favorite CEOs, Kenexa is finally integrating all its pieces, flying BrassRing's flag again, nailing down Walmart and moving upstream into the C-Suite. But it's finding company there.

Monday, June 28, 2010
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Unless you're a competitor, you've got to love Kenexa CEO Rudy Karsan.

At his June analyst-and-influencer day at Philadelphia's grand and exclusive Union League Club, I asked him how long he thought Jews (me) and Moslems (him) had been allowed in as members.

"Eight years for Jews; three for Moslems," he replied without missing a beat, as though he actually knew. I still don't know whether he was kidding. Maybe he'll tell us on LinkedIn.

More importantly, when the discussion turned to migrating Kenexa's smaller business and retail-recruiting clients from three older systems (including the acquired Webhire) to the company's new system, he said they would have three years on the old stuff with maintenance and bug fixes only.

"Then you pull the plug on them, right?" I asked, thinking about the upcoming three-year deadline Taleo has set to do that with its acquired Vurv customers.

"Nah," Rudy said, "if they don't migrate, we'll just give them the code to run themselves."

See what I mean?

Personal qualities aside, how is Kenexa doing in its long journey finally to rewrite and integrate its products around a common talent profile? Pretty well, it seems.

The new 2x technical platform for product integration, announced last year, now has the following on it:

2x Onboarding (built from scratch, not the KMS product), 2x Mobile (exclusively for recruiting functionality today on the Blackberry and iPhone), the new 2x Recruit (the system mentioned above for companies with 2,500 to 5,000 employees), and what is finally being called 2x BrassRing.

No more senseless squandering of BrassRing's 12-year-old brand equity under meaningless product acronyms like KRB (which, if you care, used to stand for Kenexa Recruiter BrassRing, as if anyone knew).

2x Perform (rewritten, not a ported Kenexa CareerTracker) is scheduled in a few months with 2x Assess (Kenexa has hundreds of assessment products to gather together) and 2x Analytics promised for 2011. Kenexa seems to be in no rush to productize the LMS source code it purchased two years ago. So with that exception, there's the integrated talent-management suite.

So how is Kenexa doing with BrassRing, perhaps its most famous product? Every industry watcher knows that Kenexa's SEC financial-reporting buckets leave Wall Street absolutely clueless about how much of which specific product or service Kenexa is actually selling.

I asked Rudy to give us all statistical hints that didn't violate SEC disclosure rules that could lead to an informed guess about BrassRing's numbers. Ever the actuary, even though it's been years, he obliged.

Happily I didn't have to prove my competence at deductive reasoning because another employee just told me! The numbers are 20 to 30 sold a year and now totaling about 240. I knew that! That's just what I deduced from Rudy's hints!

So Kenexa still trails the acquisition rate and total of Taleo's enterprise customers, but that could change once 2x Perform comes online and Kenexa has that integrated solution to offer, as Taleo has already.

Moreover one of those new customers includes Walmart (thanks to Punk Rock HR Laurie Ruettimann for the spelling correction), a company Kenexa wisely omits when computing its average customer size.

The deal covers all 2.2 million Walmart employees world-wide for 2x BrassRing and evidently other components that were not disclosed. Walmart usually crushes or enshrines its software vendors, and we'll just have to see which happens to Kenexa.

Separately, have you noticed how every other talent-management vendor these days seems to be running away from the label "Talent Management"? Kenexa is no exception, though its current slogan, "recruit the best, retain the best," is perilously close.

SuccessFactors now talks about selling "business-execution or BizX" software; Saba says it's in the "people management" business, and Taleo is beginning to mutter about "talent intelligence."

There are two reasons for this. One is to pull away from the pack of wannabes who have adopted the talent-management label without having the software products to back it up.

The second is to be able to sell into the C-suite, which (surprise!) still doesn't really care much about employees but about the operational metrics of the business. "Oh, yeah, employees have something to do with that, I guess, but give me some numbers to show exactly how!"

Kenexa is banging at that door with a transformational business message with evidently some success. President Troy Kanter told the group that half a dozen new clients came directly from the C-suite and that among current customers, decisions to buy more Kenexa products (upselling) are running 75% from those lofty environs.

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"We're competing against consulting companies who don't have the software or the domain knowledge we have," Kanter says. Or, I would add, software companies without the consulting infrastructure Kenexa has long had and maybe not the business vision.

But that is changing. Mercer, the largest of the big four compensation & benefits consulting firms -- at least until the Towers merger with Watson Wyatt -- has started playing Kenexa's game.

Touted as a business solution, rather than HR's, Mercer recently launched Human Capital Connect which mirrors Kenexa's traditional three-part offering perfectly: Consulting services and embedded content from Mercer's long-time HR consulting practice and software from PeopleclickAuthoria.

Though Connect does not include recruiting or learning -- focusing instead on the so-called "performance core" of performance management, succession planning and compensation technology -- Mercer should compete directly with Kenexa for the large company performance customers that have long been its specialty and kept its 100 organizational development employees busy.

And companies like Mercer, with their old white shoes and golf course relationships with their clients, are often already inside the C-suite, but now with something new to sell them.

It just keeps getting more interesting, doesn't it?


HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 13th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition in Chicago, Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, 2010. Read this year's program online. You can comment on this 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  

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