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HR Technology Column

Analyst Day Surprises!

Analyst briefings have evolved from technology vendor executives visiting a few top industry analysts to hosting Analyst Day events, in an effort to keep a wider group of important influencers up to date on their companies' business success, products and plans. Two recent Analyst Day meetings held by Kenexa and SumTotal revealed much about the aims of these companies -- but left some questions as well.

Monday, November 14, 2011
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A decade or so ago, a vendor tour to brief industry analysts -- those important opinion-makers and trusted advisers to CIOs and software end-users -- was a simple thing.

The vendor's CEO, VPs of product strategy and marketing, and usually a PR person would fly to LaGuardia, rent a car, and drive less than an hour to Stamford, Conn. There, they'd brief analysts from Gartner and the META Group.

A two-hour drive would get them to Framingham, Mass, where they'd meet with the analyst from IDC, and maybe an editor at Computerworld, owned by the same company.

Another hour to Cambridge and Boston for Forrester Research, Giga Information Services, Aberdeen, maybe AMR and the Yankee Group -- and then they were done! Two or three days, tops.

Then the analyst firms starting believing in a remote workforce and stopped insisting their analysts live near headquarters. My old friend, Vinnie Mirchandani, says he was the first to receive this papal dispensation in 1995, when Gartner hired him and let him stay in Tampa, Fla. The practice soon became widespread.

Now, these vital influencers live just about anywhere, rarely visit their local offices (if there is one), and (unlike me) don't much enjoy inviting vendors into their homes for briefings.

Thus was born the Analyst Day!

The idea is simple: If it's too complicated to visit all the mountains, the Mohammeds then invite them all to one range and pay their travel expenses, instead of their own executives'.

The first Analyst Days I remember attending were for Kenexa in 2008 and ADP in 2009. Lisa Rowan recalls Kronos in 2004 (the year she started with IDC) and Taleo in 2005. (If you know earlier ones, please add their names in a comment on this column on the HR Technology Conference LinkedIn Group.)

In any case, they were immediately successful despite the larger out-of-pocket expenses (food, hotel, meeting rooms and travel for all attendees) than what it would cost to send the executives flying around. So to spread the costs and get a bigger bang, the invitation lists, early on, expanded to what we now call "influencers."

That's a variable category that can include executives from vendor selection firms, various consultants, second-tier analyst firms (consolidation has left only three or four first-tier firms from the names above), owners of influential websites and occasionally a blogger.

So that's the history behind why varying groups of those people gathered recently at the W Hotel in Dallas for Kenexa (Starwood is a client) and at The Boulders in Scottsdale, Ariz., for SumTotal (apparently big golfers).

The continuing story for Kenexa, on the software side, is getting its many products onto its new 2x platform. In my 22 years in the business, I've rarely known software developers to meet their own announced deadlines. Look at Oracle Fusion HCM!

So -- no surprise -- back at the last Analyst Day in June 2010, Kenexa promised 2x Perform "in a few months" along with 2x Assess and 2x Analytics in 2011.

Instead, 2x Perform became generally available in June 2011 (without a compensation module), has two clients live, and several in negotiation. 2x Assess is promised for the first half of 2012, while the delivery of 2x Insight (renamed from "Analytics") is still to be determined.

But the good news is that the 2x platform already has on it BrassRing, Onboard, Mobile (for recruiting) and Recruit (Kenexa's application for companies with 2,000-5,000 employees).

The better news is Kenexa's commitment to upgrade and update BrassRing with some of the new social-recruiting applications I found missing in Taleo. Scheduled to be available in July 2012, they may include social-media strategy, engagement and posting, and video interviewing from HireVue and GreenJobsInterview.

The LinkedIn deal with Taleo also described in the same column (above) predictably stayed exclusive for about five minutes. (The prettiest girl in high school is flighty, if not fickle!) Now, BrassRing, Lumesse (with the former MrTed) and Peoplefluent (with the former Peopleclick) have the same capabilities.

The LinkedIn partnership allows candidates on career sites powered by the four to apply with their LinkedIn profile, recruiters to view LinkedIn profiles from each of the four software packages (no small thing getting rid of toggling between the two applications; ask any recruiter) and the reverse, recruiters viewing candidates from their own internal pools in LinkedIn Recruiter, the highest corporate membership level for LinkedIn.

All of this may have changed by the time you read this. But for now, LinkedIn has equally partnered with the four major recruiting vendors in the United States and Europe.

On the learning front, some may remember that Kenexa bought learning management system source code from another vendor a few years back. CEO Rudy Karsan says that was just for one customer, and that Kenexa's new partnership with SkillSoft will fill its LMS gap.

News to me, but apparently SkillSoft has an LMS razor to deliver all the learning content blades it's sold for years. Apparently it must because Kenexa says it will be using SkillSoft as its LMS offering, with integration happening in the first half of next year.

That will fill out the talent management suite for Kenexa, and apparently just in time, too. Talent Management President Eric Lochner reported that, in 2008, only 6 percent of the requests for proposals the company got included learning, while now it is 30 percent.

This partnership could be a perfect combination of technology and content, which, with services, are the three legs of Kenexa's unique value proposition to customers. Let's watch how the integration goes and the progress of 2x.

Integration is the word -- almost the only word -- for SumTotal.

CEO John Borgerding says his company is the most profitable among the talent management vendors, with revenue growing 128 percent year-over-year and 3,500 customers in all, many running installed versions and about 1,700 hosted or SaaS. Because the company is owned by Vista Equity, a private-equity firm, there are no public numbers.

In the last year and a half -- about the time Borgerding has been straightening the place out -- customer satisfaction has gone from 85 percent to 97 percent, as a result, he says, of 185 new hires in services, support and R&D.

But the company faces the same problem as so many other vendors known for one application (LMS for SumTotal): establishing a footprint as a talent management vendor and as an end-to-end solution provider.

As at all Analyst Days, the logos of big name customers were trotted out -- including Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, American Express, Microsoft -- but most turned out to be LMS customers. And as at most Analyst Days, the customers who showed up in person -- notably Aramark and gas supplier Praxair -- have much bigger plans for the vendor's products.

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SumTotal has no lack of applications from acquired companies to sell them: a complete talent management suite from Softscape, workforce and expense management from CyberShift, benefits and payroll from Accero/Cyborg, a mid-market LMS from GeoScience and its own large-company LMS.

Plus, SumTotal is promising to provide the applications via any delivery method the customer prefers: multi-tenant SaaS, application hosting (a single, customizable instance called "private cloud" for marketing purposes) and on-premise.

Oracle, which has an even larger base of on-premise customers, makes the same promise for Oracle Fusion, which has led some to say "it can't be SaaS." Let's leave that argument for others.

The question remains how well and how soon SumTotal can make all these pieces work together and offer a unified platform?

COO Nadeem Syed and Products EVP Hardeep Gulati -- both with years of experience at Oracle -- made plain that the key to integration for SumTotal will be the HRMS module Softscape built but sold to no more than 20 customers before being acquired in 2010.

They call it the Talent Hub or the "system of record" and its data model is taken from the Softscape platform. Whether or not they ever call it "the HRMS" is immaterial because it functions both as an HRMS -- being the traffic cop and process manager for what the other applications do -- plus as middleware for applications operating on different technical platforms needing an integration layer to co-exist.

Its client Praxair is going to be the test of its scalability. The company is planning to bring 27,000 employees in 30 countries and 15 languages onto the former Softscape HRMS. A situation that is impossible not to compare to EMC's failed attempt to use SuccessFactor's Employee Central for its 45,000 employees. But without a dramatic and impossible deadline this time.

Clearly, SumTotal is serious about innovation and adding value, not just being an aggregator of software and living off customer maintenance. Why else would it bother to create a new Java interface for the Accero/Cyborg payroll, reducing the U.S. year-end processing code from 33,000 lines to 5,000? Was the payroll broken? No, then why fix it?

 

How well Praxair works out may determine whether we gain a new major competitor in HR technology -- right up there with Workday, Oracle and SAP -- or a jumble of various applications that never quite worked together.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 15th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, returning to Chicago for one year, Oct. 8-11, 2012. Deadline for submitting speaking proposals on the website is Jan. 9, 2012. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group, which does not require prior or future conference attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show® and the new video series Firing Line with Bill Kutik. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net.  

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