The December announcement that Salesforce.com is acquiring Rypple has sparked a flurry of speculation about how the poster child (and largest) SaaS software company is moving into HCM. The senior executives in charge make clear that their effort will be both larger -- and smaller -- than you think.
The company -- known in the financial community by its stock symbol CRM and everywhere else as SFDC -- is not easy to ignore. Its original application "Customer Relationship Management" has taken that ubiquitous corporate function by storm (an area once dominated by Siebel, now owned by Oracle).
Plus like the iPhone, its Force.com application platform has attracted hundreds of software developers that sell their products online on its AppExchange, and they just all work together!
Finally, CEO Marc Benioff is amazingly adept at making headline-grabbing hyperbolic pronouncements. I've long wanted to complain about two of them. Is this smoldering grudge the real reason I've ignored Salesforce?
His first is that SFDC is the first successful SaaS company.
Just about every recruiting vendor offering an applicant tracking system since 1995 (remember pioneer i-Search?) has delivered at least "hosted" software or "application management," if not always the ability of multiple customers to share a single copy of the application code and the underlying database.
Putting aside the current arguments raging about what constitutes "true" SaaS (remember the same word being used in the client/server debates of the 90s?), ATS vendors for more than a decade have stored corporate HR departments' applicant data on their own sites and delivered their functionality through a web browser with no software on the clients' sites.
Just like Salesforce.
As for "successful," many are quick to point out that SFDC is still not profitable in the arcane ways financial types figure that out today.
Second is the company's slogan, "No Software." Well, who is doing the work then: Munchkins and elves?!? There may be no software on your computer or your company's servers, but there is lots of software chugging away in whatever datacenter Salesforce uses or "in the Cloud," if you insist.
Okay, rant over.
I've learned much about the issues surrounding Salesforce and Rypple by following the discussion still roiling on the HR Technology® Conference LinkedIn group. It has more than 60 comments plus links to about 10 blogs by analysts from Gartner, Ventana, Constellation Group, Inside Talent Management Technology, as well as other well-informed (or at least opinionated) individuals. Lately, it's turned more to the technical.
OK, I think what's more important to us about this deal is who Salesforce has put in charge of its HCM effort, John Wookey, than the company it chose to buy to get its feet wet. Though Rypple is certainly important, too.
Wookey is one of the most respected executives in "enterprise software." That's an important phrase to remember as lines begin to blur: Enterprise software are the big applications your company uses to run itself, not what you might use personally -- social networks, games or apps on your smart phone -- though we are seeing these converge.
Last April, Wookey left SAP after nearly three years as executive vice president in charge of development, where he focused on taking SAP's core on-premise software to a SaaS delivery model. Applications developed during his tenure include the Career OnDemand talent management apps debuted at HR Technology® and now displaced by SAP's acquisition of SuccessFactors.
But he really built his career over 12 years at Oracle, starting in 1995, when the company was first writing and selling applications after succeeding with its database. He ended up being in charge of all of Oracle's major business applications (Oracle, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel) plus Fusion. He left as senior vice president of development.
The point, simply, is you don't hire John Wookey to do anything small or easy!
He speaks frankly about the size of his and Salesforce's goal and vision:
"We want to create a new management model, a new way companies should run themselves. While HR is a huge part of that solution, especially in transitioning models, our objective and target are broader."
Sound like Workday? Sound like SuccessFactors' BizX? Absolutely, but Wookey is quick to point out that Workday started life before anyone imagined that social technology would have much of a place in enterprise software. While that's actually true of both companies, they have been innovating furiously in social.
The notion of the "social enterprise" is key. That's what he wants Salesforce's own software to enable. Simply put: It means giving employees the social tools to work together in a collaborative way on individual (but shared) goals in a way that just doesn't happen very often in companies today.
But enter Rypple. As Yvette Cameron of Constellation writes: "Rypple's social performance suite, already delivering transformed workforce processes through social networking, was a natural fit to advance John Wookey's charter."
Plus Rypple is being used by many companies already working as social enterprises today. Not surprisingly, most are in Silicon Valley, with Facebook being the most famous, along with Jive, Mozilla, Spotify and other famous Web 2.0 companies not allowed to be mentioned.
But Rypple's Co-CEO Daniel Debow is quick to point out his clients aren't just the "cool kids," but also include more traditional organizations such as ad agencies, engineering firms and companies as large as 5,000 and 10,000 employees.
Wookey was impressed with how Rypple started with a blank sheet of paper to re-invent performance management, and how it used rapid iterations to build the product. (Debow still wants everyone to know that Rypple does traditional performance reviews, too.)
It's that DNA Wookey wants to blend into the existing Salesforce development organization to build out his announced social process HR suite -- recruiting, onboarding, learning, career development and maybe compensation in the future.
Smartly, he is starting his big ambition very small. Wookey says his initial target customers will be companies with only 500 to 1,000 employees, so the applications can be tested broadly and implemented quickly. He has set the Dreamforce conference in September as his deadline to show his new applications.
Until then, Salesforce will continue selling Rypple at its current price points -- free and $5 or $9 per employee per month. And Wookey will look for new ways to partner with some of the HCM applications already on the Salesforce platform, especially talent acquisition vendor Jobscience (which Salesforce uses) and others, including Vana Human Capital Management.
Providing an application platform for other vendors while selling your own applications for the same functions gives new meaning to the computer industry term "coopitition." Makes my eyes cross, in fact.
But Wookey expresses the company's "let a thousand flowers bloom" attitude. "Platform partners can step on functionality that we deliver ourselves," he says. Did I mention he's always been known as Mr. Nice Guy?
HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 15th Annual HR Technology®zas Conference & Exposition, returning to Chicago for one year, Oct. 8-11, 2012. Speaking proposals are still being accepted on the website. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.