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HR Technology Column

Software Secrets from the North

Canada is a wonderful country, which I've explored from coast to coast and to the north. More HR software companies come from there than you may realize -- Taleo, Rypple, dayforce to name just three -- but one of my favorites has always been Halogen Software. Call it scrappy, but that doesn't make it small, like a terrier.

Monday, June 25, 2012
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Canada is the most wonderful country.

The landscape is even more beautiful and diverse than the U.S.; they have self-effacing names for the $1 and $2 coins they were smart enough to mint replacing paper bills ("loony and toony" for one bird and two); they have a single-payer medical system that sort of works; cheaper pharmaceuticals than the U.S. and increasingly world-class HCM software companies.

Let me establish my explorer credentials first. I love reciting this list of places I've visited to Canadians I meet, since, being American, I am obnoxiously competitive, and have never met one who could match it. You might want to have a map open in another window.

Somewhat in chronological order, oldest first: After college, I hitchhiked across the Trans-Canadian highway from Montreal to the West Coast, pausing to backpack in the Canadian Rockies at Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. Finished that trip by hopping a freight train from Jasper through Kamloops (Canada's Phoenix) to Vancouver.

Took six hours on a logging road to get to Wreck Bay on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, years before it became a national park. Camped there for a week with 200 others (yup, hippies!) as whales spouted at the mouth of the cove. Somehow finished in San Francisco.

For a television documentary, flew to Resolute Bay in the High Arctic (six hours north of Montreal on a big jet!) and thence by bush plane to Axel-Heiburg Island, about 700 miles from the North Pole.

All these islands are at the top of the map of North America opposite Greenland, most north of the northern tip of Alaska. No one ever looks at them on the map, but they actually have a name: the Queen Elizabeth Islands.

Then for a vacation, flew to Newfoundland (rhymes with "understand Newfoundland," if you care to pronounce it properly) and toured the Avalon Peninsula (wild caribou 10 miles out of town, an island with 10,000 puffins).

Then up to Gander/Goose Bay (the old refueling stop for trans-Atlantic flights) to catch the state-subsidized ferry that steamed north along the Labrador coast stopping at four Inuit and Indian villages (with no roads to them, of course) for $31 for a private cabin for four days.

Finally my only Canadian disappointment. Long ferry from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert on the West Coast. Then another ferry 75 miles out to sea to the Queen Charlotte Islands, sometimes called the "Galapagos of the North."

Not. The Queen Charlottes, famous for one island being a World Heritage Site with its 19th century totem poles in their original positions, was otherwise a bust. Heavy logging in the interior of many islands made wildlife sightings no better than in suburban Westport, Conn.. Have I mentioned the wild turkeys that cross my lawn?

Okay, I hope I've made you want to visit, because many Canadian software companies visit me. And I like to encourage reciprocity.

Two semi-secrets have boosted the success of some Canadian software companies.

First is the federal, and often the provincial ("states" to us), governments subsidizing the employment of software engineers. Up to 80 percent of their salaries for five years, I understand in some cities, plus renewals!

When Taleo was founded -- as Recruitsoft -- in Quebec City, observers often wondered how a 350-person company could afford 250 developers. When the word finally got out, the howls from competitors were audible. I imagine many of them are still clicking away up there, now probably employees of a Canadian subsidiary of Oracle.

Second, Waterloo University, about an hour outside Toronto, evidently graduates more hardware and software engineers than just about any other school in the world. I've heard stories of Microsoft, Google and others having recruiters live there year-round to grab the best candidates.

So they have the right financial resources and the most critical human resources. Add some business savvy at the top, product strategists and marketing folks plus strong sales people, and a lot of other good companies besides Taleo have flourished up north.

 

Lately, the most prominent one has been Rypple from Toronto, both before and after it was sold to Salesforce.com as the first application of a yet-to-be-written social talent management suite. Co-founders Daniel DeBow and David Stein came from another Toronto success: Workbrain, an on-premise workforce management vendor.

Serial entrepreneur David Ossip was responsible for that one -- unfortunately selling it to Infor, where it has seemed to disappear -- and previously another company doing much the same thing, CyberShift, and lately a third also doing it, dayforce.

I know David knows how to do other things. And he better. Because his Toronto-based development team is now responsible for writing a whole new unified HR application suite called Dayforce HCM (core to talent management) for Ceridian, as I described in this earlier column.

The list is much longer, but one of my favorite Canadian software companies has long been talent management vendor Halogen Software in Ottawa because it is scrappy, honest, down-to-earth and successful.

Starting 10 years ago with an application for performance management, Halogen has been going toe-to-toe with SuccessFactors -- and its once wildly expensive dot.com grab for market share at any cost -- ever since. So you know it is scrappy.

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It has been successful serving the SMB market and now has aboot 2,000 customers. While not exactly growing like gangbusters during those 10 years -- reaching revenues of less than $100 million but with only 275 employees -- growth has been steady and lately very strong.

And customers seem to love Halogen! Every survey and analyst report on customer satisfaction seems to say so.

One of its own secrets has been a heavy emphasis on industry verticals with special versions of its flagship eAppraisal product for about a dozen, including the early biggies of healthcare, financial services and manufacturing, with a separate sales force and implementation consulting for each.

I also like Halogen because (like Cornerstone OnDemand serving the larger market), it wrote all the talent management apps itself. What I thought completed the usual suite, recruiting, was released last year, but work is moving forward on workforce planning, which many experts say should be the first app in the suite.

And now it's going social (what else?) with the release today (at SHRM, of all places) of Halogen Feedback Central, a new feature for manager and employee feedback of all types already integrated into eAppraisal and later into all its applications.

A nice touch is the Outlook plug-in that allows everyone with permission to enter feedback through e-mail without logging into the system.

"It makes the cool practical," says CEO Paul Loucks, perhaps swiping at countrymen Rypple.

For the future, Loucks talks about Halogen's talent profile becoming a "Profile of Record," which he doesn't define very precisely. Sounds suspiciously like Halogen is working on its own "System of Record," an HRMS, like SuccessFactors' Employee Central, which a year or so ago Loucks denied having any interest in doing.

Well, a change of course wouldn't be surprising since user sentiment has since swung over to a completely unified system from core functionality to talent management. But it was just so un-Canadian of him not to tell me.

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. The new program is available at the website along with his video and new audio clips. 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®. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net.

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