HR Technology Column

There is Another! SilkRoad

Just what Yoda told the worried spirit of Obi-Wan-Kenobi as Luke Skywalker cut short his Jedi training to rocket off to save his friends in the second original "Star Wars" movie. There is another vendor offering a unified SaaS HRMS and a full talent-management suite: SilkRoad.

Monday, August 20, 2012
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In the old days, Ceridian was the only major HR vendor I knew that gave its applications obscure names -- like Symphony, Quartet and Concerto -- that told you absolutely nothing about what they did.

SilkRoad offers a unified SaaS HRMS and talent-management product largely for SMBs (500 to 5,000 employees but with some much larger clients, as always) that hews to that tradition -- while constantly questioning the marketing wisdom of it internally.

SilkRoad's lineup features HeartBeat for HRMS, OpenHire for recruiting, RedCarpet for onboarding and life events, WingSpan for performance management and all the usual associated functions like succession, GreenLight for learning management and its new and already acclaimed Point application for social collaboration.

You get the picture. Some names are not so bad: RedCarpet is evocative of what it does and OpenHire is straightforward. You decide on the rest. Except for those two, I'll use the functional names, as most vendors do now, here.

Besides RedCarpet, SilkRoad may be best known for its co-founder and CEO Andrew "Flip" Filipowski, a genuine software baron like Dave Duffield, only from an earlier era.

Old-timers like me (and Row Henson who worked there) may remember Flip was the COO of Cullinet, the largest software company of the mainframe 1980s. Flip then went on to start Platinum Technology in 1987, which grew into the eighth largest software company in the world. At least when he sold it to Computer Associates 12 years later for $3.5 billion in 1999, reportedly the largest deal in software history at the time.

During my recent day-long briefing at company headquarters in Chicago, I kept wanting to know how much money Flip made off the sale, but rolling eyeballs were the closest I got to an answer. Clearly, enough to be completely himself all the time -- an aging hippie serial entrepreneur -- which is a good thing since Flip is also completely open and straightforward. He probably would have told me had I rudely asked.

He and co-founder and COO Brian Platz, along with several senior executives from three or four earlier Flip companies, have been working on making SilkRoad a talent management and HRMS vendor for a long time, almost since starting in 2003, when Platz says they were already thinking about an HRMS.

Of course, that's what SuccessFactors is building out right now with Employee Central, what Taleo has inherited being acquired by Oracle and what SumTotal got buying Softscape. Having an HRMS is still an open question for other talent management vendors like Cornerstone and Halogen. But not for Ultimate, ADP, Ceridian, Lawson and Sage (Abra), which SilkRoad says it sees in HRMS competitive selections.

Now with a total of about 1,500 customers (adding 130 new ones every quarter, according to Flip), SilkRoad says that 150 of them have bought four products and 500 more than one. Always the test of whether a vendor is successfully selling a suite or just its famous product. RedCarpet no longer dominates its bookings (just market mindshare), and in fact SilkRoad says yearly sales comprise:


 * 45 percent new customers buying at least two products,

 * 15 percent existing customers buying a new one,

 * 40 percent new customers buying just one module to start.

The new HRMS (acquired from Emportal in 2009) is the hardest sale, of course, and SilkRoad claims more than 25 customers live on it; and the same number in process since being generally available last September. The first product, OpenHire, has 982 customers; RedCarpet, 645; performance, 333, and learning, 160.

In 2008, SilkRoad crossed the ocean, but not to open the usual first foreign office in the United Kingdom. It went across the other ocean, the Pacific, using the AsiaPac team formerly with Vurv (after Taleo bought it) to open offices in Australia, Singapore and then Japan. Some former Vurv employees also started OpenHire, SilkRoad's first talent app, acquired in 2004.

SilkRoad itself recently relocated from North Carolina to an expensive office building in Chicago, blocks from Flip's house and even closer to Platz's. Why not? I once saw a survey showing about 95 percent of corporate relocations were closer to the CEO's home. Flip, of course, smiles and freely admits it.

He and Brian and some others may be in Chicago, but the company is actually located in every city where four of its six products (except RedCarpet and collaboration) were acquired and headquartered. That was also Flip's M.O. at Platinum, which bought close to 50 other companies. And that remains one of SilkRoad's challenges, as it is for any company that took that path to the suite. The application integration needs to be tighter.

Let's look at some of them:

The performance application includes the usual suspects -- assessments and goal, development and succession planning -- but also compensation. Plus it includes a purchased competency library with 40,000 behaviors and 2,000 competencies.

Like other modern performance apps, it allows peer feedback (public or private) at any time, mini-appraisals (call them "coaching," if you like) throughout the year and project-based assessments by the leader when one ends. All of it available to the harried manager for the dreaded once-a-year performance review, and all happily done without badges!

Just like the original plan for Employee Central, SilkRoad's HRMS does not include payroll, but will integrate with the usual outsourced suppliers (plus Fidelity) for single directional service. Bi-directional is the future. Also, integration for 100 benefits providers as well as independent benefits products.

Its UI is based on Microsoft Office, which will not make you feel it's innovative, but at least will be familiar to everyone. The delivered functionality includes manager and employee self-service and absence management, but not the other pieces of time & attendance (partner integration promised for next year). SilkRoad seems to think its role-based security and access is a big deal in its market, so I won't argue.

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The first thing you notice about SilkRoad's collaborative software (Point) is that the UI is designed for a tablet. The "icons" for other applications and information are large squares (for fat fingers) together taking up two-thirds of the screen. First time I've seen that and should work well.

The second thing you don't notice until told is that it's only been integrated so far with learning and performance. This is key because it acts as a dashboard or portal for all the other applications. Of course, a user can still get to them without real integration.

The "Your Notebook" square allows for storing and sharing content using Eprise, SilkRoad's original application for document management taken from a predecessor company called Divine.

"Your Groups" square allows for the usual social network comments but not, at the moment, for scrolling through all of them. Each "discussion" must be selected individually.

But the coolest thing about the app is that after people grade content and other people over time (without the cliche of "liking" anything or anyone), it will draw an "influence diagram" much like other spider webs you've seen of somebody's network connections but with a big difference.

This diagram shows the people you rely on and the content of what you rely on them for!

Imagine starting a new job and being handed a diagram of all the people your predecessor relied on to get your new job done! Forget coaching: That's magic.

SilkRoad likes to call it "the system of record for influence, knowledge and expertise." I certainly hope it works in the real world. Demos always work.

And where does Flip want to go next? To Wall Street, with an initial public offering next year. And to Turkey! I didn't ask why.


HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 15th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, returning to Chicago in just seven weeks, Oct. 8-11, 2012. The program is on the website or the brochure can be downloaded here. Most discounts expire on September 24. You can comment on this column at the 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

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