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HR Technology Column

Knowledge Infusion Takes Next Step

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012
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I got the biggest news of the HR Technology® Conference Sunday morning before it opened: Knowledge Infusion, the hottest consultancy in HR for the last seven years, is being acquired. CEO Jason Averbook sees KI continuing on its current path, but going much wider than before with new owner Appirio.

 

If you want to know what really happened at the HR Technology Conference, I'm the last person to ask. Of course, I was there, but I don't really get to attend the way you or someone else might.

So for that, check out the coverage on HRE Online and certainly read the comments on the Conference LinkedIn group, which includes links to a lot of blogs. For the second year in a row, my favorite blogs so far are from China Gorman and John Hollon

The biggest news for me personally came the Sunday morning before we opened: Knowledge Infusion, the hottest consultancy in HR for the last seven years, is being acquired.

Big for me personally [full disclosure] because KI was responsible for my starting The Bill Kutik Radio Show® and has been the sole sponsor for all its four-and-a-half years and 113 programs, most recently with ADP CEO Carlos Rodriguez. Stay tuned.

And naturally, over the years, I have become close with the co-founders Jason Averbook and Heidi Spirgi, not to mention a succession of friends and colleagues who have worked at KI or whom I have urged to work there, including Elaine Orler and Jason Corsello.

Ironically, KI was born in 2005 because of Jason and Heidi's shared dissatisfaction with technology alone as HR's solution. That was pretty self-aware for two 34-year-olds working in the belly of the HR technology beast at the time, PeopleSoft.

"The Gartner Magic Quadrant [kept] saying the PeopleSoft system was great," Jason says, "but the customers were often unhappy."

"We realized companies had to think about strategy first before choosing products."

With that simple idea, KI began hurtling itself against a wall that eventually included many of the HR consulting powerhouses -- Accenture, Deloitte, Mercer, Towers, et al -- and managed to punch a lot of holes in it.

And it did so with a nimbleness that often left the giants gasping. KI just seemed closer to the market and able to catch each successive wave of HR's concerns first.

Back in 2005, you might remember, the No. 1 issue was Oracle's acquisition of PeopleSoft and the near-term frenzy among its thousands of users about what would happen to the software. KI was there to show clients how to think about their strategy and options. Its first two clients were KLA-Tencor and Turner Broadcasting.

Within two years, those waters calmed with Oracle's announcement of "Apps Unlimited" and its commitment to maintaining PeopleSoft, so much so that the name remains while the company doesn't.

KI was then first on the wave of talent management, at a time six years ago when no vendor really offered a full suite of applications, except maybe HRsmart and Softscape.

While some of the giants simply changed the nameplate of their consulting practices from "HR Technology" to "Talent Management," KI had young consultants who got it and could help clients get it.

"Young" was always key. Except for a brief moment, Heidi and Jason have always been the oldest employees at KI. And their youthful consultants and salespeople worked like young corporate people now do everywhere: mobile and virtual.

KI never had an office; everyone worked from home; company meetings were at client offices or hotels (sometimes one and the same).

"By keeping the overhead low, we could hire better people," Jason says. "We did get an office two years ago, but it wasn't much: $1,200 a month."

That low overhead often came in handy in other ways. I will never forget the story of one of the giants bidding against KI on a consulting engagement, coming in at $450,000. KI's price was $90,000.

"Sure, in the early days we might have to buy business with lower prices or even at cost to get a reference," Averbook admits. "But later, we could just offer more for less."

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Next was social or collaborative technologies or social networks. Four years ago when HR started getting curious, KI was there with a point of view, insight, information and advice.

And, of course, now it's all about The Cloud. Or did you miss both Naomi Lee Bloom's panel at the Conference and Workday's first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange?

KI has long been a Workday consulting and advisory partner; new owner Appirio, an implementation partner. Together they will have strategy and technology covered in The Cloud. Vendor agnostic to the end, KI has recently become a deployment partner for SuccessFactors and Salesforce.com's Work.com, as well.

Says Corsello, once KI's No. 3, "What made KI unique is that they got to know their clients' business and help build their HR and talent management strategy from there. Most others just focus on the technology. Appirio has quickly become the Accenture of the Cloud world and, by all indications, appears to be a great match."

KI plans to expand its brief under Appirio with Heidi building a people-centric, work-centric practice across the other corporate domains besides HR, including marketing and customer relationship management (CRM).

Jason's new job is perfect: Looking 12-18-24-months out and figuring out what the company needs to offer clients.

Best of luck to them both.

 

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 16th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, returning to Las Vegas, Oct. 7-9, 2013. 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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