Every year we’re trying to figure out what’s next. 7 years ago, I started hearing about social HR everywhere, but the market really wasn’t ready. Every HR organization thought that social was a bad idea, with personal privacy challenges looming to kill any social enterprise initiatives. 2 years ago, we all took for granted that social was going to be a part of our businesses, and this year it really seemed like social finally became its own and is permeating many of our HR processes and technologies. It lonely took 7 years after the vendors and advisor market predicted it for it to become reality. (LOL)
During this year’s HR Technology Conference HCM roundtable, it was fascinating to hear what everyone was working on (it was the first question posed to the group, and I’m not trying to bash any vendor, but I am representing my opinion of the answers).
- What was fascinating was that 2 of the vendors were talking about a great user experience (Oracle Fusion and Ultimate). Wait a second. We’re still talking about UX? How did these 2 vendors get a seat at this panel and only have UX to offer up for what’s new in the product. It’s unfortunate. Y’all gotta do better than that.
- 2 of the vendors talked about machine learning. (ADP and Workday). Machine learning was part of an overall theme of the conference, and there was a follow-up conversation in this panel about it, but these 2 vendors were the ones who brought it up as a focus area in their opening comments. When I think about social HR 7 years ago, I think that machine learning is what the next few years might be about and it seems like 2 vendors want us to know that they’re on top of it. What is surprising here is who the vendors were – and it shows us that there can be surprises. It wasn’t Oracle and SAP with their deep (and legacy) analytics engines and mountains of programmers. It was ADP (wh-wh-wh-what?!?! I LOVE that ADP is thinking about this as they have the largest client/employee base to run analytics off of. Maybe I don’t give them enough credit.) and Workday (ok, maybe predictable since they seem to be thinking/innovating faster than the others).
- Last up was SAP. Can anyone say “extensibility?” Actually, SAP was gearing up to talk about some really cool metadata and object architecture that will create extensibility, but they got cut off from a time perspective. Leave it to SAP to make things more complex, but if we can get to configurable extensibility, that’s pretty cool. Honestly, I would have expected Oracle to be on the extensibility bandwagon based on their application architecture.
I’m hard pressed to say whether machine learning or extensibility is what’s next, but I’d think that all the vendors should be working on both of them. UX is table stakes, and you should not be allowed to talk at the table (or panel as it was) if that’s what you’re working on. My guess is that SAP will have some chops in the machine learning space, but it just was not what they wanted to focus on. It’s also interesting that ADP and Workday were not on the extensibility front as it’s clearly a focus area for the very large customers that SAP has as its client base (but maybe that’s why SAP is so focused).
In a few vendor comments unrelated to the HCM roundtable, the HCM vendor space is going to start reaching parity in the next year. Oracle and SAP are picking up steam and finally starting to look competitive. First of all, lets agree that I HCM software in vendor demo booths while I was at the conference. The following is an aggregation of vendor demos and conversations I had with conference participants. Here are a couple of comments around gaps or deficiencies that I’m still watching out for based on those conversations: (alpha order)
- ADP: I was really quite pleased to see their new UX. I can’t remember what it’s called, but they’ll be rolling it out to all of their products so that no matter what you’re on, you’ll have a similar experience. My concern is really still around the back end. ADP’s ability to stitch together a common front end on top of multiple back end (and still mainframe?) systems is pretty good, and perhaps when you’re outsourcing everything but the core HCM to a best in class payroll and benefits vendor, it might not matter what the back end looks like. Maybe.
- Oracle: The main question is in the UX. It’s simply not seamless, and it goes to the point of why they were focused on UX in the panel. It’s way better than the last couple of years, but one goes from the cool “mobile apply” look and feel into a slightly different transaction screen, into a completely non-appy environment in just a few clicks. The first couple pages are well executed, but it just feels like they didn’t finish the job as you continue through a manager transaction. The second question is in their customer base for sold Fusion Core HCM. As I talked to conference participants, they were getting numbers from the Oracle booth anywhere between 400 to 600 (note to Oracle, please get your story straight). There are still a lot of conference participants wondering why Oracle is giving Fusion HCM licenses away for free if they have market demand in the 100’s of customers. It’s just not adding up, and nobody I talked to could figure out the story.
- SAP: I’m pretty sure that SAP is on its way to filling a few gaps. Certainly per the above comments, if they are working to fill extensibility gaps that its large enterprise clients will need, they are also going to figure out benefits administration, timekeeping and payroll. I talked to one conference participant who was told that benefits administration will be available to demo this quarter, and another who said they were told it would be in Q4 of 2015. Either way it’s coming and that’s good news. I think SAP’s original philosophy that payroll, time and benefits get outsourced, but for the top 250 clients in size, that’s a hard position to maintain. (I don’t consider SAP cloud payroll to be comparable to Employee Central in architecture, agile configurability, or usability, so that’s why I harp on it. I know that SAP would disagree).
- Workday: Everyone has been uber positive about Workday for years. The questions among conference participants seemed to be around the viability of their recruiting module. Granted this is their newest module, and the top vendors seem to have the capability to innovate rapidly over a couple release cycles. Just as I’m confident SAP is going to figure out benefits quickly, same goes for Workday recruiting.
Having said all of this, I’m actually quite pleased with the vendor space. The last couple of years (no matter what Oracle and SAP say) have been relatively uncompetitive. There has been one clear winner in the market, and the fact that I don’t have to say who it was is a good indicator that it’s true. I think 2015 will get a bit more competitive, but 2016 will become an all out war. This post is definitely “negative” about what my concerns might be, but what I don’t mention is the huge progress that all of the vendors have made and the very long lists of things they have done well and right. I’m going to get in trouble from the vendors over this post anyway, but either way, I think 2015 is going to be interesting. More viable vendors is always a good thing.
(Last comment. I thought long and hard whether to post this. Some vendor somewhere is going to be pissed at me, but at the end of the day, there were only 5 HCM vendors on stage, so any exclusion is not mine. Also, each vendor chose to talk about what they talked about. Perhaps they didn’t have enough time, but again, if Oracle really wanted to talk analytics but didn’t get to it, that’s not my fault. Each vendor decided what they wanted to focus on by themselves. The opinions in the latter half of this post are based on talking to other conference participants and seeing each of the vendors demo at their booth. Posting this also saves me the effort of writing a year end post.)