Feedback and Calling BS in Social

An interesting thing happened at the recent HR Technology Conference.  During Naomi Bloom’s “Master Panel,” when Mike Capone noted that ADP had the first SaaS application, before anyone else and before anyone called it SaaS, many of my compatriots on twitter decided to tweet this statement.  I have no issues with announcing to the world what a panel member said.  However, I know for what must be a fact that half of my compatriots on twitter thought to themselves, “Hmmm, really?”  In fact, I myself wrote a tweet, “ADP had SaaS first?  I think not!” and posted it just to immediately delete it.  Why after all, would I want to be the only dissenter?  Why would I want to be the only one to rock the boat?

I’ve continued to think about this statement about ADP, and have decided that I can’t really abide by it.  I have defined SaaS by two simple parameters: hosted and single code base.  All that means is that the customer does not maintain anything outside of their network infrastructure, and that all clients have the same application at the same time.

ADP has had Enterprise (before that HRizon) hosted since probably the mid 1990’s.  But they were always on multiple versions.  Similarly, you could say that AutoPay (the mainframe payroll engine) was SaaS since it does indeed cover both parameters of vendor hosted and always on the same version for all clients.  The problem here is that there are different versions of the input devices, and even different applications (Enterprise, Payforce, and now Vantage).  It really was not until ADP Payforce that I think ADP had a true SaaS platform that even they finally called “versionless.”  By the time this came out in about 2005, had been out for 5 years.  It’s completely possible that somewhere in ADP’s portfolio there was a SaaS platform, but I just can’t think of what it was.  If mainframe service bureau was SaaS, then I think IBM had it first.  Did ADP have SaaS first?  Perhaps, but that’s not my version of history.

<begin ADP response>

The fundamental concept of delivering a hosted, multi-tenant solution is something ADP has been doing for decades.  The delivery of those applications via the Internet / Cloud is something we’ve done since ’97 when we launched a product called ADP Remote Control.  This technology eventually became our iProducts series which now has well north of 100k clients.

Another early huge success in the Cloud was the Fall 2000 launch of Pay eXpert, a cloud-based payroll solution.  Today, more than 60,000 clients are using Pay eXpert.

Overall, we have more than 300,000 clients and 18 million users leveraging our cloud solutions.  Included in that count are 30,000 clients leveraging our cloud-based, integrated HCM and Talent offerings such as ADP Workforce Now, ADP Vantage HCM and ADP GlobalView.

</end ADP response>

Back to the point, now that I’ve had the time to think through this.  There was a comment by Ben Brooks in the Social Media Unpanel at HR Technology about “bad behavior.”  Something like “if you have a jerk, let them rise to the top so you can fire them.”  This really could have been me.  With nobody else saying anything about ADP, maybe I was the jerk – the one guy who had to say something and call someone else out in front of (how many thousand people?).  Being the jerk and providing negative public feedback (as I’m doing now in fact) is a dangerous thing.  You can be wrong, be seen as the A-hole, antagonize someone you work with (either internal or god forbid a client).  These are indeed serious risks and impact the way you’ll be seen in the organization.  If your organization is really transparent, perhaps some small callouts or questions are very acceptable.  But in highly politicized organizations, you’d best be thoughtful before being too vocal.

In another session (I wish I could remember), someone noted that with social in their organization they were receiving significantly more positive feedback for their employees than previously possible.  Employees found that giving people “stars” or other types of recognition was not only good for themselves, but also rewarded those they gave the positive feedback to.  Overall, employee engagement probably increased, and the sharing of positive feedback is quite circular (you’re likely to try to return the favor when it’s warranted).  The negative or constructive feedback rarely makes it to social media that is implemented in the enterprise.  These comments are usually reserved for private discussion (which can be dome through some social tools), or for manager discussions.

Either way, the socialization of constructive or negative feedback seems to have been restricted from our social interactions based on the concept of a “polite society.”  It’s not that we don’t want to call each other out, it’s that there is sometimes risk associated with it, and that the benefits of handling certain interactions privately benefits all parties.

I have just looked up Wikipedia’s page on SaaS (the social source of all truth in the universe…) and they do indeed list IBM as one of the first.  But given that mainframe service bureaus are on the SaaS history page, I suppose that ADP might have had it first in HR.  Mea Culpa, I retract my earlier criticism of ADP.  I will now giddily await Ceridian’s rebuttal.

HR Technology Conference Reactions: Naomi’s Master Panel – SaaS

Talk about a stacked panel.  This one was moderated by a thought leader, and staffed by thought leaders.   They included:  MODERATOR: Naomi Lee Bloom (Managing Partner, Bloom & Wallace), Steven Miranda (SVP, Applications Development, Oracle), Mike Capone (VP for Product Development and CIO, ADP), Sanjay Poonen (President Global Solutions, SAP), John Wookey (EVP, Social Applications,, Stan Swete (CTO, Workday), Adam Rogers (CTO, Ultimate Software)

I’ll admit that towards the middle, it got a bit salesy as the vendors started spewing stats about how great they were and what amazing market reach they have, but I’m ok with that for the 45 minutes of gold nuggets I got first.  Even the panelists eventually admitted that they could have argued with each other more, but I’m ok without that as well.  Here’s what I heard.

Theme #1:  Data aggregation across clients. I should say I told you so (I think I just did), but I was talking about this years ago.  What is really cool about this is that so many of the SaaS vendors now have the ability to mine data across their client base.  The data in a perfect SaaS world should be totally standardized since everyone is on the same software, so some instant benchmarking should be in order.  I don’t think there’s much risk to be able to aggregate and share the data, but some opt-in by clients is a reasonable tradeoff, and I’d expect that most clients would opt in with the understanding that none of the client specific stuff would be shared outside of an aggregated format.  Imagine a world where all of the analytics the vendor is providing can also show a benchmark with a push of a button.  Your CHRO pulls up a turnover trend for the last 12 months, and with a click of a button sees the trend lines for all other clients and clients in the same industry.  All of a sudden, your CHRO is hunting you down trying to understand why your turnover rates are suddenly trending higher than competitors.  This isn’t reality yet, but we could be close.

An example that was quite interesting was the ADP payroll examples.  We all know that the ADP payroll numbers come out ahead of the government jobs reports.  The government surveys a number of people every month, but ADP has an exact number of paychecks they cut.  Which one do you think is more accurate and which one do you thing most people trust?

Aggregation also benefits the vendors.  The vendors have a view into what every client is using and not using.  Thomas Otter came up with a wonderful new term this week: SaaS = Shelfware as a Service.  The truth is that vendor can now see what is in demand, what products need enhancement, and what products where the investment opportunities are.

Theme #2:  Realign focus. We’ve spent over a decade being worried about enhancements, the next patch or upgrade, and how we manage internal hardware and networks.  Let’s get one thing straight – all of that is gone.  If you no longer have 5-10-15 headcount worried about the management of the application, you have that many extra heads to worry about optimizing business processes or how to engage more users.  Instead of worrying about the request that came in from APAC and how you are going to address a small piece of code for them, you can worry about what the bigger picture is and trying to collaborate with your vendor to have it deployed.

Theme #3:  Shelfware. We talked a little bit about shelfware in theme 1, but I think it goes beyond knowing what gets used and unused.  Organizations used to have trouble with buying applications that were never deployed.  Or buying applications as part of a package that were never deployed.  The problem is a bit different now.  With 2-3-4 releases a year, clients just can’t keep up.  One of the great quotes of the conference, “God could create the world in 7 days because he didn’t have install base.”  Since everyone is on one system, you don’t have to worry about coding for multiple upgrade paths, multiple back end databases, etc.   It’s also a great thing that everything comes turned off, but after a year, there is so much “stuff” not getting used that the planning process of how and what to deploy can get pretty complex.   Vendors have to be really thoughtful about what functionality to deploy, and one of the ways many are dealing with this is by creating social communities where customers can vote on what functionality gets released next.  By doing this, vendors minimize the impact of releasing functionality that nobody wants.

Theme #4: Social. Social was the theme no matter where I went at this conference.  That’s not a bad thing, it just shows where everyone’s brains were.  Partly because of the SaaS strategy and not having multiple environments to grapple with, mobile applications can be created quickly and with little fear of platforms.  Similarly, social may be threaded into processes and functionality more seamlessly, although with so many customers going with third party social tools, this might be getting hard to embed in SaaS HCM business processes.  At the end of the day though, the idea is simple.  Engage your employees where they are comfortable engaging and where they do their work.  This might mean extending functionality to mobile, or creating tools to facilitate conversations in social tools.  Unfortunately, in today’s worls this might also mean embedding ways to perform actions in email since that is where people are comfortable today.


HR Technology Conference Reactions: Predictive Analytics

I’ve always thought I was pretty good at analytics.Not being a practitioner who is sitting in the middle of data all the time, I get more time to just think about the type of analytics that it takes to really run the business.  It’s been a really long time since I discounted the usefulness of things like time to hire preferring things like quality of hire (efficiencies versus effectiveness measures).  But I’ve always fought with predictive analytics.  In my opinion, they don’t really exist in HR yet.  We can trend our data and draw a trend line, but that does not predict our future – it simply tells us that directionally, something is going to happen if we don’t change course.  I’ll admit that I walked into this session with a great deal of skepticism, I walked out with some great insights.

The panel was made up of some great speakers.   Moderator: Jac Fitz-enz, Ph.D., (CEO, Human Capital Source), Laurie Bassi, Ph.D., (CEO, McBassi & Company), John R. Mattox II, Ph.D., (Director of Research, KnowledgeAdvisors), Eugene Burke, (Chief Science & Analytics Officer, SHL), Natalie Tarnopolsky, (SVP, Analytics and Insights, Wells Fargo Bank).

Theme #1:  Descriptive, Predictive, Prescriptive. Let’s start with some definitions as the panel did, but I’ll use a tennis example.  I don’t know if anyone has been watching the last few grand slams, but they have been using a good mix of all these types of analytics.  Descriptive is simple.  Roger Federer has one 16 tennis grand slams.  (I’m guessing as I’m on a plane typing this).  Predictive is next and basically tells us what our destiny is going to be.  Roger’s record against Nadal in grand slam finals has not been particularly good.  If Rafa is on his game, hitting his ground strokes with the huge topspin he has, Roger is going to have to figure something out or lose again.  Here is where the last few opens has been interesting.  The broadcasters will sit there with the stats and say things like, “If Roger can get 67% of his first servers in, he has a 73% chance of winning” or “Roger needs to win 55% of Rafa’s second serves to have a 59% chance of winning.”  Now we have prescriptive – the specifics of what to do in order to change our destiny.

Theme #2:  Engagement. We probably focus in on this a bit too much.  It’s not because it’s not important, but it’s not specific or defined enough.  I mean, we all have a definition in our heads, but for 99% of us, it’s fluff.  My definition of engagement is the intangible quality that makes an employee want to provide that extra hour of discretionary work when other non-work opportunities exist.  Total fluff, right?  We can provide some correlations around engagement.  If engagement increases by 1%, then turnover decreases X% and so on.  What it provides is a great predictive measure, high level as it may be.  We know we need to increase engagement, and it is indeed important.  But it’s not the key measurement we have all been lead to believe will solve all our problems.

Theme #3:  Predict winning. OK, so if engagement is not the key metric, then what is?  Well, I have no idea.  I’m not being snide, I’m just saying that it will change for every single organization.  If you are (mall) retail organization, then having really good salespeople might be what hits the bottom line.  You could run the numbers and find out that if you rehire sales that worked for you the summer/holiday season last year, those salespeople are 20% more productive, whereas engagement reduces turnover by 1.3%.  Which metric are you going to focus on?  Right, how do you get those experienced salespeople back?  Instead of spending $1 on engagement, you could get 5 times the ROI on that same dollar elsewhere.  What we want to do is not predict outcomes.  We want to predict winning and understand what our highest contributors to winning will be.

Let’s take another example, this one from the panel.   Let’s say 5% of your workforce are high performers, but you can only give 3% of them promotions this year.  You also know that the 2% of top performers who don’t get promotions will likely leave the organization.  Now you have a problem.  You can’t afford to promote these people, but the cost of replacing top performers is extraordinary.  Analysis like this quickly leads you to decisions which are actionable.  At the end of the day, we need to compare our top drivers against our weaknesses to really figure out our greatest opportunities to invest in.

Theme #4:  HR can’t do it. This part sucks.  Towards the end of the session, we walked through a statistical model.  Yeah, we can end this post right here, but I’ll continue.  The rather brilliant by HR terms model was presented by Wells Fargo.  Go figure an ex-finance person working at a bank would have this all put together.  The point being, this was an ex-finance person, and the bak part is ot wholly irrelevant.  All the stuff I said above really makes great sense.  But when it comes down to executing it, HR in most organizations does not have the skillset to execute on it.  We don’t have very many statisticians in our HR staffs, and even if we did, HR executives would have a hard time seeing the vision and have the willingness to implement these technologies and models.  All is not lost however.  Finance has been doing this stuff forever.  I mean, I’ll bet you anything that if the interest rates drop by 1 basis point, Wells Fargo knows within seconds what the impact on profits are for savings, mortgages, etc.  Can’t we have/borrow/hire just a few of these guys?