SaaS Is Here: Get Over It IT!

There was a long time ago I could pretty much build my bike from scratch.  Yeah, I could assemble everything, that’s easy.  Putting on gears, lacing up spokes onto wheels, getting the brakes on.  I even used to pick out the individual ball bearings that went into my bikes.  Then came a day when the ball bearings got sealed into cartridges making them last longer, roll smoother and easier to maintain.  In a couple years, hydraulic brakes for road bicycles will be here.  The industry has gone past my ability to build my bikes from scratch.  I can still do most of it, but for the highly technical pieces, I rely on an expert mechanic.

A few months ago, I had a conversation with one of my clients about whether they should “buy it or build it.”  Really?  I honestly didn’t know those conversations even happened anymore.  I really thought all the conversations these days were about should we use SaaS or stay on premise.  I was reminded about this as I read the 2012 HR Technology Survey from Cedar Crestone.  One of the charts noted the differences between HR, IT and executive perceptions and challenges to move to SaaS.  Number 3 for HR and Executives?  Security and Data Privacy concerns.  Of course that was number 1 for IT.

I remember when I used to work for ADP a number of years back.  This is old school, but their tax service center was in San Dimas, California… quite at risk of a major earthquake.  It was in California for a number of reasons – primarily I assume because it gave them an extra 3 hours to file taxes in the U.S.  But while ADP’s state of the art tax facility was at major risk of earthquake damage, their backup facility was somewhere on the other side of the San Andreas fault in Arizona.  I remember talk about power lines coming in from all 4 external walls, just in case some guy with a backhoe ploughed through power lines on 3 sides by accident.

I also love conversations about data security.  Let me be blunt: unless you are Citi,, or Walmart, you probably don’t have an entire organization dedicated to data security and the upkeep of your SAS-## (whatever it is these days).  I’m sure you can do security well, but the chances you can do it better than the organization that does it as their core business, stop worrying about it.  Back to ADP for a moment – I remember always having a personal chuckle moment when a client or prospect said to us that they had their own tax accountants, and felt better about that than using ADP.  Guys, let’s be blunt again.  ADP has probably hundreds of tax accountants, and they are probably better than yours.

Just like taxes are not your core business, you probably don’t host servers as your core business either.  SaaS is here.  Get over it IT.

Is Cloud The Way To Go?

So I had to upgrade my cell phone contract.  I used to be on this thing where I had a bucket of minutes and text messages to use, and now I’m on exactly the opposite.  I have unlimited phone and text and about 10 GB of data I can use every month.  It really points to a shift in how we as users of wireless devices are working.  Less and less of our days are spent actually talking to each other, and more of our days are spent collaborating through various mechanisms that involve data.  I will admit to spending an exceptional amount of time browsing news on my phone, looking through facebook updates to keep tabs on people, and using my phone for work emails.  Nobody calls me anymore, and if they do, I get my voicemails through data (I read my VM, have not listened to one in years).

One of the big questions these days is about SaaS and Cloud.  Should we do it?  Should we stay on PeopleSoft or SAP HCM?

The answer for SaaS is a definitive Yes.

At some point, be it this year, next or in 5 years, you are going to move to the cloud.  I’m not an opinion about your current on-premise strategy, and I’m not making a judgment of you if you disagree.  I’m simply stating a fact.  Let’s tale a look at the facts:

  • ADP: The actual development of the Enterprise HRMS client server product is probably severely limited.  I don’t even know if they sell it anymore.  We do know that ADP Vantage is what they are selling and developing.
  • Oracle / PeopleSoft:  We’ve all heard about applications unlimited, but for those who thing that in 2020 we’ll still be going to a PeopleSoft Track at OpenWorld, I think you really have to evaluate your reality.  The developers are all on Fusion.  Let’s say you are right and there is still a PeopleSoft product in 2020.  How long do you think it will have been since your last major product enhancement?
  • SAP: Well, there’s HAHA, and there’s SuccessFactors.  Either way, SAP kind of knows that they are pouring development resources into the cloud.  Same conclusion as with PeopleSoft – it will be around for a while, but that’s not the whole reality.
  • Workday:  It’s already in the cloud from the start – no discussion here.
  • Talent Management: It does not really matter if you bought Taleo, SuccessFactors, Cornerstone, PeopleFluent, (I’m going to get in trouble for leaving out 50 companies), you bought into the cloud long ago for TM.

I’m not really trying to change your mind on the cloud here.  It really does not matter.  If you are an HR technology buyer, you simply don’t have a choice.  The vendors and the industry are in the midst of choosing for you.  In just a few short years, all of your premise based HR technologies are going to cease or significantly slow their development efforts and fully shift to the cloud.  If you want to be on a product that will be continuously developed, that is where it will be.

Just in the same way I really don’t have a choice to stay on my old cell phone plan, the world is moving on when it comes to HR applications.  It’s time to move with it.

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.


Stop Selling Apps: SaaS is a Service

Increasingly, I’m seeing organizations change their buying habits, at least in theory. Vendor selections are no longer the total domain of functional requirements as they once were. We don’t care nearly as much about feature functionality and our ability to customize the software to our specific needs. Instead, we’re shifting to a couple of different concepts: first, it’s about the outcome. Second, it’s about the partnership. Maybe…

The problem is when we actually get into a vendor selection. I’m constantly in vendor demos where both the buyers and the sellers are totally focused on the functionality they need to present. Consultants still focus on the scripted demos that vendors need to skip, hop and jump through, and audiences still sit through demos asking questions like, “what does that button do?” Accordingly, vendors go to demos prepared with the full arsenal of System Consultant knowledge, tailored systems with client logos, and the ability to demo as much of the application’s “flashy stuff” as is available.

We like to pretend we are thinking differently, and in the back of our minds, we know we should be. But get us down to the details and we just can’t help ourselves. It’s almost impossible for buyers to back up a few steps and ask, “Can my employee link their career path to their internal job searches?” rather than “We have a field on the search results screen that tells employees what business unit the job is in.” One is outcomes oriented, the other is purely tactical.

The point of this post is that while we know the market is changing, it’s going to change with our without us, whether we like it or not. Forward thinking buyers are interviewing HR vendor executives to understand the level of partnership they are going to have. They are asking for client referrals and not talking about the software experience, but instead about service and support. Forward thinking vendor sales reps are not putting their eggs in the product demonstration – that is only a hurdle to them. Instead, they are creating relationships with HR executives outside of normal sales presentations to show clients what the experience would be like and to introduce them to key members of the product development and executive teams.

At the end of the day, we should care less about the software that vendors are providing to us. They all pretty much do the job. In the future, the differentiator will be about how dynamically a vendor will go through hoops to find solutions for the things about you that are genuinely unique. It’s about whether they care enough to find a solution and work with you, or if it simply goes on an enhancement request list 3 years long. It’s about whether your HR VP can pick up the phone and call a vendor executive when there really is a problem. I’ve seen good and bad vendor relationships throughout the years. While I’ll admit that in the past, poor functionality could certainly sink the relationship, the one commonality between the good relationships was the agreement to partner and understand how to provide and receive services.

Differentiation in SaaS

A while back, I was an SC for a large vendor organization.  It was a lot of fun highlighting the great stuff in my applications (actually – those were the fun parts).  But our jobs were to help find solutions as well as workarounds to things that could simply not be done.  Given this is a decade ago when functionality had not really arrived yet, Still, the differentiation between applications back then was about who had more functionality.  The depth of any HR application varied widely between vendors.  Today’s world is vastly different.

Is there really any differentiation in between SaaS vendors/  I mean, they all seem to say the same thing.  Everyone talks about great service, they all like to say how you don’t have to customize anything anymore, and every SaaS application is “versionless.”  The core things taht many of the SaaS vendors sell no longer really apply – SaaS vendors are so often competing against other SaaS vendors rather than legacy server based technologies where these were indeed valid arguments and true differentiators.

I’ve also argued that the days of functionality are pretty much over.  Vendors simply can’t compete on feature-functionality anymore.  Once again, there was a time when it was important, but today’s reality says that every vendor is going to have 98% of what you need, and the other 2% are probably nice to have’s that you can live without.  The truth of the matter is, feature functionality ruled in the days of long ago (what, all of 5 years?) when HR was the center of the HR universe.  We needed better transactions, more efficient processes, better storage spaces for more and more data.  That’s not true anymore.

Today’s center of the HR universe has transformed into employee’s and managers.  Those groups don’t need feature functionality.  In fact, it’s a Google and Apple world where minimalism and ease of use reign supreme.

The true differentiators for vendors is also evolving.  No longer is it feature-functionality, great service, or being versionless.  Today’s differentiation comes in the form of the analytics framework and how capable HR can be at delivering data to managers.  it’s about what I have called “enterprise digital interactions”  (social media) to help employees connect, collaborate and learn, it’s about how well you can use technology to create the simplicity that end users crave.

The problem is that feature functionality is easy to demo.  Whether analytics are really easy to create and consume, if end users will adopt digital interactions, or if the usability was hiding under a layer of slick demo style is sometimes hard to discover.  At the end of the day, these are the features that are differentiators today.  Feature functionality does not prove much anymore.  It’s about pushing your future vendor partners during demos, inviting end users (employees and managers) for a full court press during demos, and figuring out how to ensure that all the flash that your future partners are trained to demo is not all that you see.

Time to Upgrade

Today I got the following message on my browser:

Unfortunately your web-browser is from 2001, which is really, really old in web years. If you would take a moment to upgrade you will find the web has a lot more to offer.

First of all, let me point out that this was not actually my computer or any computer issued by my employer, just in case those of you who know me have any confusion over this.  On my own PC and the one issued by my employer, I run both Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, with Chrome as my primary browser.  Let it be known, that this is the first time I have ever seen a message like this, and I thought it was hilarious.

The second thought that came to mind was that if everything was like Google (I also use Gmail, Google Voice, Google Maps, Google Documents, Google Android, Google images for the site – I have no idea about this post’s image – I just thought it was funny (ok, stop advert)) then I would never ever get this message again.  This turned into a nice thought about SaaS.  In a true SaaS environment, you’d never have to upgrade anything individually since someone else is managing it to the latest version release for you.

What is funny is that 2001 is not only old in web years, it’s also old in HR technology years now.  Sure, you might still have some PeopleSoft and SAP sitting around (almost definitely) but I’m pretty sure you’re not on version 8.1 (I’m guessing what was out in 2001) or SAP 4.  Back in 2001, I don’t even know if we were calling “it” talent management yet.  We were still on Web 1.0, and were still getting used to the idea that the internet was going to be around for a while.

The second statement was less humor and more truth.  If I would just get up to date, my entire experience would be so much richer.  This again, is the great thing about SaaS.  While a couple organizations out there are going to semiannual or annual major releases, there are still quite a few companies that are pushing out new functionality on a quarterly basis.  While each of these does not necessarily have features that are either high impact or high need by all client populations, over time, not having those updates would have resulted in a pretty large gap in experience for your end users.  Luckily in a SaaS environment, you don’t have to worry about that.

Certainly there are obstacles to the upgrades.  Every now and then it means that you have a downstream system receiving data that has to undergo a change in the interface, or you may have applied a customization in the system that needs to be thought out.  Perhaps there is just a cost parameter that is prohibitive.  All things considered, these obstacles should have been thought through during the initial implementation cycle.  You never think about your software as “it’s so cool now that I just want to keep it this way forever, therefore I’ll put so many barriers to upgrade in that I’ll never do it.”  Instead, we think we’re doing the right thing for our organizations by allowing modifications and exceptions, but 5 years down the road we realize how much better off we would have been if we were running our users on a current version.

Screen Flicker and End User Annoyances

There has been so much publicity around e-readers and the Apple iPad lately. In truth, I’m totally captivated by both of these technologies, but have not jumped in the market yet. The iPad seems wonderful since it is basically the next evolution of the net book, or mini-laptop. It has a great user interface, is generally lighter than a net book, but combines some of the functions from the iPhone device, letting you take emails, calendaring, video, applications, and yes – an e-reader with you. The problem with the Apple device is that the e-reader is in full color, not in what is called “e-ink.” E-ink is attractive because it allows you to read a page virtually anywhere. It’s visible in full sunlight. Unfortunately with the e-readers that use e-ink, the technology seems to “flicker” every time you turn a page. I’m not sure what the nuance is behind the technology, but a 1 second screen flicker on page turns is rather annoying. Considering that you would turn a page an average of 400 times a book, and every 30 seconds, this can be quite upsetting.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that bother us, because while they are little things, if they happen all the time, the accumulated disturbance is rather large in scale. As we go to SaaS software environments, but even in our legacy on-premise systems, almost all end users have become accustomed to waiting for screen refreshes. I actually remember back to the late 1990’s when one application hosting provider actually issued a SLA that the screen refresh would be no more than 3 seconds. Imagine the downtime accrued over the course of a year if a hands-on application user lost 3 seconds every time she changed a screen!

Even in today’s speedy technology environments, we are often subjected to screen refreshes that take a few seconds. Sometimes it’s our own internal corporate networks, sometimes it’s the internet, but sometimes it’s the servers as wel. In HR, we tend to pull large amounts of data – employees have multiple roes of data on multiple data elements. There’s a lot of data chugging gowing on in that back end.

Imagine if or Google acted the same way. We would probably never use those systems, and they would have died a fast death in their infancy rather than becoming the behemoths they are now. Amazon literally pulls together a page on the spot – that page does not exist before you request it, rather it’s just a set of disparate components that come together at the point of the user request. Same thing goes for google, it takes your search request and pushes it through an algorythm, then searches the entire internet to return results. On systematicHR (admittedly a slow running site, I don’t pay for a fast host), when you request a page the server responds to 88 queries and returns results in 0.57 seconds on average. And that’s slow in internet speed.

Since converting most or all of our HR applications to we based apps or services, why is it that we still accept much of our technology running on legacy speed instead of internet speed? If we were end users with a choice, we would have made other choices and abandoned anything that delayed us from doing our work. Most of us hate waiting, and certainly the best performers hate it. When it comes to employee and manager self service, employees might be more willing to wait, but they are probably also waiting for dinner to finish baking in the oven while they wait for the screen to confirm their phone number change. As an employee though, I myself have been known to abandon at the first 404 error screen. Managers on the other hand, certainly have better things to be doing than waiting for slow screens, and the accumulation of individually insignificant annoyances leads to large amounts of displeasure with HR.

Similar to the iPad or e-readers that provide great functionality and targetted types of usability, little things that go wrong (not being able to read the iPad in sunlight, or having e-ing screen flicker) can be pretty annoying. As users, we can usually manage small annoyances, but we’re not good with problems that happen all the time and don’t get fixed. Our image of HR is often through the user experience of our applications that we roll out. As we increase our footprint of HR technologies in SaaS, speeds should gradually increase, and we should also be looking at SLA’s to ensure that our end users are getting optimal experiences.

What’s Next?

Just a few short years ago, it really seemed like the vendor space was leading the market with all sorts of great new functionality and new ways to think about the world.  After all, what would we have done if SoftScape had not coined the term “Talent Management”?  (I’m pretty sure it was them, but I’m not 100% sure, so if I’m wrong, don’t crucify me please)  Talent Management gave HR a completely new lease on life, helped us get the attention of executives, and got many of us the proverbial “seat at the table”.”  TM provided us a way manage our Human Resources, whereas before we were just another resource.

The SaaS vendor space provided us with dashboards while the rest of the organization was implementing them, but HR didn’t have the budgets or the technical capability.  We got analytics for cheap from vendors when our organizations didn’t seem to see the value of a $MM implementation for HR.

But lately, it feels like we’ve taken hold of all the new technologies and the opportunities it brought us and we are not trying to push our vendors faster and further rather than being tugged along.  While vendors consolidate and focus on platform integration, we’ve all moved on to thinking about long term talent management that goes beyond the processes of today and looks at the planning for 2 and 3 years from now.  We’re wanting to understand workforce planning and implement technologies to help us with it.  We want to understand internal mobility and get a handle on how increasing mobility engages, develops and retains our employee base.

But it’s not really all the vendor’s fault.  Sure, the vendors (some of them anyway) tell us they have some functionality, or that it’s on the way, but we in HR are certainly now pushing rather than pulling.  The problem for the vendors is that most of the new work is pure analytics and decision support.  To do workforce planning, we need to be able to project out where our businesses are growing and what skill-sets we will need a few years down the road.  Often, HR does not yet have this level of visibility in the organization.  Sometimes, the business as a while does not have the ability to know what the future brings in highly project and contract based businesses.  Others of us have more stable sales and business cycles that can be predictable.

I think we’ve gone forward with our thinking, but both the HR and Vendor capabilities are lagging, and we have come to count on the vendor space to provide us a solution for our problems.  Unlike with Talent Management where many of us didn’t even know we needed it, now we know we have an itch to scratch – and we are eagerly awaiting a stick to scratch it with.  I’m sure it will be great…  (just hurry up already)

Defining SaaS

Since I defined Web 2.0 already, I thought I’d also define SaaS for the masses.  Again, this is actually a fairly easy and straightforward technology to put some boundaries around.  First of all, I don’t actually like the moniker “Software as a Service” because it confuses most HR people.  At the core, SaaS does not add any additional “service” that it’s genetic predecessors did (simple hosting of applications in 3rd party data centers).  Regardless of my personal complaints about the name, some SaaS vendors do indeed provide additional services, but I don’t think these services are parts of SaaS, just differentiators between vendors.

So what is SaaS?

  1. Hosted:  First of all, the obvious.  A SaaS application is hosted by someone else – almost always a vendor.  Actually, I can’t think of a single SaaS application that is not hosted by the vendor who sells it.  The whole idea is to generate incremental revenues on a long term basis that are higher than premise based application’s license fees.
  2. Singe codebase:  I know that some vendors call themselves SaaS when they have the ability to host your application separately because you want to do something different than the rest of the vendor’s customers.  This is not SaaS.  To qualify as SaaS, the vendor supports a single codebase across all its customers.  There are exceptions, as the customer base expands and they have to increase the number of servers, vendors may take time to update all the servers.  However, in general, the vendor is supporting a singe codebase, or getting all the servers and customers up to the same codebase.

And to me, that’s all she wrote.  At the very basis of SaaS, there is not a whole lot to it. But you’ll see why I think the “software as a service” can be misleading.  People in HR misread “service” as some sort of additional customer support.  Indeed, a technologist would read it quite differently, and service really just means the provision of the application in a particular manner.

Up In The Air – Packing Theory

Many of the people I know have watched a film called “Up in the Air.”  Indeed, I suppose it was a popular file garnering several Oscar nominations.  (I have no idea if it won anything as I don’t watch the Oscars.)  Several people have told me how personal the film was, and other than the whole “affair thing” I’d have to say that I agree.  I’ll take a moment to point out that I am nowhere close to 10 million miles either.  However, there were certain points of the film that as I watched it (on a 4 hour flight of course) I chuckled to myself and realized that I do the same thing.

The first of these moments occurred when George Cloony’s character looks at his Anna (I have no idea what her last name was)’s character’s suitcase and begins throwing things out of it.  I’ve gotten to the point where I have packed for 2 week international trips inclusive of 3 suits, workout clothes, extra flip flop (sandals), casual clothes, neck ties, etc… all in a convenient carryon bag.  Cloony’s character is exactly right.  The 35 minutes spent waiting for a checked bag after you land at the arrival city is a considerable amount of time each year for many travelers.  I’d guess that if I checked a bag every time I flew, I’d spend in excess of two 24 hour days in the airport baggage claim area.

In HR software terms, what I’m talking about is design, and most specifically design towards business requirements.  There is all too often a desire from the business user to define every possible element.  Division 1 wants to have 3 extra fields, while Division 2 things that their users will revolt if the “Commit” button is not located in the top right corner of the MSS form.  This is all fine, but we tend to spend time working through this detailed minutia rather than solving for the business requirement.  There are always tradeoffs to be had, and usually in the big picture, the strategic business requirement is much more desirable that forcing a few users to get used to the placement of a button, or to make do without a few fields.

Unfortunately, back in the 90’s when we were all in love with the power of ERP and how we could all manage to our individual uniqueness, we allowed our organizations to get used to dictating to us in HRIT how our applications should be delivered.  We still see it today even though re now realize that 90% of customizations are not driven by a business need, but by user preference.  In today’s world of SaaS vendors, many organizations are quickly realizing that not only are vendors creating user environments that are based on leading practice usability, but that vendor design is often better than anything customers can come up with anyway.  However, there still seems to be a sense from the user population that small design items are important, and HRIS often sees minor customizations as simply minor.

My point is this: get through the airport with a carryon.  Minor customizations seem minor, but when you try to stuff them all in a carryon, you realize you’ll have to check that bag.  You have sacrificed future upgrade ease, you’ve decided that the tradeoff for small customs is more important than business outcomes, and you’ve once again told your ultimate end user that they know more about running HR than you do.  Don’t do it, carryons are a wonderful thing.