SaaS

The HR Talent Software Bubble

The Year of Change – 2013

bubbleIf 2013 was anything to go by then we are in for another interesting HR software year in 2014. Last year was very much one of excitement and perceived opportunity around SaaS, cloud, mobile and the resurgence of the talent management offerings (Recruitment, On-boarding, Performance Management, Compensation Management, Workforce planning, Career Planning and  Succession Planning)  – the latter being of significant importance from a revenue perspective for vendors. Prior to 2012 most of the large vendors made most of their money from selling core HR and payroll solutions, but were forced to change selling tactics to support the major and expensive acquisitions or new talent focused developments that occurred during 2012. While SAP, Oracle and Workday were popular news items, many other vendors were investing heavily to move their product to SaaS models and support end users with smart phone and tablet access and tools.

HR Technology is a Mirror 

Vendors spent 2013 pushing licence sales at all cost (heavy discounting, license swap deals and low ball implementation fees) for their cloud Talent products, some touting evidence that organizations would have fairly immediate and positive bottom line impacts, with some vendors going so far as to give % improvement probabilities in ROI and growth in stock values depending on how many modules were bought and implemented.

I wonder how many organizations have reaped the benefits they were sold?  – or were they suckered into believing that a software implementation would improve HR services? While I would love to be proven wrong on this, I suspect the improvements are mostly superfluous and if you scratch beneath the surface you will find feats in process compliance from the new software, but not in long terms business and people sustainability. Too many decision makers still misunderstand the importance of having effective HR services, delivery and environments in place prior to investing in new HR technology – HR technology will simply reflect your good or bad HR environment.

The HR Talent Software Bubble

All the vendors realized that tying a client into a 3-year (or more) annuity license agreement was paramount to their survival – so they all went to battle for the limited resource (clients $) and made offers that were hard to refuse – they drove sales through $$ incentive rather than future value. Cloud solutions fundamentally changed the face and structure of HR system implementations. In particular, the time to implement new HR technology is typically significantly reduced with SaaS products and while this is good for many reasons, it’s also one of the reasons for increased risk around achieving people and business sustainability.

I should probably not paint every sale or organisation with the same brush, but what I can say is that there will be far more companies not achieving the proclaimed benefits in 2014 than there are that do – as time progresses these clients will look for something to blame and there is a good change the software will be in the firing line. 2014-2016 is a period of heightened client relationship risk and poses all sorts of challenges for vendors and implementation partners. For most clients I suspect it will be their own period of disillusionment when they realize the software has not been their saving grace. When this bubble bursts, it will be messy and destructive to HR technology vendors, partners and the HR profession.

Light at the end of the Tunnel

There is hope though (there always is), as well as time to fix this. It will come in the form of improved skills, understanding and appreciation in HR & business sustainability from the Vendors and Implementation partners. This must include greater advisory capability in helping to create the right HR environment for the technology to be fully leveraged. The one advantage of true cloud and SaaS solutions is the lower dependency on technology understanding to implement the solutions. The more we can replace the technical implementer with a combo HR professional/tech appreciator who understands what makes HR successful, the more we can mitigate the future blame risk that is bubbling under. HR Vendors and partners need to think long-term and be prepared to invest in HR environmental support, not just technical support, they need to drop the profit motive as the sole approach to measuring  success and be bold enough to include societal value into their success equation. I suspect we will see a host of new partnerships and acquisitions between traditional IT consultancies and specialist HR consultants (ones with deep HR and business understanding).

As a final note on this topic, I had two experiences in 2013 where the vendor led the pitch/ implementation of their cloud HR Talent tool with a Change (Project) Manager (Social Sciences type) rather than a traditional cost/time project manager- These vendors realized the importance of changing the HR environment and the people in order to fully leverage their new HR technology journeys – its paying dividends for those clients and these vendors will reap the long term benefits too.

The Clash of the (Social) Titans is Near

2012 ushered in a new era for HR software solutions. It will be a year that we saw some really big deals going down as the big boys of the ERP world manoeuvred themselves into  strategic positions within the cloud ecosystem. The writing was on the wall and vendors that didn’t have a cloud based solution and strategy (or at least claim they had one) were likely to  face some difficult times financially and competitively over the next three years.

With the advent of HR cloud based tool, we also saw the introduction of social and gamifcation layers being added directly into these new products. Not just as optional extra’s, but often forming the epi-centre of the product driver. Particularly in areas such as Performance Management, where communication and discussion needs between employee and manager were ripe for something new to spur what was typically a dismal failure in most organisations.

As society was settling down to the acceptance of social media as a legitimate means of sharing knowledge, ideas generation and general chin-wags in the work environment, the HR vendors saw the gap to add this functionality into their solutions to drive out better HR and Talent management. And the good thing is it works ~ you have to be prepared to adapt your work environment, leadership styles and accept that the control that was prevalent in hierarchical organisations may not work in a social environment, but if you get that right, there is a lot of good stuff that HR can do. That’s not the problem!

Who owns the social layer?

While the HR vendors were thinking about how to leverage social layers within their products, the Enterprise social guru’s were making strong headway into major organisations. Tools like Yammer have moved many organisations into a new ‘Knowledge Management” and information sharing era – building stronger communities and starting to see good paybacks on tacit knowledge lying wasted around in their staff’s grey matter.This is good too!

So what happens when Mr HR Director goes ahead and purchases a subscription to a new cloud based HR solution that also uses a proprietary social layer tool?  The reality is that many of these tools rely on the end-user using the solutions social layer, not a third party tool. OK, well having more than one social tool is not a big deal, I hear you say, we have more than one in our private lives like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, so things should work out.

This is where I think the proverbial paw-paw hits the fan and it’s going to get worse. If I look at the emergence of other cloud tools in the Finance, Rostering & Scheduling, Procurement and other business areas~ many of these tools are integrating proprietary social layers into their products just like the HR vendors, and they all have an expectation that you need to use the SM layer.

If I’m a user of the Finance tool and use its social layer, I might find that I’m having to repeat my knowledge post, great idea, message of recognition or piece of gossip on the HR tool – that’s of course if I remember to do that when I next use the HR tool. Not to mention the owners of the Enterprise Social layer who will be putting pressure on all employees to share and discuss on the corporate system. Then of course there is the confusion of whether I said something via email or on a social layer, or was it perhaps a text message.

Who will win the battle?

Maybe someone will come up with a clever technology layer that can plug into all these new emerging social tools embedded within discreet products to help manage the data flow and curb the likely confusion and risks. Until then I can see a number of battles taking place, with someone loosing and someone winning. The looser unfortunately may also see value disappear  from their beloved cloud solution. What we should acknowledge is that custodianship of the social tools is not an HR right!

I think we will be seeing a bit of fur flying in 2013 – a good thing in my view. Its the only way we will see the need for something new to help us manage our changing work places.

Let me know your views.