HR Tech Conference: Wrap Up

On Monday as the HR Tech Conference got underway, I wrote that HR technology is under a microscope. Led by tech giants like SAP, Oracle, and IBM, the industry has been a juicy target for acquisition and investment. Integrated talent management technology providers like SuccessFactors, Taleo and Kenexa, each of whom had engaged in their own acquisition spree to build out a product suite, were snapped up in rapid succession over the last 12 months.

Well, we managed to get through the conference without any big acquisition announcements, with the exception of Knowledge Infusion, an HR consultancy (and home of Talent Management columnist Jason Averbook) getting picked up by Appirio, a specialist in technology implementation.

Despite the M&A lull, there was plenty happening at HR Tech but perhaps the most significant thing didn’t happen in the cavernous halls of McCormick Place in Chicago. It took place at the New York Stock Exchange today.

California-based Workday, the creation of former PeopleSoft exec Dave Duffield and partners, completed its initial public offering this week and investors began trading shares on Friday. Lots of investor interest had already prodded the company to up its targeted price range earlier this week, but when shares began trading at $28 (a valuation of more than $4 billion) they quickly shot even higher. The share price at the end of the day? $48.69 – a 74% single day rise.

That’s a serious vote of confidence in HR tech particularly for cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors like Workday. It’s also direct proof of the value SAP’s execs in Germany and Oracle’s Larry Ellison saw in the market when they decided to pull out their wallets and shell out cash for HR players.

As far as product announcements go, my colleague Ladan Nikravan covered some key announcements here and here. Here’s my two cents:

Sunny Skies Behind the Cloud

The cloud, or SaaS if you’re less metaphorically inclined, continues to make inroads into the market as vendors develop and deploy HR software and services via the Internet. While growth continues, when asked many vendors point out that on-premise software installations still dominate their business despite the cloud buzz.

  • Saba, fresh off the rollout of their cloud platform last spring, announced they now have 10.2 million users globally on their learning management, talent management and collaboration products. Speaking of the markets, Saba is in the midst of a bit of trouble due to some financial reporting errors particularly in overseas markets that require the company to restate earnings and put it at risk of being de-listed from NASDAQ. Hopefully they’ll get that straightened out tout suite. Shares are trading at just over $8, down off their April 2012 peak of just over $13 but still within the 52-week average.
  • Cornerstone OnDemand, on a roll since its own IPO last year and buildout of its suite of cloud products in learning, performance and recruiting, is another sign of the healthy market for SaaS. The company’s stock is trading at the high end of its range at just over $32 per share, up more than 114% over last year. Jason Corsello, the company’s head of strategy, said they now have have more than 1,000 clients and 9.4 million users.

SMB is a BFD

Small business is big business. That’s another of the key themes I took from the conference. When you do the math, it’s not surprising that small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB) are a big deal. After all, there are only 500 companies in the Fortune 500 but legions more in the small-to-mid range. Many experience the same problems larger companies do and don’t hesitate to demand sophisticated technology to tackle their trials.

  • After the acquisition of SaaSHR earlier this year, the cloud has grown into one of the fastest growing segments for Kronos. The company has about 6,000 customers now in the cloud with many using the company’s integrated human capital management suite Workforce Central, said Kronos’ Frank Moreno. Building on that momentum, the company announced the release of Workforce Ready, a cloud-based integrated system of record for employee information targeted at SMB.
  • Best known by many for payroll management, ADP has steadily built out a suite of technology products for workforce and talent management. At HR Tech, the company unwrapped Workforce Now, its new human capital management platform for mid-sized businesses, building out a complementary product to Vantage HCM for large enterprises and Global View for global companies.
  • Cornerstone OnDemand is also making SMB a key plank of their business going forward. After picking up New Zealand-based performance specialist Sonar 6 in March, Cornerstone has built out a new small business division called Cornerstone Small Business (CSB) under the direction of Sonar 6 c0-founder Michael Carden. In addition to serving SMB, CSB will also be an innovation lab for technology development, said Carden and CSOD’s Jason Corsello.

Recruitment is Getting Smart

The recruitment segment is where some of the most interesting, innovative and intriguing products are launched. It must have something to do with the influence of consumer marketing. When you’re competing to attract candidates, you’ve got to think creatively and vendors always surprise me with the ideas and products they develop.

  • Here’s a business idea I wish I had come up with. Start a website that encourages employees to share unfiltered reviews on what it’s like to work at your company – the good, the bad and the just plain ugly. Then take all that information – 3 million pieces of content on 200,000 companies at last count, all provided free – and package it into a service to help employers – many the very ones employees are talking about – to better manage their brand and target job ads. That’s exactly what California-based Glassdoor has done. On the employee side, the site has grown to 13 million users since its launch in 2008, said CEO Robert Hohman. Now, they also have 700 employer “partners” who have bought services using that data. Pure business genius.
  • The rumors of the death of the job board are exaggerated but traditional companies like CareerBuilder and Monster are rapidly planning for a post-job board world. Big data is the way forward. Monster launched SeeMore this summer, aiming to use its 6Sense semantic search technology to help employers better find qualified talent. CareerBuilder picked up Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. and quickly turned its ability to analyze and report on employment data in real time into the Supply & Demand portal, a service available on a subscription basis to assess the availability of candidates in a market and the location where they are most in demand. Say sayonara to “post and pray.”
  • Israeli company GooodJob made its North American debut at HR Tech and I sat down with founder Assaf Eisenstein and head of sales Laurie Spieler to hear more. Their basic premise: The employee referrals – our most fruitful source of qualified candidates for open positions – isn’t being used to its full potential. GooodJob attempts to drive higher employee engagement in the process by rewarding employees with prizes and rewards for volume and quality of referrals. Perhaps the most intriguing – and potentially controversial – component of the technology is employers’ ability to use individual employee’s social networking accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to post open jobs. Spieler and Eisenstein said employees dictate the terms of that access and it is tightly controlled, but I can see many employees finding that potentially intrusive. Then again, if the rewards are good enough who knows?

A Little Bit of This and That

These two don’t fit into nice categories but I thought they were interesting regardless.

  • While assessment companies like SHL, Hogan Assessments and CPP have a long legacy of work in assessing candidate fit for organizational culture, Colorado-based RoundPegg has created to my knowledge the first technology product explicitly aimed and marketed for managing company culture. The software includes measurement tools and data to identify culture, identify and hire candidates that fit, development tools to help managers and tracking features to keep an eye on employee engagement, all fed into a  dashboard that lets business leaders slice data by team, department and region to keep an eye on potential trouble spots.
  • was using video for education long before TED and Khan Academy came along. Since starting out with courses for web and graphic design, the company has branched out into a range of business skills and inspirational topics aimed at corporations, government and academia. Michael Schaeman, head of sales, and Nathan Kimmons, head of marketing, told me they now have 1,450 courses  and between 60,000 and 80,000 videos developed by subject matter experts in the field. While’s traditional focus has been the employee and their own career development, the need for rich content available quickly and at scale make video like that provided by Lynda an attractive solution for corporate learning and development leaders as well.

Overall, it was an interesting week and my compliments to HR Technology Conference impresario Bill Kutik and the folks at HR Executive magazine for another job well done.  A lot of interesting things are happening in HR technology but some open questions remain, such as how talent management will be integrated with ERP and larger business software suites.

Thanks to a leak, Oracle’s plan for Taleo was made clear. For now, Taleo and Oracle’s Fusion HCM will play complementary roles to one another. SAP and SuccessFactors are still working through their merger but it looks like SuccessFactors will remain a standalone product for the near future. Kenexa can’t talk about the integration with IBM until the deal is finalized later this year and is continuing to make waves from its acquisition of Rypple and subsequent launch of

Much has happened – and product innovation continues apace – but some big questions remain.