Spending a few days in the fairytale Czech capital where I presented the DOs and DON'Ts of HR technology projects at the HR Directors' International Summit, I was surprised by how many of the 150 attending HR leaders asked me which vendor I saw most likely to inherit the mantle of HR technology leader now that PeopleSoft is slowly but steadily fading into the sunset. Here is my list of pretenders to the crown of industry leader.
The official heir apparent, Fusion, touted by Oracle as the successor product, can safely be ruled out since it has yet to be born (meaning it hasn't been shipped), has no customers live on it and from what has been shown at various events and leaked, is missing many ingredients of a global Human Capital Management-HCM (payroll, localizations, recruitment). Could the other ERP behemoth, SAP, take over? Its qualifications are indeed stronger as they include a higher number of customers around the world and a proven HCM system which, for all its faults (overly complex, not particularly user friendly, expensive) is now well established. However, to be recognized as the undisputed HCM leader as PeopleSoft was for a good decade, requires to be a visionary and trendsetter, something nobody has ever accused SAP of being - and let's face it: most SAP customers don't choose it for its HR offering, but usually for other business functions such as Finance and Manufacturing and then adopt HR which SAP still gives the impression of having developed as an afterthought.
What about the latest kid on the block: Workday? Although they are still missing recruitment and learning modules and are pretty thin on the localization front, they have unmistakably provided the kind of innovation not seen since the PeopleSoft days. And I'm talking here not only about their SaaS architecture (nobody has ever tried a SaaS payroll before) but also about their unique customer orientation which has all the marks of transforming the industry. However, it's still early days to say whether this promising young prince has come of age to claim the crown.
These three previous contenders are all ERP vendors (or integrated business systems to the layman.) What about HCM-only vendors? After all, when PeopleSoft came to the market it was an HR-only product which, even after it morphed into a full-fledged ERP, remained its flagship product. Could the new king come from the rank of pure HR players? In the US, Ultimate and Kronos, while established vendors with solid products, cannot be seriously considered as they fail on both the talent-management front and globalization. Neither can Lawson, too, whose half-hearted attempts at becoming a global vendor have been met with matching results.
Could it be that the next leading HR vendor would come from the Old Continent? After all, this is where SAP hails from. Spain's Meta4 was once upon a time close to being anointed as official heir with a revolutionary object model, full HCM offering, various localizations, a visionary knowledge-management approach. It had all the makings of a king in waiting until it f(l)oundered on a string of acquisitions, buyouts, management shakeouts from which it never recovered, happy to live off its established customer-base maintenance. IBM's high hopes in France-based HR Access never materialized and it sold it off to Fidelity which, eight years on, is still unable to develop it in its own home market of the US (Meta4 wasn't more successful there, either), and it remains mainly a payroll provider with limited HCM functionality and an old technology focusing on some European geographies.
What about outsourcing vendors? Taking a (smaller) leaf from the Oracle book, ADP has been beefing up its offering with various acquisitions, but it still remains to be seen how it will all play out and for the time being the Grand Old Lady of Roseland can only be considered as a long, long shot in the race to the top.
Casting our net wider in our search for this elusive king maybe that some talent-management vendors, the fastest growing segment of the HCM market, could grow into a mature HCM offering with all the thought leadership required to become the industry's leader. There are indeed some amazing products in this space. Will New Zealand's Sonar6 show that the sun indeed rises in the East? Although its performance product is one of the most innovative (with a truly impressive user interface) and the company one of the most creative around, it is way too niche to ever blossom into a full-fledged HCM offering, the key prerequisite to be considered as the leader. Only integrated talent-management vendors have the wherewithal to reach the throne, or at least the steps leading to it. Taleo? Could be, if it manages to integrate successfully its newly acquired learning offering and decides to develop an HR administration module. Will it bring something altogether new to the industry?
And here's the rub: none of these HCM suite/integrated talent-management vendors has really brought knock-out innovation, with the exception of Workday on the delivery model and, to some extent, customer relations. Here are some ideas that current or prospective vendors could consider:
1. What about a vendor that will rearchitect their offering, or build a new one, around a new HR data model that will bring a new way of managing employees, organizations, jobs and positions? Provide the flexibility and depth of functionality along with the ease of use required by 21st-century companies? Will SuccessFactors, a clear leader in the talent-management space (but still without a learning system) develop such a product that would be a marked enhancement on the old data design of "SOP" (SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft)?
2. What about bringing to the market a full HCM solution built along the lines of a social network? Just like when PeopleSoft introduced release 8.0 with a full internet interface: since most people were used to working with a browser why not give them an HR tool based on such an interface, was the thought then. Following the same thought process, wouldn't it be great to have an HCM solution that looks like Facebook or LinkedIn? After all, many key HR processes such as recruitment or career paths, are better done now using social networks than any other tool. (I'm not talking here about the collaboration features slapped by some vendors on their offering more for show than for substance, but of a full-fledged social HR)
3. Or a user experience ( à la Sonar6, say) or quality of service/support that will at long last reconcile vendors and users? There is little doubt in my mind that whoever manages to reinvent the long-broken dialog between software provider and users will be offered the crown by legions of enthusiastic customers disillusioned by years of poor service and lousy support.
4. What about open-source HR? So far, the only vendor that has gone down that road with some visibility has been OrangeHRM, but it still remains a very confidential offering and success for this model is far from assured. Or using Google features (such as Google Search Appliance) for a recruitment tool whose database is the whole internet: after all, most CV's are now available for anybody's perusal on the web. Wouldn't it be great to just enter some key words in your Google search box and you get a list of relevant candidates?
5. Maybe "mobilizing" HR: with a workforce increasingly mobile, maybe the market is ready for the first fully mobile HR offering. Again, as with social networks, I'm not talking here about redesigning a few screens so that users can fill their timesheets or do their expenses on their iPhone or Nokia (something which already exists), but having the full application written for smartphones. Just as people are spending more and more time on social networks so are they getting glued to their cell phones (even accessing the former through the latter.) What would be better than to give them the HR tools they need on their device of choice?
6. Anything else that my limited cognitive abilities have yet to envision?
It is obvious that an indisputable leader has yet to emerge and convincingly claim PeopleSoft's crown. The King is dead, long live the King...if we can find one!