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Friday, October 7, 2011

Notes from a good conference in a tacky town

Can you tell the original one (which I can
see from my Paris home) from the fake one
which graced the view from my Mandalay
Bay hotel room? 
In my book High-Tech Planet  I called a chapter “The tackiest town on earth” because most of the action took place in Dubai.  Now that I have been to Las Vegas I have to revise my judgment: Sin City wins top honors (at least the runner up for the title has the Persian Gulf as an exotic background.) Thankfully I was too busy inside the Mandalay Bay Hotel complex with the 14th HR Technology Conference  to  wonder  about the meaning (if any) of creating a surreal city in the middle of the desert  or, to make an easy pun, wander about either.

One of the most eagerly awaited presentations was SAP’s debuting of its SaaS offering, Career On-Demand, the German software company’s reply to the smaller talent management vendors who have been eating its lunch in that market segment for the past half decade (but not available until Apr. 2012.)  Although there was no doubt that its user experience was an improvement on R/3 (in itself not an insurmountable task), I felt underwhelmed by what I saw. Even the Fusion features which Oracle demoed at its booth looked better. (By the way, anybody saw  the many Vegas cabs sporting “Oracle-#1 HCM” ads?) The LinkedIn import function in the new SAP product is good (but then other talent management vendors already offer it.) SAP is still playing catch up and it shows.  On the last day, Merck  explained in their presentation why they decided on Lumesse’s ETWeb system for their  100,000- strong merged companies’ performance management rather than SAP which they use as their HR system of record. Nothing I have seen so far is going to reverse the trend.

Speaking of Lumesse, on Day 1 of the conference, they announced their acquisition of Edvantage, a Norway-based Learning  vendor (acquisisition #11  this year in my count.) This makes them the fifth talent management -TM) vendor to offer the full gamut of TM functions, and so far the only European vendor to do so. Another European vendor that attracted quite some attention was Meta4 which many people had already buried regarding the American market, and who is staging a comeback, or at least attempt #2. Considering  their strengths there are few vendors who really deserve to  succeed the second time round in the land of the second chance.

Workday was again the vendor that attracted the most attention. Unsure, though, whether that was due to the fun dance they performed in their booth. In my two decades in the HR system business I  sure never thought that software updates  would make great lyrics nor make bodies gyrate to a catchy tune. (You can watch here the video.)  Their announcement of an alliance with NorthgateArinso (NGA) on multi-country payrolls was of more direct consequence to our business, though. Since many global customers are hesitating whether  to replace their current HCM vendor with one that only covers two countries, and all of them in North America, this alliance was only a question of time before it was announced. After all, the only other possible suitors were Oracle or SAP, direct competitors to Workday. NGA is a good compromise: its SAP-based offering (whether hosted, on-premise or outsourced) offers more  payroll localizations than any other vendor and the only issue now is the extent to which either vendor offers a decent out-of-the box connector to the other’s product (HR admin for Workday and the various payrolls for NGA).  Let’s watch closely how their first joint customer AIG fares under this arrangement.

I was more than gratified by the 100-120 who attended my session on Expanding to Europe. Based on the number of HR executives who came to talk to me or contacted me afterwards, going global is increasingly becoming  part and parcel of many HR projects. 

No HR  Technology Conference is complete without the vendor-sponsored parties. In spite of my 9-hour jetlag, I managed to drag myself to some of them on Monday night. I found the SilkRoad party quite cool, and the Cornerstone one friendly and fun (and quite young –some of their executives were not even born when some major products were launched.) I passed on the late evening’s big bash since by then all life had deserted me, and I barely managed to crawl back to my room.  

One last word on the location: in comparison with Chicago the facilities were better, and the fact that we could stay on the premises was an advantage. On the down side, the Mandalay Bay has all the charm of a crowded mall, with the most dreadful hotel-elevator experience I have ever had (one day there was a long line stretching back into the lobby.) And, of course, Chicago is an amazing place with great architecture, culture and a true lake to breathe some fresh air. It is also more easily reachable for most US-based attendees and even more so for the many Europeans who came. After this interesting experiment in Sin City I definitely vote for the conference to go back to the Windy City. 

(The original Eiffel Tower is the one on the left-hand side.) 

1 comment:

  1. Good summary from a globe-trotting expert -- thanks for your insights. And, it was good to actually meet you face to face! Lexy Martin