HR Technology

Thinking of strikes, it is easy to imagine coal miners, railway workers and automobile assemblers with shop stewards quoting Trotsky, Gramsci and Marcuse, and brandishing a well worn copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is a naive and foolish stereotype. As this example from Yahoo! shows,  industrial action is alive and well in the high tech industry. Valleywag reported on a strike at Yahoo in France.


(watch the video here if you dont see the embedded player)

Carol Bartz‘s lacerating eccentricity may captivate Silicon Valley, where she’s cutting costs left and right. Not so in Europe: When Yahoo tried to shut down operations in France, workers made this surreal, defiant video. And went on strike, naturally.Their point: Yahoo made about 1 million euros per worker from Yahoo France alone last year, and used to hype how “it’s important to have [locally] concentrated engineering activities… to innovate” in France, where it would base “one of [its] most important centers in Europe.” Yahoo France’s engineers will now stop working until Yahoo agrees that they shouldn’t have to stop working. At least they’re fact checking the internet company’s hype along the way.

(thanks Valleywag).

There is a  lesson for all “global” high tech companies. HR practices that work in the US don’t necessarily travel well. I have quite a bit of research in the pipeline on a related topic. I have seen global HR projects derailed because of worker and union opposition, forcing system redesigns and huge delays.

I’ll predict that the software industry will face increasing collective and industrial action. Social software makes it easier to organize and motivate around an issue, and create a strong collective even without the presence of a union. It makes it easy to reach the broader public too.  We have seen the power of the disgruntled customer using social media to mobilise support and opinion. Employees have access to the same tools and media. Executives of global software companies will need to get a lot more savvy about global HR issues. Gosh, that degree I did in Industrial Relations might actually be useful one day.

I’ve tried this metaphor on several client calls recently, so let me inflict it on you too.



via Flickr, the cc licence of Rodolfo Cartas thanks.

In this architecture, everything is from one vendor, and integration with third party applications is rather difficult. Typical ERP /HRMS pitch of the mid-nineties. Why do you need other software? We can do everything.



via Flickr,  the cc licence of C.S. 2.0 Thanks

Big core system, running most of the processes, with a series of smaller, tactical solutions interfaced around the edges.  Typical HR IT architecture of many ERP-Centric organizations today.  ERP runs the core transactions, with bits of SaaS tacked on around on the edges.



via Flickr,  the cc licence of law_keven Thanks

Small core system on premise, but most of the action takes place in the systems around the edges. Increasingly common as SaaS vendors continue to deliver richer functionality. Some challenges with integration, as there are many applications trying to connect to the core. 



via  Flickr, the cc licence of Gertrud K. Thanks

No significant core system, SaaS petals dominate.  Still very rare, but we expect to see more of these, challenging the traditional core and peripheral model. 

What sort of flower does your architecture represent?


(photo CC 2.o attribution, thanks to g-hat!)

World leaders are gathering in Pittsburgh to discuss banking reform and other pressing matters. According to the Guardian,  the discussions are likely to be rocky.

European leaders appeared to be on a collision course tonight with Barack Obama and Gordon Brown after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, warned that the G20 summit must not be diverted from clamping down on bankers’ bonuses and hedge funds.

The article continues.

Sarkozy has suggested that bankers’ pay should be capped at a certain percentage of their institution’s assets or revenue.

Fredrick Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister and current president of the European council, promised a “specific discussion” on bonuses including proposals for individual caps on bankers’ bonuses, that bonuses would be linked to achievement and not given if there were losses, and that there would be transparency on precise decisions taken by boards. “We from the EU will ask to be very clear on that” he said.

Putting aside the ethical and political debate, if Fredrick and Nicolas have their way, this would particularly riveting for anyone in the business of HCM software.

It looks to me this is a demand for an integrated employee goals / performance management, compensation and incentive compensation system that also integrates into a corporate performance and risk management system, combined with a significant dose of compliance reporting. 


Photo via the cc of sgt. PepperedJane. thanks!

To score well at Scrabble, you need to look at the score, not the just word. Long words across the board might look good, but unless they land on double or triples, you simply waste letters and open up the board for the others to score. Literary types like to think that they are good at Scrabble because they know lots of words and are well read, but Qi or QANAT aren’t something that even the most literary of souls come across in literature. To win at Scrabble you need to look at the numbers and the odds, know what letters have gone already, and have a mental database of short nasty words like ZO and XU. Sure, a love of words helps with Scrabble, but to score well, you need to engage the numeric side of your brain.

It may be stretching it a bit, but I think HR has a similar challenge.

To be a top HR professional, you do need to have empathy for people. It is probably what attracted you to the job in the first place. But if you are going to succeed you need to be analytical too. HR professionals that can see patterns beyond the incident, abstract the problems from the personal, and make the best move given the constraints  they have been dealt with, will have a real impact on shaping the business and their careers.

We are doing a lot of work at the moment on pattern based strategy here at Gartner (clients see this). I’m going to be exploring this is in an HR context later this year.  Extracting and analysing patterns out of the mass of data sources and conflicting signals. HR is going to get a lot more analytical.

I spoke with an organization the other day, they are re-implementing a core HR administrative system, because the implementation they did several years ago hasn’t had the take up from the HR department users. This puzzled me a bit. How come HR users can decide whether to use the corporate system or not?  Administrative Finance people don’t come into the office and say, “Today I’m not going to use the general ledger to process these journal entries, I’m going to use this access database that my cousin Mike built last weekend, because it has a much nicer UI and it has some cool fields I want.”

My regular readers will know that I’m doing lots of research into the impact of social software and user driven applications in an HR context, but there are some core applications and processes that need to be non-negotiable. Senior HR management need to put the discipline and governance in place to drive standard system usage. It doesn’t happen by magic.

It may well be that the earlier implementation of the standard HR system didn’t meet user needs, and the decision to re-implement makes sense. They have an experienced partner this time around, who has a pre-configured solution that has a good industry fit. The standard software’s latest release is improved.  They will use a proper formal project methodology. All goodness.

But I heard a couple of things in the discussion about the re-implementation that worried me in particular.

1. HR are too busy to dedicate resource to the project.

  If the user community for the application can’t dedicate resource, then don’t do the project.

2. The key user can only spend one day a week on the project.

One day a week on a project means you have a spectator at best.  Take the key people and put them full time on the project. Make their careers, bonuses and corporate happiness dependent on the success of the project. You need committed, not involved.

3. The key user is really technical. He can build the most amazing stuff in Access and Excel. It is great that you can find someone in HR that is interested in technology, but if he/she is the one who has built their empire in excel, you have some significant work to do to make them the champion of a standard application.

It sounds so obvious, but if this the system that will be supporting day to day HR activities for the next decade or two, then HR need to get their best and most motivated people on the project. Otherwise, IT should be spending their time elsewhere.

Jim and I published a first take on the SuccessFactors deal with Siemens. Gartner clients see Siemens to Provide Important SaaS Talent Management Test Case (G00168920), 15-JUN-2009.

Last week I suddenly felt like one of those people you meet in IT who keep telling you that computing hasn’t really changed since punchcards or Fortran, and that everything just repeats itself. Either that, or I had stumbled upon the flux capacitor. I shuddered briefly.

Let me explain myself.

Just after I joined SAP in the mid-nineties, PeopleSoft won a significant deal at Siemens. This really shook SAP up, and led to significant investment in the HR part of R/3, especially for the global market.

Then PeopleSoft stumbled, sucked into the joyous complexity of German payroll.

A few years later, SAP won back large parts of the account. I didn’t really realise it at the time, but SAP was pretty agile in its response to the loss. It had long term positive benefits for SAP’s HR product.

At first sight this month’s win for SuccessFactors seems remarkably similar.

But history doesn’t always come around the same way. For history to repeat itself here, three things need to happen:

1. SuccessFactors stumbles.

2. SAP delivers a comparable offering via SaaS

3. SAP convinces Siemens to change back.

SuccessFactors today is more globally aware than PeopleSoft was in the mid-nineties, and it has the chance to learn from history. It has a broad European customer base, and well established operations here. It is also steering clear of German payroll.

In the mid-nineties, R/3 was already on the way to dominating the client/server ERP market. Today SAP is dabbling with SaaS in various forms, but I do wonder if it will react to this with the same agility and focus that it did back then. Also, the Siemens of today is different from the Siemens then.

Earlier this year I wrote a note about the SAP German HR congress ( Gartner clients see) Observations From SAP’s German HR Congress (G00165965), 06-MAR-2009 One of the things I said was.

“German organizations are in a good position. SAP perceives that it has significant competition in the talent management space and is strengthening its products, while best-of-breed vendors see an opportunity to gain an increased foothold in the market. There is nothing like a DAX 30 company selecting a best-of-breed vendor to focus the minds of SAP management and its development organization, as no organization likes to lose at home.

We will be watching with interest.




The best job in the world campaign from the Queensland government has gone brilliantly. It created masses of publicity for the barrier reef, on prime time TV, in the press, and across the full spectrum of social media.  It won best advertising campaign of the year.

According to my favourite newspaper, the Guardian.

A PR coup for Australian tourism, the whole campaign has generated around A$148m (£73m) worth of publicity for northern Queensland. In a clever piece of marketing and timing, they sent out news of the concept on a dreary Sunday afternoon in Britain, and subsequently the idea of a job reclining on a beach in Australia promptly received a prominent news slot in Monday morning’s papers

British Charity worker, Ben Southall landed the job, beating out 35.000 applicants.

There are a number of technical innovations that are worth noting for those of us involved in recruitment and recruitment software. Strong use of video based CV/Resume, Viral campaign, Voting, Community, multiple social media channels, psychometric testing…

I could pick up on those here, but I think there is a more important point here for recruiters and HR folks. Do you align your recruiting strategy with your overall branding strategy? Can you turn your recruiting strategy into a brand advantage? What does your  recruitment process say about your brand?  Do you work closely with marketing to position the employee brand in the broader branding strategy?  Do you measure the impact of your recruiting strategy on your brand?  Can you clearly articulate why someone should want to work for your organization?

If your organisation is skeptical about the power of social software and the web,  then you could do worse than remind them of this campaign.

If anyone has any details on the technology platforms used to manage the application process and the selection, I’d love to hear from you. What innovative recruitment strategies have you seen? Do let me know. please.


photo. My bike. In Italy last summer

As my readers here know, I enjoy long distance cycling. Throughout the warmer months of the year, I try and get out on my bicycle most days. I normally train for a big event, involving some big hills, so that I have a goal to aim for. I do my best thinking on my bike. Pain somehow helps clear the brain.

It also means I can talk about bicycle components and bore people to death at will.

I had a quick trip to the US last week, and because of meetings, I couldn’t fly out on Friday evening. So I got to sneak in a quick ride with some friends before I flew back on Saturday lunchtime.  I packed my cycling shoes, pedals and a helmet, and Mark kindly lent me a bike. It was easy to plug my pedals onto his spare bike.  Standards in the physical world just seem to work, unlike those in software.

It was a much better way to spend a Saturday morning than trawling a mall, or doing email in the airport lounge. We rode through the pretty rolling hills between Woodside and Redwood, just south of San Francisco. 6 months ago, it would have been a gentle spin, but I felt it in my legs and lungs by the time we got back.  Putting it simply, I’m not as fit as I was then. That fitness that I worked at constantly through last spring, summer and autumn has faded.  This was a sharp reminder that last year’s efforts matter very little this year. Now that the days are a bit longer, I need to find time to get out on the bike again. Use it or lose it.

What has this got to do with payroll?

Well, quite a lot.

A payroll also gets out of shape very quickly if you don’t focus on regular maintenance, much more so than most other systems. Rules and laws change often, as governments add new layers of regulation. New laws and taxes often make what worked perfectly last year no longer valid. When looking at HR systems and especially payrolls, you need to ask the tough questions. Getting payroll fit isn’t easy, but staying payroll fit is even harder.  Look your vendor in the eye. Figure out whether they are just selling you the bicycle or whether they will help keep you in shape.

Regular readers will know this is one of my regular themes. HR,  analytics and a bit of cricket.

Tom Davenport, over on his Harvard blog, picks up on how HR could learn from Basketball.

How do analytics spread in sports? It usually starts with a few individuals who have seen their application in other domains (Daryl Morey of the Rockets, for example, was a fan of Bill James, the baseball stats Geek of Geeks), and figures they will work in a new context. Some like-minded rich people bankroll the experimentation (in the Rockets’ case, owner Leslie Alexander), and the team starts to perform pretty well (Houston had a 22-game winning streak last year despite injuries to key players). New metrics get developed–both by teams and amateurs outside them. Then other teams catch on. The last time I checked about a year ago, roughly half of NBA teams had statisticians on staff.

I wonder how many HR department have statisticians on their staff?

As a boy I wasn’t good enough to be in the cricket team, so I ended up being the scorer. I enjoyed it, and since then I have had an interest in how to measure performance. My German friends think it very odd that I can derive enjoyment from following a text based cricket commentary for 5 days, but anyway. There is beauty in these numbers (unless you are an Australian cricket fan).


  I’m continuing to focus on HR analytics in my research, I recently did a note on absence management. Absence  costs UK organizations 3% of payroll, yet less than 50% of organizations measure or analyse it.  Time to train up a few scorers I think.


photo from vapours cc flickr. thanks.

A significant portion of my job looks at the impact of social software on organizations, especially the HR related space.  Make no mistake, social software is making a impact on HR processes, whether HR departments get it or not. Some do some don’t.  There is a lot of innovative stuff going on, and I hope to see more HR departments using it. And twitter is one of those tools that can play a role in modern HR collaboration.

Anyway, on a lighter note,  I’m most impressed with the complete works of Shakespeare on twitter.  (hat tip JP)  my favourites:

Merchant of Venice. MoV: A greedy lender loses out due to a poorly-phrased contract, women practice law in drag & w/out licenses, and lovers are united.

Henry V HV: Bad-ass Henry V kicks France’s butt with a rag-tag army, many long-bows, and excellent speeches. Henry then marries a French princess.

MacBeth M: Kingship is just not in the cards for an ambitious and superstitious Scotsman.

Hamlet  H: Mommy issues are just the beginning for a prince with a murdered father and new Uncle/Step-dad. Most everybody ends up dead.

For those of you on Facebook, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice  as a Facebook group is  unmissable.

Yes, these are a lot of fun. 

Composing and reducing ideas in to 140 characters or less is not always easy, but constraints are not always detrimental. Powerful constraints often create powerful results.

The constraints of the tombstone size mean that Epitaphs have to be relatively short.  This doesn’t weaken their poignancy, but strengthens it.


(from wikipedia)

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.

Simonides‘s epigram at Thermopylae

Constraints can be goodness.  In decades to come, a very very very very small  portion of tweets will be revered as much as an e.e.cummings poem. My tweets won’t! But in the meantime it is a very good way to stay connected and meet interesting people.

  You can follow me here.

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