Update: If Work Management is the Next Hot Trend, There Might Be A New Sheriff In Town

Seven days (5 business days) until HR Tech kicks off.  How did that happen?

Since I originally posted this, two interesting things have happened.  The morning after I published Workday blogged that they intend to release an app built on salesforce.com’s platform.  (see the blog post here)  The bulk of the post is about their current integration with the salesforce “Chatter” product, however at the end you’ll see the mention of the product development.  Secondly, the CEO of 4 Spires tells us, in the comments below, that they are about to announce an app on the salesforce platform that will be available via the salsforce.com App Exchange.

Both of these data points are interesting, and not surprising.  The people at Workday and 4 Spires are smart.   salesforce.com has been becoming a Cloud Computing platform for years, and does own the hearts and minds of many an IT department.  The fact that their platform is already licensed in so many companies very large, very medium, and very small makes the decision to purchase and implement a product built on the force platform that much easier for the HR organization.

What will be interesting to watch in the coming months:  Does Workday pull through on this intent?  Is 4 Spires really ready to support a salesforce app to the extent that is needed to be truly successful? It’s one thing to have an app on the App Exchange.  It’s another, completely, to be a strategic partner of salesforce and support them – They are an incredibly hungry partner, with a 100% sales culture.  To sign up to a partnership with salesforce is to commit resources and effort that most under-estimate.  They eat up their partner bandwidth quickly and constantly.  Otherwise, your app is just another of many available for users to browse through in an online marketplace.

The jury is still out, as far as I’m concerned, on “work management”… but, I can’t stress enough that I hope these vendors are on to something.

David Arella, CEO of 4 Spires, makes some great points below.  I haven’t met David yet, but he is clearly passionate about what 4 Spires is doing and his approach.  He wouldn’t be the first really smart entrepreneur to come from a shop like Apple and into this HCM market full of  ideas that make incredibly good business sense, but are just outside of the adoption curve for HR (does anyone know what ever happened to Entice Labs?)…  But at the same time, he wouldn’t be the first to come in and knock it out of the park.  Best of luck to him and 4 Spires.

 

Twelve days (7 business days) until HR Tech kicks off.

HR Tech is the event in the HCM market where new products get announced.  New technologies are unveiled.  All of our inner technology geeks become satisfied, at least for a few days.  We get a real sense of the industry trends at HR Tech.

Bill Kutik’s recent post about the Hottest Trends In HR Technology (this one being what he calls “work management”) really got me thinking.  Before I go on, I need to acknowledge two things:  Kutik defines a trend as, “three or more companies working on more or less the same idea, only vaguely aware of the others’ efforts.”, and nowhere does he predict success.  So, this is purely a view from the vendors’ lenses.  The implied assumption (yes, I understand that sounds dangerous) is that because several players in the space (large and small) are working on solving the same problem, that it is driven by market demand and that the vendors have done their homework (I know, I’m dancing around that danger line).

Humor me in this post.  Let’s assume that the vendors have it right.  That this is finally the solution-set that extends beyond the HR org and into the entire business.  Not just the business using the software, but engaging with the software.  User engagement – now that term is going to be kicked around Vegas (let’s all count how many times we hear that at #hrtech, I mean Zuckerberg just said it).

Stay with me.  We’re fantasizing that 4 Spires, Rypple, Workday, and SAP are all onto the Holy Grail of the HCM marketplace:  Engaging non-HR users across the Enterprise to manage their work, connect with their peers and managers, gain internal and external knowledge, etc.  If this assumption is valid, (here is the part where you have to really let go, folks) then there is a huge opportunity for salesforce.com to jump in and become a serious player in the Enterprise and Large Mid Market HCM space.  

Why? When you look at extending across the Enterprise, the reason it’s been such an incredible challenge for HR-centric applications is that they represent MORE WORK for the non-HR user.  If I’m an engineer, managing my projects on my desk top or in the cloud with my team – all of my essential “screen time” happens there.  If I’m in the sales, marketing, or service organizations managing the entire customer life-cycle in a suite of apps or in the cloud, all of my essential “screen time” happens there.  In my opinion (I know, still tap dancing on the risk line) it’s more likely for the reach to come from these systems where the work is getting done and getting tracked, into HR, than it is to come from HR into the line organizations.

salesforce.com has been extending from sales, into service, then marketing, and internal social networks via their core apps.  Key being their core apps.  They’ve extended into other areas:  HR, Recruiting, Expense Management, and ERP like capabilities (Project Management, Accounting/Finance, etc.) via their “App Exchange” .  Their big announcement at DreamForce this week was around new “Social Enterprise” capabilities – Connecting Employees, Customers, Projects, Products, etc. leveraging the customer’s database and the social graph.  Sounds a lot like “work management” doesn’t it?

They are already in this space folks –  they just don’t make a lot of noise.  Vendors like jobscience, that moved their native HR applications to the salesforce cloud, or those that were born on salesforce have been quietly growing and feeding off of the salesforce eco-system.  They don’t make a lot of noise at industry events – because, they don’t have to.  They just grow.

salesforce.com customers already have enterprise licenses or incredibly cost-effective per user pricing, internal expertise, and the ability to DEVELOP CORE APPS internally on the platform (read: be in the cloud and keep my programmers fully utilized).  It seems that if they stay on the course they are on now, they will quietly begin to pull business off of the table around what Kutik calls “work management”.  If they make one or two key acquisitions, or invest in a few partners – it might not be so quiet.  In fact it might get downright noisy for 4 Spires, Rypple, Workday, and SAP.

I asked you to humor me in this post, and if you’ve hung with me this far, I truly appreciate it.  Bill Kutik didn’t make any predictions, and neither am I.  It’s an observation based on the trend Kutik is writing about.  I am skeptical of “work management” being more than a trend in the vendor Engineering queue, but I’m hopeful that I’m just being curmudgeonly.   It would be huge for this space to start to deliver on the decades-old vision of empowering the enterprise.

What do you think?  Is work management the next “thing”?  Could salesforce.com have a shot?

 

 

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About glarocque

George LaRocque is the leading strategist and go-to-market consultant for HR-related technology and the human capital management (HCM) marketplace. He has personally launched market-leading HR technology brands to profitability, funding or both. He is the president of LAROCQUE, a go-to-market consultancy, the operator and organizer of the InfluenceHR Conference, and the publisher of the #hrwins reports on Innovation in HR Technology.

3 Responses to “Update: If Work Management is the Next Hot Trend, There Might Be A New Sheriff In Town”

  1. Mike 09/23/2011 at 7:22 am #

    Good blog, very interesting perspective. The key is to engage people without adding extra steps to their workflow (if possible). Keep it simple, ie communication tips and traps, is really all you need to get work done.

    It will be interesting to see Salesforce’s role in the space.

  2. David Arella 09/24/2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Thanks, George, for the stimulating post.

    As CEO of 4 Spires, I actually concur with your concerns whether this “trend” will be successful. These new approaches are certainly revolutionary (some even say radical), and “screen time” as you say is a critical success factor we’re also trying to address.

    But before I respond to those concerns I want to start with a comment on the underlying assumption you posited. You said “The implied assumption is that because several players in the space (large and small) are working on solving the same problem, that it is driven by market demand and that the vendors have done their homework.”

    Well… yes and no. As a long time system designer I am highly intent on listening to the “voice of the customer”. In my view, however, that voice consists of 3 different levels: (1) What the customer tells you s/he wants; (2) What the customer assumes you already should know about what s/he wants and so doesn’t explicitly tell you; and (3) What will excite the customer: things s/he never dreamed of, or thought possible, but you provided in anticipation of their needs. System builders with little experience in a given application, are likely to hear #1, but will get burned by #2 and miss #3. Chalk it up to values, perhaps, instilled during my 8 years at Apple, but for the last 20 years, I’ve been keen on pushing the envelope while attending to all three aspects. While we clearly perceive a need, 4 Spires is admittedly trying to introduce innovations into the HR technology space before the market asked for them. As a product innovator I put a lot of weight on the third aspect of the customer’s voice. We have indeed done a lot of “homework”, but I will admit up front that there is not a lot of market demand yet for what we’re doing. But isn’t this how all true innovations come to be?

    So…all of that said…let me get back to the primary concerns you raised. As an innovator I’m concerned with leading change. As a businessman I am deeply concerned with user adoption. Innovation is not always rewarded in the marketplace. To improve the odds, our product strategy is to offer similar “work management” systems on several different platforms simultaneously thereby trying to leverage the user’s current “screen time”. And, very interesting that you promote the idea that Salesforce may be a winning platform, we concur again. We have already developed a second version of our product that will be launched in the Salesforce AppExchange next week. It will be highlighted in the Salesforce monthly newsletter to subscribers. Other platform versions are also in the works.

    Finally, I concur with your conclusion that “It would be huge for this space to start to deliver on the decades-old vision of empowering the enterprise.” 4 Spires is banking on the idea that there are some forward-thinking organizations out there ready to embrace the next level of innovation in workforce management.

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