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Speaking Engagements

UPCOMING
HR Tech, Las Vegas, 10/8-10/2014
HR Tech Europe, Amsterdam, 10/23-24/2014

PAST BUT AVAILABLE FOR REPLAY
Workday Predict and Prepare Webinar, 12/10/2013
CXOTalk: Naomi Bloom, Nenshad Bardoliwalla, and Michael Krigsman, 3/15/2013
Drive Thru HR, 12/17/12
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #110, 8/12
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Business Value," 5/3/12 Audio/Whitepaper
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Predict and Prepare," 12/7/11
HR Happy Hour - Episode 118 - 'Work and the Future of Work', 9/23/11
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #87, 9/11
Keynote, Connections Ultimate Partner Forum, 3/9-12/11
"Convergence in Bloom" Webcast and accompanying white paper, sponsored by ADP, 9/21/10
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #63, 9/10
Keynote for Workforce Management's first ever virtual HR technology conference, 6/8/10
Knowledge Infusion Webinar, 6/3/10
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Predict and Prepare," 12/8/09
Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Preparing to Lead the Recovery," 11/19/09 Audio/Powerpoint
"Enterprise unplugged: Riffing on failure and performance," a Michael Krigsman podcast 11/9/09
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #39, 10/09
Workday SOR Webinar, 8/25/09
The Bill Kutik Radio Show® #15, 10/08

PAST BUT NO REPLAY AVAILABLE
Keynote, HR Tech Europe, Amsterdam, 10/25-26/12
Master Panel, HR Technology, Chicago, 10/9/012
Keynote, Workforce Magazine HR Tech Week, 6/6/12
Webcast Sponsored by Workday: "Building a Solid Business Case for HR Technology Change," 5/31/12
Keynote, Saba Global Summit, Miami, 3/19-22/12
Workday Rising, Las Vegas, 10/24-27/11
HR Technology, Las Vegas 10/3-5/11
HR Florida, Orlando 8/29-31/11
Boussias Communications HR Effectiveness Forum, Athens, Greece 6/16-17/11
HR Demo Show, Las Vegas 5/24-26/11
Workday Rising, 10/11/10
HRO Summit, 10/22/09
HR Technology, Keynote and Panel, 10/2/09

Adventures of Bloom & Wallace

a work in progress

Annual Reprise — Father’s Day Thoughts: Remembering Jack Samuel Bloom

Yahrzeit Candle

Yahrzeit Candle

[When I wrote the original version of this post for Father's Day 2010, I never planned to update and then reprise this post annually.  But as each Father's Day has approached, my sense of loss increases.  I so wish my Dad were still here to share with me and my sister the laughter and tears of everyday living.  And, now that I can afford to do it, with my time and not just money, I would so love to spend more time with him, hearing the stories of his childhood as well as of mine.  Ron and I have large paintings of our two fathers above a archway in our home built for this purpose, and they are very much with us in spirit.  They lived at opposite ends of the country, could not have come from more different backgrounds, and they only met a couple of times in their lives.  But I know they would be very happy playing pinochel with each other wherever they may be now.  ]

My father, Jack Samuel Bloom, was in many respects quite an ordinary man.  But from my Dad I inherited:

  • his ability to tell a good story, to make a point while making you laugh;
  • his commitment to active friendship, the kind of friendship that does what you need even when you don’t know you need it;
  • his belief that any day on which you wake up is already a good day, that the gift of life is too precious to waste; and
  • his habits of meticulous book-keeping, calendar-keeping, and commitment-keeping.

From my Dad I also inherited his love of reading and the sheer joy of opening a new book.  Later I discovered that for me, being rich meant being able to buy any book I wanted to read and never having to browse in second-hand bookshops unless I was looking for treasure.  Jewish families like ours, in the early 50′s, bought their children a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia, one volume at a time on a payment plan that they could scarcely afford, so that their children would be better educated than they were.  I remember my Dad reading that encyclopedia cover to cover, Aardvark to Zebra, even the boring bits (and there were many such), and perhaps that’s where I also learned that reading some books was about more than having the pleasure of meeting their words.

My Dad taught me to swim almost before I could walk by carrying me on his back as he swam from the gentle shores of White Sands Beach, in Old Lyme, Connecticut to the floating raft in the waters of Long Island Sound.  I’ve loved swimming and being in/around the water ever since.  I have no fear of the ocean’s waves and can still feel his support whenever I’m over my head.  But I can also remember his advice when it came to swimming in open, choppy water:  “keep your mouth closed.”  Words to live by in many of life’s “choppy water” situations.

We buried my Dad on my 50th birthday.  He spent just a few days in hospital, having not been ill before his unexpected collapse just as I was about to deliver a presentation at the 1995 SAPPHIRE conference in Phoenix.  To my Dad’s funeral came many hundreds of people we didn’t know whom he had helped, quietly, without ever being asked.  In his retirement, he had “adopted” older members of our synagogue who needed rides to doctors’ appointments, help paying their bills, or just an hour’s companionship.  Without the financial means of major philanthopy, he found the means for active philanthropy, through the gift of his own time and caring.

By the time I launched my own business in 1987, the cost of long distance calls, so daunting when I first left home in ’63, were much more affordable, and I called him most days in the late afternoon even when I was onsite with clients (which was most of the time in those early days).  Those calls always started with:

  • Dad: How’s business?
  • Naomi: Business is great.
  • Dad: Are your clients paying their bills on time?
  • Naomi: Yes, they sure are.
  • Dad: Are their checks clearing the bank?
  • Naomi: Absolutely.

When you know that those early clients were firms like Bank of America, Hewlett Packard and International Paper, something my Dad certainly knew, this ritual opening to our calls goes from being merely odd to very odd, unless you also know that being a small retailer all his life shaped forever my Dad’s view of Accounts Receivable.

From there we’d go on to the events of his and my day, and to what was happening across the Bloom family and the larger Jewish community in which I grew up.  I don’t remember my Dad ever calling me — long distance calls were for emergencies only among his generation — but I know he loved my calls because he reported on them to the group of men with whom he ate breakfast every day at a local deli.

I’ve always said yahrzeit for my Dad at the appropriate times in our Jewish calendar, and I think of him every day, but I miss him especially on Father’s Day.  If you’re lucky enough to still have your Dad, don’t wait for Father’s Day to call him.  And if you are a Dad, the gift of your time, of your self, is so much more important than anything you could ever buy with your money.

Reprise 2014: SAP, SAP, Wherefore Art Thou SAP?

SAP Founders 1988 -- Klaus Tschira On The Left

SAP Founders 1988 — Klaus Tschira On The Left

[The first version of this post was published May 25th, 2013 during the run-up to SAPPHIRE NOW 2013 and very shortly after SAP announced Lars Dalgaard's departure and Vishal Sikka's increased responsibilities -- and very important responsibilities they were.  Now here we are, nearly one year later, with Vishal gone, Bill McDermott as solo CEO, Shawn Price gone, Mike Ettling now head of SaaS and on-premise HCM, and so many more organizational changes which you can read about by skimming a year's worth of SAP's press releases.  Unfortunately, on careful rereading, the post below seems just as relevant now as it was then.  So, with just a few corrections for clarity and clearly marked additions to reflect a year's passage, I bring you my continuing concerns about SAP.  In the spirit of full disclosure:  SAP has not been a client in many years, and then my work with them was quite limited.  However I have worked with many of their direct HCM competitors, including Workday, ADP, Ceridian, and Ultimate.]

I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for SAP.  When I published my first (and thus far only) 700+ page book in 1994 (“Human Resource Management and Information Technology: Achieving A Strategy Partnership”), Klaus Tschira, one of SAP’s founders, became a big fan of my work, and me of his.

Early on, Klaus understood and believed in the power of object models and object-oriented development as well as in the importance of strategic HRM (so going a lot further than making merely administrative improvements in HRM), and he translated those views into SAP’s HCM products over the many years that he led HCM product strategy and development.  Our friendship started because we were simpatico when it came to enterprise software.

But it was while I was in Phoenix in 1995 to speak at SAPPHIRE that I was the beneficiary of Klaus’ great humanity.  My father collapsed while I was at SAPPHIRE, and I raced home to be with him.  Klaus gave my presentation for me, making sure that I didn’t feel I was dropping the ball on him and SAP, for which I will always be grateful.  My Dad never regained consciousness, but I was with him and able to support my sister and Mom through the difficult end-of-life decisions facing us — and to do so without any professional guilt.  So, even when I’m being critical of some aspect of SAP’s products, leadership, business practices, etc., I’m rooting for their survival and success.

Therefore, amidst all the discussion yesterday [added 5-31-2014: as well as over the last month] about the latest major organizational changes at SAP (and there have been many such over the years I’ve been following SAP), I kept looking for the silver lining.  No surprise that Lars decided to leave as many had predicted this.  And no surprise that SAP is betting on HANA; what else should they do?  Sad that their track record with HCM business leaders has been so poor, but it’s even sadder that there are so few highly visible women in SAP’s executive ranks [updated 6-1-2014 with many thanks to Jarret Pazahanick: there is now one, Ingrid-Helen Arnold].  But what really troubled me was that, not only via SAP’s own communications but also across the twitterverse and blogosphere, there was very little discussion of what SAP really needs to do in order to restore this giant of the last generation of business applications to being a successful competitor for the next generation.  And while I tweeted my thoughts on this yesterday, I felt they deserved a blog post of their own.

I believe that SAP needs a coherent, integrated and comprehensive next generation true SaaS applications strategy across all their product domains, and then to have delivered on this yesterday.  And since delivery yesterday isn’t possible, then they need to deliver on this at the earliest possible moment.  While innovative development platforms and databases are powerful and potentially disruptive, applications still run the world.  And with today’s expectations of embedded analytics, mobile delivery, built-in collaboration and social everything, the speed of in-memory applications as well as analytics is needed to unleash the predictive analytics which are our collective future requires.  So, as SAP’s huge installed base of on-premise customers, but more importantly customers lacking the needed applications foundations for success in the 21st century, make the move to “Blooming SaaS” in order to reap the significant business benefits of doing so, SAP must be ready to compete AGAIN for every single one of these customers.

Once upon a time, Business ByDesign was supposed to be that next generation, but that doesn’t seem to have panned out, and ByD has been relegated to the lower end of the market after much architectural reworking and without a very strong HRMS/TM capability.  And then, after buying the very expensive SuccessFactors, we were told that SAP’s next generation true SaaS offering would be some combination of SuccessFactors for TM, a greatly upgraded and rearchitected Employee Central (and the metadata framework thus introduced has been a very good start) for HRMS, a hosted rendition of SAP’s workhorse global payroll (now rebranded “cloud” payroll), some extrapolation of ByD’s financials and many more bits and pieces that lay well beyond my areas of expertise.  But in my opinion, that’s not good enough.  SAP’s customers, and SAP itself, deserve a lot more.

I think it’s [added 5-31-2014: long past] time for SAP to pick an architecture, development platform, database, object models and everything else that’s needed in the foundation and then to bring to market a whole new applications suite.  If HANA Cloud Platform is that architecture, development platform, database and more of the needed foundation, that would be terrific.  But even if that’s true, even if everything else we need as to effective-dating, inheritance, security, etc. etc. is contained within the HANA cloud platform, even if HANA provides a fully models-driven, metadata-rich, definitional development environment, there’s still a lot of heavy lifting needed to develop next generation object models across all the applications domains served by SAP.  And then those next generation applications must be reincarnated or built fresh on top of those object models on the HANA Cloud Platform.

That sounds like a ton of work, so I’m hoping that much of this is already done and just needs some pulling together.  [Added 5-31-2014: But my much more knowledgeable colleagues, who follow SAP more broadly and deeply than I do, don't appear to think that SAP is anywhere close to achieving what I believe they must.]  Wherever SAP is on the road to fulfilling the next generation dreams of their current customers and of the market, there’s not a moment to lose.  As for me, I’m hoping yesterday’s [added 5-31-2014: or all the latest SAP] organizational changes make this happen ASAP.

Hidden Talent

As some of you know from my tweets, I tap danced last night as part of a very special adaptation of a classic Fibber McGee and Blog -- Tap Dancing FeetMolly radio show at our annual fundraiser, Radio Daze: OnStage With Florida Rep.  It was quite a night, a successful and really fun evening, with many thanks to the Board members, staff and volunteers who made it happen.

There really wasn’t a rehearsal of my act as we ran out of time in a very busy pre-event scramble, so no one, including me, had a clue if I would make a total fool of myself, fall down go boom (although there were several doctors in the audience had I needed resuscitation), or put on a show.  Well, I survived my dance number by shortening it gracefully, and I’d like to think that my efforts helped inspired the spontaneous donations, but my 30 seconds of fame aren’t the subject of this post.  For that, we need to go back a few years.

At a Florida Rep Board retreat (I’ve been a proud Board member for many years), we did a team building exercise in which each member had to tell the others a few things about themselves that no one was likely to know.  In addition to getting to know each other a little better, those stories revealed a lot of hidden talents.  Through those stories and the conversations that followed, I learned that one member speaks Armenian, another’s mother and father were jailed in South Africa for their anti-Apartheid work when she was still a schoolgirl, and one of the others is a pretty impressive ballroom dancer (something I can confirm first hand after last night).  As for me, I sang in folk clubs in the 60′s, owned half of a BMW R69S and rode it all over the UPenn campus in spite of not being able to reach the ground from the seat by giving total strangers with long legs a ride on the back, and had been thrown out of tap dancing classes as a young girl (in spite of those classes being taught by a cousin) for being disruptive.

All of that hidden talent was only revealed when someone got us talking about it.  Would I have put such items on LinkedIn?  Probably not, because they wouldn’t have struck strike me as job-related.  But last night, in the interests of raising money for our nationally-reviewed professional theater, in doing my job as a Board member, I pulled out that hidden talent and let ‘er rip.  And that got me thinking about what other hidden talents lay forgotten or simply not uncovered and never recorded because, at the time, they don’t seem job-related.

LinkedIn does provide sections to capture our philanthropic activities and other interests, but without classifying the related capabilities with endorsements, how easily are they searched?  And what about your enterprise talent management processes and systems?  Are they designed to tease out your workforce’s otherwise hidden talents?  Do you have the conversations with colleagues that are needed to learn not only how well they’re equipped to perform the obvious requirements of their jobs but also what else they might be able to do if an appropriate situation arose?  Reviewing this post with The Wallace brought forth the suggestion that LinkedIn and enterprise talent management systems provide places to capture “things we’re able to do but hope no one discovers,” “things we’re able and willing to do if compensated appropriately,” and “things we once did which are now legal/culturally acceptable/in demand for which our KSAOCs could be resurrected.”  KSAOCs on steroids!

I don’t know if last night was the start or the finish of my tap dancing career, but I’m more committed than ever to ferreting out the potentially useful hidden talents of friends and colleagues.  Of course, there are some talents that should definitely remain hidden, and tap dancing may have been one such of mine.

Smart Machines/Robotics — Implications For HRM/HRTech — Where Do I Begin?

Hi, I'm Naomi, Your HR Tech SmartyPants Robot

Hi, I’m Naomi, Your HR Tech SmartyPants Robot

Last week I was privileged to deliver a presentation to the top women execs at ADP about the future of HR and HR technology.  Sounds straightforward enough, but it wasn’t.  My presentation wrote itself, and it demanded that I title it: ” A Tale of Two Futures.”

One of those futures I described as extrapolative, and one I described as discontinuous, all of which I’ll describe in a later post.  But the place to start this discussion and series of posts on the impact I believe smart machines and robotics will have on the world of work and on the workforce, not to mention on the HR profession and HR departments, is with the highest level business planning HRM considerations that I’ve been writing/speaking/consulting about since the mid-1980′s.  [Note: For those of you who have worked with the IP I've licensed across our industry, the next section should be familiar.]

Until recently, one major thread running through within this business planning process, which connects HRM planning to organization planning, went something like this (clearly this is a massive over-simplification, and my HRM object model notes here go on for many, many pages):

  1. What is the nature of the work that must be done to create our products/services?
  2. What are the KSAOCs (knowledge, skill, ability and other deployment-related characteristics — my very own term — which humans may possess and which are) needed to do this work?
  3. Would we be better off (in terms of costs but also quality, risks, time to market, environmental impacts, and many other factors) doing this work within our organization or buying the results of this work from a 3rd party?
  4. For that work which we think is best done by a 3rd party and purchased as results, what are the best mechanisms/sources/terms and conditions/etc. for purchasing this work as results?
  5. For that work which we think is best done within our organization, will we be better off (again, in terms of costs but also quality, risks, time to market, environmental impacts, and many other factors) using legal employees (legal here isn’t referring to the specific legal requirements of any particular country — that comes later — but rather the broader definition of employee, which is always defined at the country level) versus contingent workers?
  6. For that work which is best done in-house but via contingent workers, what are the best mechanisms/sources/terms and conditions/etc. for contracting with and onboarding effectively(yup! the old days of leaving all of this to procurement are long gone, and we know now that HR must be involved deeply in the whole life cycle of these workers) the necessary contingent workers?
  7. For that work which is best done in-house via legal employees, what are the best sources/terms and conditions/etc. for hiring and onboarding effectively the necessary legal employees?
  8. …. tons more but that’s enough for now.

Now this same business planning process looks different in some very important ways (again, a massive over-simplification):

  1. What is the nature of the work that must be done to create our products/services?
  2. What are the KSAOCs (knowledge, skill, ability and other deployment-related characteristics — my very own term — but with a definitional change to make clear that these KSAOCs are independent of their delivery mechanism, which could be human or not) needed to do this work?
  3. Would we be better off (in terms of costs but also quality, risks, time to market, environmental impacts, and many other factors) doing this work within our organization or buying the results of this work from a 3rd party?
  4. For that work which we think is best done by a 3rd party and purchased as results, what are the best mechanisms/sources/terms and conditions/etc. for purchasing this work as results?
  5. For that work which we think is best done within our organization, will we be better off (again, in terms of costs but also quality, risks, time to market, environmental impacts, and many other factors) using legal employees (legal here isn’t referring to the specific legal requirements of any particular country — that comes later — but rather the broader definition of employee, which is always defined at the country level) versus contingent workers versus smart machines versus humanoid robots?
  6. For that work which is best done in-house but via contingent workers, what are the best mechanisms/sources/terms and conditions/etc. for contracting with and onboarding effectively(yup! the old days of leaving all of this to procurement are long gone, and we know now that HR must be involved deeply in the whole life cycle of these workers) the necessary contingent workers?
  7. For that work which is best done in-house via legal employees, what are the best sources/terms and conditions/etc. for hiring and onboarding the necessary legal employees?
  8. For that work which is best done in-house via smart machines, what are the best sources, terms and conditions/etc. for acquiring and onboarding (yes, there are some very minimal onboarding steps needed, e.g. human involvement in “feeding the beast” in the way that IBM’s Watson requires knowledge owners to educate it, but more about that in a later post in this series) the necessary smart machines, most of which effort is best left to procurement because these smart machines are mostly categorized as “plant & equipment?”
  9. For that work which is best done in-house via humanoid robots, what are the best sources, terms and conditions/etc. for acquiring and onboarding (and here there’s much more of an onboarding story than with merely smart machines, e.g. showing our new best friend around the facility, assigning it to a team and to specific tasks, ensuring it has the necessary security to access facilities as it moves around doing those tasks, etc.) the necessary humanoid robots?
  10. …. tons more but that’s enough for now.

I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot, and from as many angles as my Talmudic training suggests, and I’ll be writing a lot more in this series.  But for now, this is probably enough to send jolts through every HR professional and HRM object modeler among the mishpocheh.  Indeed, the robots are coming, and HR had better think about what role the want/need to take where R2D2 is concerned.

 

My 2014 And Beyond Wish List For HRM And HR Technology

[I posted my first such wish list 1/29/2013, and just writing it lifted my spirits.  So, I thought to myself, why not do it again?]

Carnac In Bloom

Carnac In Bloom

If any of us really knew what was going to happen in 2014, wouldn’t we keep it to ourselves and invest accordingly?  Furthermore, anyone worth their salt in the industry thought leader/observer/influencer game is living under zillions of non-disclosures and embargoes, making any attempt at predictions  fraught with potential legal peril as stuff you’re not allowed to know seeps into the part of your brain that’s doing the predicting.  And just predicting something that’s an obvious extrapolation from what any fool can see doesn’t seem worthy of the Great Carnac turban.

So, although I love reading everyone else’s predictions, especially those which paint cogent pictures of technology and/or competitive landscapes while providing a ton of useful context for making their predictions, I’m continuing to focus my energies on what I want to happen.  What would I make happen if my magic wand, bought years ago at FAO Schwarz, could be recharged?  What would I ask him to do if The Wallace really could perform magic?  How would I change the practice of HRM and HR technology, and the KSAOCs of the relevant professionals,  if I were a (hopefully benign) dictator?  What would the all knowing, all seeing Carnac the Magnificent do if she were in charge?

This could have become a very long list of changes I’d like to make in “life, the universe and everything,”  but I’ve tried to control myself and focus solely at the intersection of HRM and IT.  Thus, I’ve left out whole swaths of desireable changes in technology (like wishing that Microsoft would develop a sensible object model for the contacts functionality in Outlook, e.g. so that folks could have seasonal addresses and households could be grouped together with email and mobile info by person), in business (like wishing that the financial executive thieves who stole our financial security in the great recession would go to jail and that politicians who lie would branded with a giant L on their foreheads), in society (like wishing for freedom and democracy to spread as quickly as do certain diseases simply through intimate contact), and in my personal life (like wishing I were tall/thin/blond/likely to live 100 years), and so many more types of wishes.  But I digress.

For the record, here is my short list of wishes for my professional world.  From now on:

  1. No one will call themselves an HRM business analyst or product manager unless they came pretty close to my view of the needed KSAOC profile for that role.  If you think this is a worthy goal, here’s my profile (now a little dated but still a good place to start).
  2. No one will call themselves an HR systems professional unless they had gotten their hands dirty developing custom or packaged software, configuring business rules in custom or packaged software, modeling the objects and then bringing them to life via definitional development, managing effective-dated meta-data, or similar.  It’s really not enough to have mastered some report-writer and to know the names and UX color schemes of all the vendors.
  3. No HRM software vendor will deliver so flawed an underlying data design or object model that even I can identify three significant flaws in the first ten minutes of their demo.  And that means getting job and position right, incorporating contingent workers and community members (as in collaboration communities) everywhere they belong (and no where that they don’t belong), and providing for the inherently recursive nature of work unit, work location, KSAOCs and more.  I really am going to out the very next vendor of new software (and here I’m trying to be sensitive to the fact that much legacy software doesn’t — although it should — pass muster when it comes to how well the underlying object model supports 21st century HRM), no matter for what intended target market, which is a throwback to the flawed data designs of yesteryear.  I REALLY AM!
  4. No analytics will be presented to innocent managers, employees, executives or others not previously bludgeoned into understanding crap data unless the underlying data on which it’s based is clean.  Furthermore, all analytics, with just a click/touch/point/smile, will be explained in terms of how they’re derived, what the results mean/could mean, and what to do to address those results, with these layers of explanation pushed or pulled appropriately based on what the customer is trying to do.
  5. All HR leaders will be the very model of a modern HR leader who understands how to select and deploy technology to support HRM’s responsibilities for driving business outcomes.  If you think this is a worthy goal, here’s my “starter kit.”
  6. Vendors who dissemble about or obfuscate their business strategy, product capabilities and roadmaps, or in other aspect of their answers to prospect/customer questions will experience the full impact of liar, liar, pants on fire.  And that includes throwing FUD at the competition, persuading prospects/customers to a course of action that serves the vendor better than it does that buyer organization, and pretending (in the face of all evidence to the contrary) that their first priority is serving their prospects/customers/market when they’re really serving Mammon.
  7. All prospects/customers who are ill-prepared, ill-informed, ill-mannered etc. in their interactions with vendors will experience the buyer equivalent of liar, liar, pants on fire via an Emperor has no clothes video gone viral on YouTube.  Buyers who haven’t a clue about their real business needs, who insist on zillion line item RFPs, who abdicate all responsibility to so-called consultants (unless they pass my tests 1 & 2 above with flying colors), and so much more, and especially those who don’t know the difference between great software/vendors and merely mediocre ones, deserve exactly what they get — and that’s exactly what they will get via my wish list.
  8. No one will call themselves analyst/influencer/thought leader/etc. unless they actually conduct objective research from which they draw and publish analysis (for analyst), actually have some demonstrated influence on the behavior of HR professionals and/or HRM vendors (and influence isn’t measured by Twitter followers or blog post readers but by actual changed in behavior attributable to your work), actually product meaningful insights or other forms of thought leadership that are respected widely.  In my wishful thinking neighborhood at the intersection of HRM and IT, we’ll have very high standards for what we expect in the work of those who want us to think of them as analysts, influencers and/or thought leaders.
  9. No one will “paint the roses red,” e.g. by calling whatever they’re selling SaaS, integrated, or effective-datedVocabulary does shape our thinking, and in my wishful thinking world, words will have meanings that are more concrete than jello.
  10. The impact on work and workers of advances in automation and robotics will be anticipated by industry and governmental leaders such that we will be able to balance the needs of organizations to take full advantage of the cost savings and performance enhancements from the best of technology and the needs of society to minimize the negative impacts from these same advances in technology.

Writing this wish list has been totally cathartic.  Having made every conceivable mistake in my career, not to mention having been ignorant on so many occasions, I know how hard it will be to achieve even a good start on accomplishing my wish list.  But just because something is really hard to achieve doesn’t mean we should give up, because this is important.  With $$$ pouring into HR technology and executives finally realizing that effective HRM really does matter, these next few years will be our best opportunity to realize my wish list.  So, just like in losing weight (but that’s another set of wishes on which my track record is VERY spotty), the journey begins with that first step.  And I hope to see all of you along the road to HRM and HR technology nirvana.

Applications Integration — Financials And HR

Blog -- Finance and HR imagesI’ve been thinking a lot lately about both business and applications integration.  You may have read my modest rant on the bastardization of the term integration as used to describe how applications are connected.  You also may have seen my videocast comments on the reasons why I think that your HRMS and core talent management applications (so performance, staffing, compensation, development, succession etc.) deserve a very high degree of what I mean by integration.

On that same videocast, there was also a good bit of discussion about the inherent connections between core financial applications and your HRMS, but I think there’s a lot more to say on this point, especially given a recent inquiry on same from my colleague Emma Snider.  It was Emma’s questions to me in the wake of that videocast that are the immediate impetus for this post, although it’s been on my list for some time.

With respect to our having discussed the connections between financial and HCM applications on the referenced videocast, she asked:  “In your opinion is this because HR and finance truly are going to start working together much more, so HR should be concerned with what finance is using in terms of technology, and vice versa?  Are the two functions really destined to team up?”

To these good questions, here’s how I responded [with my responses to Emma edited by me here for greater clarity]:

“First, finance and HR are inherently connected in a purely business sense in that (1) the bulk of most organizational costs (which can be 70% to 80% in businesses which are predominantly service-based) are related to their workforce, (2) understanding what it is about HRM that moves the dial on revenues and profitability goes to the heart of measuring and enhancing organizational performance, and (3) there’s no way to manage business outcomes without integrating financial and HR data quickly and cleanly, analyzing that data quickly and cleanly (to include predictive analytics), and then delivering that analysis directly to decision makers at their point of decision-making, i.e. as embedded analytics, at their speed of thought.  From a systems perspective, finance and HR share many enterprise level objects — including work unit, work location, person, account, contract, and many more — and place many of the same demands on system architectures, from the needs for widespread user access and effective-dating done systemically with full retroactive processing to the need for managing geographically-based regulatory requirements via powerful inheritance capabilities across and within SaaS tenants.  So, on both a business and systems basis, there’s a natural affinity between these two domains which argues persuasively, especially at a time of embedded analytics, for them to be integrated (as I define that term) in a systems sense and working well together in a business sense.

There’s a lot more to be said on this subject, but I hope this gives you a sense of where my head’s at when it comes to making the business case for considerable “Blooming” integration across financials and your HRMS — and I can’t wait for the comments to fly.

 

Modest Rant — Applications Integration By Any Other Name… Is Something Else

Painting The Roses Red

Painting The Roses Red

Given the active discussion (debate?) over on LinkedIn about my proposed definition of true SaaS (now renamed “Blooming SaaS,” this post was intended to be more of an insistence on precise definitions than a disparagement of other business/deployment/architectural options in enterprise HRM software), I thought I’d rattle a few more cages.  In the interests of encouraging a lively discourse, here I’m tackling the concept of applications integration.  If you think that there’s grade inflation in our schools and in workforce performance measurement, that’s nothing compared to what’s happened to the humble term integration as applied to HRM applications software.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, we had two terms for the way in which applications might be connected.  We called them interfaced, when disparate applications were connected, and integrated, when applications were built from the ground up to be inherently connected.  Everyone understood the differences, and there was peace in the land of (then) data processing.

Interfaced meant that we would pass a file (which could well have been on a reel of tape carried quite literally from one system to another, at least in the very early days of my career, or a transmitted electronic file or an agreed and shared Web service in more recent years) containing data written by one system that was intended to be read by another.  The format of that interface file was either imposed by the more powerful (politically or economically) of the two systems’ owners (e.g. health care plan providers, to this day, have considerable leverage when they insist that incoming employer files be formatted to their receiving specs) or negotiated agreed mutually (as was the case when two independent systems, even those owned by the same vendor, needed to move data between them).  And even as the technology for interfaces has advanced considerably (although delimited electronic file transmissions are still in wide use), what’s important to note here is that an interface does not impact directly the sending or receiving system.  The sending system knows how to create the interface and the receiving system knows how to use it, but they are otherwise just as independent as is AMEX from Amazon when I charge purchases on the latter to my credit card with the former.  In spite of their near real-time and highly automated exchange of agreed protocol messages, their connections still fit my definition of an interface.

In that same far away kingdom, once upon a time, integrated meant that although an application may have consisted of many automated processes/reports/edits/user views/whatever, they had all been developed against the same data design and architecture with the same programming standards applied across all the related code and, most importantly, with the same underlying assumptions about the subject matter domain applied across the entire application or set of applications as defined by the underlying data definitions.  Even as data designs evolved to database schemas and on to object models incarnated as objects, even as architectures evolved to take advantage of cooperative computing and layered designs and to address the needs of connected/social/mobile/self-service/global computing, and even as I lost complete track of how today’s enterprise applications are really constructed (along with many of you), I (some would say foolishly) continued to used the term integrated to refer to applications that were developed against the same object model and architecture with the same definitional development standards applied across all the related functionality and, most importantly, with the same underlying assumptions about the subject matter domain applied across the entire application or set of applications as defined by the underlying object definitions.

And then, when I wasn’t looking, the evil witch stole those very clear and quite different definitions of interfaced and integrated and replaced them with an absolute muddle so that HRM software vendors doing interfaced (but with some truly creative approaches to (1) ensuring that user experiences were consistent across disparate applications, (2) doing reporting/analytics/etc. against a consolidated data store, and (3) minimizing the differences across their applications in terms of domain assumptions) applications could describe their offerings as integrated.   Clearly those vendors appropriating integrated to mean interfaced (but very cleverly so) felt that the term integrated communicated more goodness than interfaced or they wouldn’t have appropriated it.  But in doing so, they forced the vendors with truly integrated application suites, what we’ll now dub “Blooming integration,” to search for a new term that means what the old integrated meant before there was grade inflation.

So out came unified, organic and G-d only knows what else to distinguish between those applications that were in fact integrated by my definition and those that were interfaced, again by my definition, no matter how sexy or attractively that interfacing is done.  Well, bah humbug on that.  None of these terms have the gravitas of integrated, and the vendor marketeers that stole integrated for their own nefarious purposes know that.  So just as I did with “Blooming SaaS,” I’m going to offer the stamp of “Blooming Integrated” to those vendors who really qualify — and call the rest “Blooming Interfaced,” again no matter how effectively it’s done.

But why should customers and users of HR technology care about any of this or is this really just an “inside baseball” discussion among dilettantes with nothing better to do?  These distinctions should matter a ton to customers and users because every dollar that must be spent on maintaining those non-Blooming integrations is a dollar that’s not going to be spent on product enhancements, customer support, thought leadership, and so much more.  And the greater the inherent interconnectedness of the underlying processes and objects of those non-Blooming integrated applications, the more money must be spent — now and forever — on keeping those non-Blooming integrated applications tied together as much as possible.

I’ll leave it for another post to dig into which HRM applications most need to be “Blooming Integrated” versus those which very conveniently can be left to connect via great, highly leveraged interfaces.  But there’s a good taste of where my thoughts are going in the recent #Predict14 videocast sponsored by Workday, beginning at minute 3.30, with more discussion here.  Hopefully, this gives you a little something to chew on mentally when you’ve chewed yourselves beyond full with Christmas dinner.  And may I close with my heart-felt prayer for a little more peace on earth in 2014.

A Bloom’s Christmas: Inventory Management And Retail Retold

 

Blooms Camera Ad Circa 1950

Bloom’s Camera Ad Circa 1950

[Disclosure: If you think you've read something very similar before, you’re quite right.  And you may read an updated version in the future.  I learned so much about business, absorbed it through my pores, as I worked at Bloom’s Camera (later, Bloom’s Photo Supply and then just Bloom’s, Inc.), lingered at my grandmother’s kitchen table after Friday night Shabbat meals where all the important decisions were made for that business, and was then apprenticed to all the other small businesses run by various relatives.  I went on buying trips to New York for the fancy ladies wear shop run by one aunt (they used to model the dresses at high end shops), learned the uniform business from another aunt, and was taught the basics of the Borscht Belt hospitality business by a great cousin.  By the time I got to my MBA program, cash flow, supply chain, human resource management and more were already baked into my world view.  So, with Christmas just around the corner, I thought you might enjoy a different perspective on this holiday.] 

On Christmas Eve, my Dad’s retail camera shop closed early, and we knew we’d have him with us all that next day.  Really just with us, even if he were too tired for much conversation after working the very long hours of the retail Christmas season.

New Year’s Day was for taking inventory, and it was all hands, even my very small hands, to the wheel.  But Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were really special.  Time alone with my father (of blessed memory) Jack Bloom was rare and precious.  He ran a modest camera shop with his brothers Paul (who’ll be 98 on New Year’s Day 2014 and with whom I’m working on his memoir) and Herman (who published his “romantic” novels under the name Harmon Bellamy).  Then and now, the owners of small family businesses work very long hours.

s house.  After dinner, Dad went off to Schul with his brothers.  On Saturday mornings, we were all off to Schul.  Because we were orthodox, only my one male first cousin Elliot got to sit with his Dad while, in those early years, we girls sat with our mothers, aunts and grandmother in the upper balcony, firmly removed from the males, by tradition, so as not to disturb their prayers.  Bloom’s was open on Saturdays (no retail stores were open on Sundays in Massachusetts until I had left home), so my Dad and his brothers went to work directly from Schul on many Saturdays, especially when the store was shorthanded by employee illness or vacations.

Summer Sundays were for golf in the mornings and family time in the afternoons, often spent visiting family who lived far away.  In those pre-turnpike (yes, before there were highways, there were turnpikes) days, the trip to Hartford, less than thirty miles away, took well over an hour.  But on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we didn’t go visiting; we stayed home so that Dad could rest, and that meant me sitting beside him as we watched TV (once we had one) or read from the World Book Encyclopedia.  My Dad was a great reader, something my sister and I have “inherited” from him.

In the run-up to Christmas, everyone worked long hours, and it was rare to see my Dad during December.  My cousin Ronni (of blessed memory) and I, from about age seven, ran the strange machine in the open mezzanine above the old shop floor (when the store was still on Main Street) that took addresses on metal plates and transferred them to labels for the Christmas mailing of catalogues (like the one pictured here) and calendars.  Long before it was fashionable for small businesses, Bloom’s Photo Supply was into direct marketing, and we carefully collected the names and addresses of every customer and caller, all of which were entered into the perpetual address files that my Uncle Herman kept.

Sitting in the mezzanine, Ronni and I bickered over whose turn it was to load the metal plate (not fun), load the next item to be addressed (not bad), or turn the wheel (most fun) and discussed what we saw going on all around us.  Excess inventory, the bane of every retailer then and now, was a major topic, along with fanciful ways of getting rid of it profitably.  We also took careful note of anyone who appeared to be shoplifting, quickly reporting any irregularities with arranged signals to the salespeople on the floor, and our eyes and instincts were sharpened by experience.  Even today, on the rare occasions when I’m in a store, I can’t help but notice such behaviors.

While I can never be sure, I think those conversations with Ronni must have been the origin of my now famous story (at least among my gentile Wallace family) about the invention of Christmas as an inventory management scheme.  In that story, the wise men were retail merchants who saw in the humble birth of Mary and Joseph’s son a solution to the already age-old problem faced by retailers everywhere of how to ensure that the year ended without extraneous, highly unprofitable, even outdated inventory.  This is one interpretation of the Christmas story that my Christian Wallace family had never heard until they met me.

By the time we were ten, Christmas season found Ronni and me, the two youngest Bloom cousins, helping behind the counter after school and on weekends, ringing up sales, selling film and other simple products, dealing with shop-lifters rather than just watching for them from afar, recording those sales in the perpetual inventory files kept by my Uncle Herman (there never was nor ever will be again a filer like my Uncle Herman!), and generally learning the business.  Everyone worked during the month before Christmas, including our mothers who were otherwise traditional homemakers, and by Christmas Eve, we were all exhausted.  But the lifeblood of retail is the Christmas shopping season — always was so and still is — so our family budget for the next year was written by the ringing of those Christmas cash registers.  To this day, whenever I’ve agreed a client project or speaking engagement, I can still hear, ever so faintly, that old-fashioned cash register ka-ching.

My Dad was buried on my 50th birthday.  My cousin Ronni, just four months younger than me, died in her mid-thirties.  Cousin Elliot, Ronni’s older brother, and the only male Bloom cousin, took over the business from our fathers when they retired, built it into something completely non-retail but VERY successful, and sold it 15+ years ago.  But if you’re ever in Springfield MA, you can still see the four story mural of long gone camera and photographic supply brands on the exposed wall of Bloom’s Photo Supply’s last retail address, on Worthington Street just up from Main Street.

For me, sitting in my usual place at the keyboard, Christmas Eve will always be special.  Years after my Dad retired and I had a business of my own, we talked daily, with me updating him on my business in response to his questions.  You can’t fail to hear the ghosts of a retailer’s Christmas past even as my very non-retail business thrived.  ”How’s business?” “Business is great Dad.” “Are your clients paying on time? “They sure are, Dad.” “And are their checks clearing the bank?” “Absolutely.”  This Christmas Eve, I’d give every one of those checks for another Christmas with my Dad.

To all my family, friends and colleagues who celebrate the holy day of Christmas, may you and yours enjoy a wonderful sense of renewal as you celebrate the great miracle of Christ’s birth.  And please pray hard, on behalf of all mankind, for more peace on earth in 2014 than we’ve had in 2013.

Thanksgiving 2013, Marc Benioff’s 1-1-1, And Immigration Reform

Classic Windowsill Tzedakah Box

Classic Windowsill Tzedakah Box

It’s that time of year again when I reflect on how very fortunate I am to live in this amazing country and on what I can do to make it better.  For all the problems we’ve got, and they are daunting, we are so very blessed to be here.

For my first two blogging Thanksgivings, I did a post that focused on counting my own personal blessings, and I plan to do that again.  But last year and this year, I’ve started with the second part of this holiday’s message, the giving part.  And I’d like to give credit where it’s due, to a 2011 Facebook entry by Ron’s first cousin Barbara Wallace Schmidt of Washington State, for getting me focused on the giving part of this so American holiday.

Having grown up in an orthodox Jewish home (well, modern orthodox), I learned from a very young age that philanthropy (tzedakah) isn’t about extra credit.  It’s an obligation.  The window sill over our kitchen sink was the home of five or six tin boxes, called pushkas, into which my Dad deposited his pocket change each night after work.  Periodically, a representative of one of the charities that distributed these pushkas would stop by to collect them, have a cup of tea and something sweet with the lady of the house (who rarely worked outside the home in those distant days), and leave a bright new empty box to be filled up again.

And then there were the naming opportunities.  Maybe we Jews didn’t invent this concept, but we sure as hell perfected it.  There’s not a tree in Israel or a toilet stall in a Jewish nursing home that doesn’t bear a plaque with the name of the donor whose funds paid for it.  With my dimes, brought every week to Sunday school (Hebrew School was on weekdays, and then we wrapped up all that learning plus on Sunday mornings), I must have filled dozens of folded cards with enough slots for two dollars worth of dimes that could then be turned into my very own tree for Israel.

It’s been more than a half century since I saw my Dad empty his pockets into those pushkas and I put my dimes (which I would have preferred to spend on candy) into the “plant a tree” card, but I remember them like they were yesterday.  The Hebrew term for philanthropy is tzedakah, literally fairness or justice, and we learned it young and continuously where I grew up.  Not only am I writing this blog post today, I’m making a number of year-end donations.  2013 has been a good year for Bloom & Wallace, and this is how we celebrate.

And lest you think that all philanthropy is equal, Maimonides offers a hierarchy of giving, with the first item listed being the most worthy form, and the last being the least worthy.  I find it interesting that the most worthy form is to help a person in need to become not only self-sufficient but also to join the circle of tzedakah in their own right, not unlike the later Christian notion of teaching a man to fish. Translated from Maimonides:

  1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
  2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
  3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.
  6. Giving adequately after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving in sadness (it is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation; giving out of pity).

Although the term tzedakah was never mentioned, the first hour of Marc Benioff’s keynote at this year’s Dreamforce was a paean to the power of tzedakah.  And his 1-1-1 approach to corporate philanthropy should be the mantra of every business, especially those run by folks who would like to shrink our government sector.  If everyone and every business put tzedakah at the top of their priorities, then much more of what the right hates about government could be done by the private sector.  So yes, this is a call to everyone, but especially to my Republican friends and family members, to give until it hurts — of your time, your capital and your annual profits — in the spirit of Marc’s 1-1-1 philanthropic mantra.  I don’t know Marc personally, but I’ve often wondered if his Jewish upbringing shows in his views on philanthropy.

I think that this view of giving, of philanthropy, of tzedakah is the flip side of the Jewish notion of success.  We believe (at least those of us who haven’t gone so far off the rails as to believe their own press releases — but that’s another story) that your successes are not solely of your own making and that one should not take too much credit for them.  As it happens, we are all either blessed or cursed by the good fortune of our birth and by the good fortune, the mazel, that has accompanied our journey through life.  Born in the US?  Mazel.  Born healthy, intelligent, and loved?  Mazel.  Wanted and raised by two reasonably together and prepared parents?  More mazel.  Managed to get through school, university, life-to-date without dread diseases, terrible accidents, loss of your freedom or life in civil unrest?  Pure mazel.

What you build on top of all that good luck through your own hard work and perseverance is absolutely yours for which to take credit, but it’s important to remember just how much of what we become, of who we are, and of what we have is just plain dumb good luck.  Thinking about life this way, as a three-legged stool (the good fortune of our birth, the good fortune of our lives, and what we ourselves accomplish through our own efforts) of which we only control one leg, makes clear why tzedakah is an obligation for those of us whose stools have three good legs.  Knowing that so many such stools have two wobbly legs explains why I’m on the progressive side of the political divide.

And now for the thanks part of this post.  My list doesn’t change much over time, but my appreciation for these blessings has grown so much over the years.  For those of you who haven’t started your list, here’s mine for Thanksgiving 2013:

  • Ron Wallace — if you haven’t met The Wallace, you’re in for a treat.  He’s smart (and never flaunts his far greater intellect than mine), beyond funny (especially when doing those imitations of all the satellite systems he helped design), kind to everyone even when they’re not, 150% behind me in everything I do, an enthusiastic dancer (even though my best dancing days are in the rearview mirror of life), able to design/fix anything electronic/mechanical/plumbing/etc., infinitely patient, very slow to get anywhere close to angry, doesn’t complain no matter how ill/uncomfortable he is, shares my love of travel/adventure/British mystery DVDs/boating/theater/the list of shared interests is very long, understands my need to “fly” solo at times, never asks me what anything costs (knowing I won’t go overboard even when we’re buying me great jewelry), likes many of my friends and is happy to have them travel with us, provides full infrastructure support so that I can pursue my dream career and other interests, still a hunk after all these years (Ron went through college on gymnastics scholarships), and thinks I’m the best thing that ever happened to him.  What more could any woman want?
  • Friends and family who are also friends — I value friendship above diamonds, and those who know me realize that’s high value indeed.  No one gets through life unscathed, no one!  And it’s your friends who not only share your triumphs but will also see you through the really tough times. You know who you are.
  • Good health, great health insurance, and the smarts to manage my own healthcare – Ron and I have watched the whole health care reform discussion with just one point of view: everyone should be as free from worry about their health care costs as we have been, even as we’ve battled a number of expensive health issues.  I can’t even imagine having to fight with an insurance company in order to get what Ron needed when he was diagnosed nearly ten year ago with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  The bills were enormous and would have broken even our generous budget if not for great coverage.  And I’ve had so many joint repairs that the staff at the surgical center know me on sight, and that’s only the beginning of what aging has done to my lambada.  But thanks to Ron’s NASA career, we’ve got the same kind of private insurance our Congressmen have, converted now to our supplemental plan while Medicare is primary.  We’d like to see everyone have this level of financial protection and peace of mind, but what do we know about health care?  For the record, Medicare is income adjusted so I’m paying a ton for it, and that’s entirely fair, but I’d love to know that they had added a few higher brackets so that Mr. Ellison was paying even more.
  • My career, clients and colleagues — I’ve had an amazing run, and the best is yet to come.  Imagine being in on the very ground floor of the use of computers in business and still being able to contribute?  For those of you worried about your career, and who isn’t in these trying times, please take heart.  There’s always opportunity for those who are willing to work their butts off, invest in their KSAOCs, and do the heavy lifting.  To all the colleagues and clients from whom I’ve learned so much, and those yet to come, I’m very grateful for the opportunities and hope I’ve given as good as I’ve gotten.  And I’d like to say a special thank you to my much younger colleagues who have welcomed this digital immigrant with open minds.
  • The accident of my birth — I come from pioneer stock.  My grandparents were refugees (aren’t all Jews?) from a shtetl in Lithuania.  They came to the USA at the turn of the 20th century to avoid conscription into the Czar’s non-kosher army as well as to escape the pogroms.  Like every American except our native Americans, we’re all refugees of one sort or another, even those who think they’re special because they came first or brought some wealth with them.  Were it not for my grandparents having the courage to leave the familiar behind, to make what was then quite literally a trek across Europe to get bilge (they thought steerage was first class) passage to the USA, to arrive with no English and just the bundles they carried to a gentile America which was still quite hostile to Jews, I would never have had the opportunities that so many of us take for granted.  Were the founders of our country legal immigrants?  Hell no!  They were conquerors who killed off the indigenous population after having only survived that first awful winter because of the kindness of those very natives.  Were your ancestors legal immigrants?  Probably not.  Were my grandparents legal immigrants?  I haven’t a clue.  Perhaps that explains my own support for addressing our current immigration issues with humanity and a real respect for those who are following in the same path as our collective ancestors, seeking refuge from poverty and/or repressive governments, seeking a better life for their children, seeking a chance to work and live free from religious/political/economic/ethnic persecution.
  • Our military and first responders along with their families — Freedom isn’t free, and democracy isn’t a birthright, so count your blessings that you’re here.  And thank those who never rest so that we can, those who work the midnight shifts in emergency rooms, those who keep your power on and your news reported.  There are so many who won’t be having as peaceful or comfortable a Thanksgiving as you and I will have.  My thanks to every one of them.

Although Thanksgiving isn’t really a religious holiday, I think it’s prayer-worthy.  So here’s mine for all of us.  Life is short, fragile and amazing, so live large and purposefully while you can.  G-d willing (now we’re back to mazel) we’ll live long and prosper and be the life of the party at the old farts home.

Modest Rant — Blooming SaaS Or Not

Blog -- I Hired Naomi Scan_Pic0006

[After a really terrific discussion of this post's original version, along with a zillion surrounding/closely related topics, over on LinkedIn, I've updated the terminology in this post as of 12-3-2013 to replace "true SaaS" with "Blooming SaaS."  This change is not intended to be facetious but rather to ensure that using value-laden adjectives, like true or pure or real SaaS, doesn't obscure my efforts to develop or the importance of having agreed definitions for critical concepts in HR technology.  In the future, when you hear/read me using the term "Blooming SaaS," you'll know exactly what I mean.]

I’ve been accused, primarily by those who would prefer a less than fully educated consumer, of obsessing over HRM enterprise software object models and architecture.  On the other hand, I would say that I’ve been paying close attention to what really matters, to the foundations upon which durably profitable and customer-serving software is based — and with good reason.

Software’s core object models and architectural foundations are rarely changed except when there’s a generational shift in our industry.  Getting them right determines whether or not a vendor will be able to deliver needed functionality at the right combination of cost, quality and time-to-market, not just once, but over and over again for the life of that architecture.

This is very much like the basic layout, structure and foundations of our home.  Even as many ongoing enhancements and extensions are quite feasible and expected over the course of a lifetime’s use, tearing up the foundations (in our case a cement slab on which our home is built because the water table in south Florida is very close to the surface) because we never plumbed for a fourth bathroom or didn’t anticipate wanting a much bigger central living area just isn’t feasible without essentially starting over.  When your family makeup/lifestyle/circumstances etc. have changed so much that you begin to contemplate ripping up that foundation in order to overhaul your home, it’s absolutely time to look for another house (in SaaS terms, to look for a vendor with no legacy baggage) or to knock this one down and start over (in SaaS terms, to stick with a legacy vendor but bet on their own efforts to start over in a new product line).

Given this context, it won’t surprise you that I’m very precise in my definition of SaaS and frequently call out the incorrect use of this term to mean nearly anything that’s subscribed and hosted by the vendor.  And we won’t even get started on what loose lips are doing to the meaning of “cloud.”  Having been an English major (after realizing that I’d never become a great nuclear physicist in spite of my best efforts), I can’t help myself from going nuts when words are used to mean whatever the marketing teams decides they have to mean.  So I’ve selected, as my background music for this post:  We’re Painting The Roses Red!

SaaS isn’t just anything that vendors without it want it to mean.  When we were going from mainframe apps to client server, as soon as client server became the momentum player (so as soon as PeopleSoft began gaining traction in the market) around 1990, every vendor of outdated mainframe software put a screen-scraping GUI face on their old crap and called it client server.  How I wish I had had Twitter and a blog then to denounce the scoundrels.  The good news is that they have all passed into oblivion even though a few poor customers are still running an ancient implementation of Cyborg, Genesys, Tesseract, Integral, MSA etc.  The bad news is that the latest batch of legacy vendors/application will have a much longer denouement because the much larger size of their installed base maintenance revenue will keep some of them going for longer than I’m likely to survive.

In my view, any vendor which offers so-called choice — licensed/on-premise, subscribed/on-premise, licensed/single tenant hosted, subscribed/single tenant hosted, and every variation of non-cloud cloud — is not a “Blooming SaaS” vendor.  They may offer good products, they may provide an option that’s absolutely correct for a specific customer, and they be your favorite vendor with which to do business.  But they are not a Blooming Saas vendor, and it matters for reasons cited here and here .  No shame in selling/buying/using something other than Blooming SaaS if that’s the right answer for you, whether vendor or end-user, but there is great shame in not knowing or naming the difference —  or worse, knowing the difference, and trying to fool the public about it.

For the record, here’s my definition of Blooming SaaS as it relates to HRM enterprise software:

  1. Software is subscribed to customers, usually on a multi-year basis, ranging from 3-5 years, but some do monthly, annual, more frequently adjusted subscriptions.  Smaller, less critical and more easily replaced applications may be available very appropriately on a truly pay-as-you-go basis without a more substantial contract and even on a freemium basis with charges only for add-on capabilities or services.  These subscriptions are usually on a usage basis, e.g. number of serviced employees or workers, and there may also be, especially for broader and more complex applications, some up-front payment for implementation support and, perhaps, a subscription prepayment for a portion of the term.  Of interest to me is the preference of larger/more complex organizations, especially when they’re rebuilding their HRMS/TM foundations, for longer term subscriptions that “lock in” as much as possible their expected subscription rates even as their actual payments may increase or decrease along with the contractual units of usage.
  2. Software is hosted by the vendor.  The vendor owns the entire responsibility for operating the code base and providing customer/tenant access to it.  The software may be hosted at one or more 3rd party, industrial data centers or even in a truly elastic commercial cloud, although getting the right SLAs for security, backup and recovery, not to mention privacy protection in a true commercial cloud may still be a work in process for HRM enterprise software.  Of course buyers should consider every possible test of operational capability before subscribing Blooming SaaS, but many (most?) buyers find that reputable Blooming SaaS vendors maintain much higher SLAs (service level agreements) than do their in-house IT organizations.
  3. Blooming SaaS software is designed and built from the ground up to be not only multi-tenant but also to be operated in this fashion.  And all customers, even when there are multiple instances for different geographies/target markets/load balancing/etc., use the same code base.  Vendors own the entire responsibility for delivering frequent, non-disruptive and entirely automated upgrades to that code base, and for doing so either at precisely the same time or over a short (weeks not months) period of feathered upgrades.
  4. With major upgrades coming multiple times per year and very frequent upgrades coming as needed to support regulatory developments, keep up with mobile device changes, and fix any bugs, Blooming SaaS vendors must invest substantially in the infrastructure for managing these upgrades across their entire business.  Keeping customers informed, agile handling of the entire lifecycle of their products, supporting cross customer collaboration, and so much more go into running a SaaS business successfully.  Yes, it’s about the software, but it’s about so much more than the software.
  5. There are no customizations allowed in Blooming SaaS, but there are extensive configuration, including extension, capabilities delivered by the vendor, with each customer/tenant’s configurations protected automatically during the vendor-delivered and entirely automated upgrades.  From tuning the customer experience (UX) to each customer’s corporate look and feel, to adding customer-unique objects/relationships/methods/attributes/valid values as well as processes and workflows, and on to all of the inquiry/reporting/analysis/visualization functionality that’s specific to a customer, good SaaS supports all of this through vendor-delivered tools whose intended user is a business analyst (a real one) rather than a programmer.
  6. To make this level of configuration possible, to enable the vendor to deliver tons of new functionality multiple times per year over many years without breaking the software’s foundations or running up cost/time-to-market/error rates, modern software (SaaS or otherwise) is developed mostly without writing a lot of code.  In modern software, must of the functionality is abstracted to metadata (effective-dated metadata of course), and many types of configuration is achieved by making changes to that metadata in those areas to which customers are given access.  Other functionality is delivered by means of tools driven by that metadata, e.g. a inquiry tool whose knowledge of the underlying object model is expressed as metadata to that tool.  In Blooming SaaS, all cross-tenant (i.e. cross-customer) metadata (typically business rules, process flows, UX specifications, and similar) and reference data (typically the valid values for complex object attributes like tax rates or country codes)  is managed by the vendor with a single physical instance shared across customer/tenants.

I’ve got a lot more to say about the object model and architectural foundations of not just Blooming SaaS but really good Blooming SaaS and about the design of a Blooming SaaS business, but I think I’ll stop here for the moment.  This is a tremendously important discussion which raises another aspect of what I call SaaS InFullBloom (for lack of a better term that provides the precise definition I want to present with more thoughts here).  If there’s one thought I’d like you to take away from this post, it’s that what you can’t see easily in the software and vendor you’re considering is what’s most important to evaluate.  So, while waiting for my next installment on this, here’s a little homework.