It was a dark and stormy night at Metadata Hall, the restored country manor house which was the UK regional headquarters for Great Software Inc., one of the largest global providers of all the software that anyone should ever need. Most employees had long since left for the long Bank Holiday weekend, but Zelda Kahniefmeyer was hunched over her desk, with just the pool of light from the desk lamp keeping the night creatures at bay.
“What the hell am I going to do,” says our heroine, the development manager for Great Software’s next generation architecture, the skunk works and very stealthy project on which the company was betting its future. Tucked away in this bucolic corner of the UK, out of sight of the prying eyes of industry and financial analysts, Zelda’s mission was clear and urgent. But such was not the case with her HR partner, Creepy Cummins (really Daryl Cummins, but he was truly creepy). Creepy was neither clear as to what was needed people-wise to make this next gen effort, code named Metadata Hall, successful nor did he exhibit the slightest sense of urgency. But most counter-productive was creepy’s insistence on using those tried and true sourcing techniques, not to mention standard operating procedure compensation guidelines, in recruiting the scarce KSAOC members of the Metadata Hall team.
Suddenly Zelda hears a disquieting noise. With no one else there, and no obvious explanation for that noise, she begins to search her office and then the corridor outside, while the noise gets louder and more frightening. Not quite the hoot of the night hawk nor the last gargle of the night hawk’s prey, Zelda was hearing the last desperate call of the highly qualified team member candidate who couldn’t get past Creepy’s “I see from your resume that you’ve had three chief architect jobs in the last eight years, and we’re looking for someone who will stay with us forever.” Caught in the act, Creepy had no choice but to try to hire this highly qualified team member candidate, but he wasn’t done applying his consummate incompetence to Project Metadata Hall.
Stay Tuned For Chapter II
[If this post looks familiar, you’re not imagining things. I’ve done an annual Thanksgiving post for several years now because giving thanks and counting my blessings becomes more important with each passing year. As the body gets creakier and less obedient, and as pain levels become ever more challenging, writing this post is therapeutic. Almost as effective as visualization, one of several intellectual pain management techniques that I use, reflecting on how far I’ve come, how much I’ve done, what fun and learning I’ve had, the wonderful people in my life, and that there’s more of same to come, is a source of inspiration that heals the body as well as the soul. And after this year’s bruising Presidential election, with so much of our collective future in the hands of someone whose personal qualities and behavior make me crazy, this process of reflection and healing took longer than ever — hence this “belated” post.]
Being both Jewish and American presents me with two major opportunities each year (so on Rosh Hashanah and now on Thanksgiving) to reflect on how very fortunate I am to live in this amazing country and on what I can do to make it and myself better. For all the problems we’ve got, and they are especially daunting at the moment, we are so very blessed to be here. Yes, even in the midst of terrorist attacks and the threat of further such attacks (and I count here all the ordinary crazies with guns shooting up their communities), in the face of growing zenophobia and the anger in our public discourse whose angriest voices claim their own deeply religious values, and with all the other challenges faced by each of us individually (I’d put aging on that list) and collectively (and here goes climate change, inequality of opportunity, even the drought in many of our richest agricultural areas), I am going to count my blessings. But that’s not all. Due to a 2011 Facebook entry by Ron’s first cousin Barbara Wallace Schmidt, I’m also focused on the giving part of this so American holiday, and that’s where I’m going to start.
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 after public 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 in Israel. Every time we passed a stand of trees on our 2014 travels in Israel, I couldn’t help but think that somewhere among those trees were my very own.
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. Ron and I have been hugely blessed, and nothing gives us more pleasure than to be able to make our year-end donations to support the organizations to whose missions we’re most committed. One thing we’ve learned about donations is to concentrate our efforts rather than see them pissed away with a few bucks here and a few bucks there — something you too may want to consider doing. And this year, it gave me great personal pleasure to increase our donations to Planned Parenthood, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Civil Liberties Union and similar, making each such donation in honor of Mike Pence. Hopefully, he’s been flooded with thank yous from these organizations.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
- Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
- Giving tzedakah before being asked.
- Giving adequately after being asked.
- Giving willingly, but inadequately.
- 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 or more of Marc Benioff’s keynotes at Dreamforce are 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 circumstances of our birth and by the good or bad 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, careful choices, 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 2016:
- 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, has provided full infrastructure support so that I could 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? Most important, because aging comes to all who get this far, Ron has made it possible for me to keep doing a lot of what we love to do as my increasingly unreliable body can’t go the distance.
- 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. And I can tell you that, as you and your friends get older, the tough times increase, and you need each other more than ever. Friendship isn’t something I take lightly, and I expect a lot from those in my inner circle. When that call comes, when a friend is in need or in crisis, real friends drop everything, show up, and do whatever they can to alleviate your distress. But even casual friends ease our way when they lend a hand, offer a referral, or just ask how we’re doing.
- 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 growing 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 a dozen years 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 llambada. But thanks to Ron’s NASA career, we’ve had 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 we’ve paid a ton for it, and that’s entirely fair, but I’d love them to add a few higher brackets so that the Trumps of this world would be paying even more.
- My career, clients and colleagues — I’ve had an amazing career run. I got in on the very ground floor of the use of computers in business, and I’ve just pivoted after nearly a half century of (mostly) satisfying work. For those of you who are worried about your own career, and who isn’t with robots coming to replace many types of workers, please take heart. There’s always opportunity for those who are talented and 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, 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 and helping hands.
- The accident of my birth — I come from pioneer stock. My grandparents were refugees (aren’t all Jews?) from a shtetl near Vilnius in Lithuania (back when it was called the Russian Pale and ruled by the Czar). 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 both humility and humanity, and with 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. In addition to being grateful for all of our military and first responders and their families, I thank those who never rest so that we can, e.g. those who work the midnight shifts in emergency rooms, those who keep our power on and our news reported. There are so many who didn’t have as peaceful or comfortable a Thanksgiving as you and I had; 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 and out of respect for all those whose three-legged stools have always had one or two broken legs. 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.
Well, so far, my pivot hasn’t worked out as planned, but then why should I be surprised? First, I came down with the head/chest cold from hell. With three major conferences in a row, the attendant hugging of a zillion colleagues, hours spent breathing everyone’s germs in flights, and changes in diet/time zones/etc., this was probably inevitable. I did take every precaution, including various immune system-boosting supplements, but I still got nailed. I even gave a milder case to Ron, which we both failed to shake in time to spend two days travel just to get to Cape Town. We had planned to drive to Miami, fly overnight to Munich, layover there until evening, then fly overnight to Cape Town, so a schlep and a half that just wouldn’t be survivable with my head and sinuses exploding and a hacking cough. Our doctor decided the matter when he laid the facts before me, and on Wednesday we canceled our dream trip to Africa which was supposed to have started today. Total bummer. And you might recall that Wednesday was also notable for America’s having elected Drumpf to be President. We did just what you’d expect — slathered Naomi in Vicks VapoRub, had a good cry, and went back to bed in hopes we’d awake later to the news that the whole election had been a bad dream. But more on that in another post. I just wanted to let you know that, instead of going in search of major mammals, we’ll be….(to be continued as soon as we have a clue ]
In which she bids farewell to the HR technology industry:
Every time I’ve thought about retirement, a real and complete retirement from a half century of focus on all things related to HR technology, this song starts running around in my head. Some days, especially in this last year, this song competes for attention with my always present tinnitus, but mostly it’s just there, calling me home. And now it’s going to be the musical score behind a post I’ve also been writing in my head for the last year even though I didn’t know I was writing it — until now.
It’s coming up on fifty years of my trying to save HR professionals from themselves and from bad HR technology. I’ve been doing this, with lots of frustration but also considerable joy, for the sake not only of those HR professionals but, more importantly, for all of their stakeholders, which means just about everyone who has ever worked, is working now, and or may work at some time in the future, whether for remuneration or with the selfless zeal of the volunteer, and whether as an employee, as a non-employee worker or, most recently, as a non-human worker. So yes, nearly everyone.
Little wonder then that, after all these years of first helping and then fussing at HR leaders to lead more effectively, nudging (some night say harassing) HR tech vendors to do tech a lot better, and at every flavor of consultant/advisor/influencer/analyst and talking head to play their parts with integrity and real expertise, I’m ready for a complete change. And just like those wonderful dolphins in the clip above, although I’ve tried my best, progress has at times been glacial. But, like in so many other aspects of American life (I think this may be true way beyond the USA, but I don’t feel qualified to judge), the best of what’s available in both HR leaders and HR technology is really pretty great, but the rest aren’t keeping up.
My decision to retire (or let’s just call this a massive pivot!) completely from HR technology has been a difficult one because I truly love my work along with the social connections which that work has provided. HR tech globally has been a supportive and collaborative community, a place where business relationships take root and bloom. Some of those relationships become friendships, and I am so grateful for all the colleagues who have become friends, including some who have become my closest friends. I’m particularly appreciative of all my much younger colleagues who have helped me as I’ve retrained and retrained and retrained myself so as to stay reasonably competent over nearly a half century — and as my mobility issues have advanced. And I’d like to add a special shout-out to those vendors which are delivering products which embrace the object modeling and architectural preferences I’ve advocated since before many of my younger colleagues were born.
You know that I’ve been reducing my HR technology-related workload for several years now, and I’m so glad that I’ve been able to proceed in this way. Now I’m ready to end this phase altogether. But it’s less about going away from my HR tech career but more about pivoting toward my philanthropic, travel, boating, family/friends, theater, writing, painting, and many personal interests. I’ve had an incredible run and am very grateful for all I’ve learned and been able to contribute along the way. Now I’m ready to spend my time differently. As you can imagine, I have very mixed feelings about this change, but it’s time. So much of my social interaction has involved folks I’ve met through my HR tech career; I’ll hope that some of those relationships will survive this latest pivot (aka “retirement”).
I have always been clear that, when I was no longer willing or able to put in the time and effort needed to stay at the top of my HR tech game, to do my very best work, it would be time to stop, and that’s where I’m at. The many hours that I have spent tracking the industry, keeping up with technology and with the vendors and products in my space, scolding the scoundrels and committing truth (at least IMO), and interacting widely across our industry so that I could have my finger on the pulse, are hours that I now want to spend visiting with and supporting family and friends, working with several regional non-profits, traveling the world (while I still can), finally having time to go boating with Ron, writing and sketching and remodeling our home and reading. And did I mention spending much more time with Ron?
In addition to the song above, Pete Seeger recorded a song in the early 60’s (one which I sang often in my Philly folk club days) also has been running around in my head for the last many months while I’ve been coming to this decision. It’s almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes, and some of you may remember it:
> To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
> A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
> A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
> A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
> A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
> A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
> A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
> A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
> A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
For me, it’s time to reap what has been planted, to use the money we’ve saved and put the time I’ll now free up to other purposes. And, although I don’t like to discuss it, it just takes more time every day/week/month to keep Naomi functioning physically as the effects of aging on a flawed muscular/skeletal design have advanced. Since I want to be as mobile and fit as possible as long as possible, I need to devote more time just to taking care of myself — and you will too as you age.
I do intend to continue writing my blog about what happens next, and I hope that some of you will want to join me as I venture into uncharted territory. I may do some speaking about the issues women face in advancing their careers, especially women in technology, a subject that’s both important and close to my heart. The reality is that all of you are getting older and, while I may be the first in our circle to hang up my spurs, there are many others coming up right behind me. All by way of saying that I hope to blaze a trail on aging that others can follow while having the best possible time at every step. Next up are 3+ weeks in Africa, our first trip there, and we’re just hoping not to be eaten. That will give everyone, including Ron and me, time to get used to the idea of this pivot, and it will help me to draw a line under the last fifty years during which I put career, really the professional development to support my career, ahead of nearly everything else. But I know you won’t be surprised if, from time to time, I tweet something snarky or full of praise about the people, vendors, products, etc. in our industry. HR tech guru or whatever signing off; just plain Naomi, senior citizen, signing on.
[You may also enjoy my “Firing Line with Bill Kutik” episode on this.]
There’s been a lot of discussion across the enterprise IT and financial analyst community about the long term economic viability of the SaaS business model. And the enterprise IT community continues to debate the merits of the various flavors of SaaS architectural and infrastructural models. These discussions have ranged over the:
- fundamentals of profitability in enterprise software;
- reality that many to most so-called SaaS vendors (both faux and “Blooming”) are not yet profitable;
- landrush by SaaS vendors to grab market share and to grow as rapidly as possible;
- spending by SaaS vendors of sometimes huge sums on customer acquisition against a revenue recognition requirement that expenses those acquisition costs on the front end but only allows revenue recognition over the life of the contract; and
- much more.
If the economic viability of your so-called true or faux SaaS vendors matters to you — and well it should — read on.
When you contemplate further the economics, significant future profitability appears to emerge for those vendors which are able to meet the following challenges:
- Reduce dramatically the cost of customer acquisition, from marketing to sales to contract signing;
- Reduce dramatically each customer’s time to production and, therefore, time to revenue for the vendor;
- Reduce dramatically each customer’s ongoing implementation costs and time as they take up innovation delivered by their vendor and revisit existing capabilities as their organizational needs evolve and change;
- Maintain very high customer satisfaction rates — see #3;
- Maintain very high customer retention rates, which I do believe are related to but are not the equivalent of very high customer satisfaction rates; and
- Achieve very low operational costs and error rates.
Doing all of this at the same time produces IMO the secret sauce of true SaaS economics and, in doing so, creates an enormous competitive moat for vendors who can’t achieve this. Enter Interrogatory configuration, my recommended approach to creating this moat and the really important and related benefits for both vendor and customer.
Interrogatory Configuration (yes, I know that’s lousy branding, but I’ve never claimed to be a clever marketeer) addresses the first three challenges very directly and has a positive impact on the last three. That’s why I’ve been pushing these ideas — some would say harping on them — since long before the beginning of SaaS in HR technology. Frankly, I was pushing these ideas from the late 80’s, long before they were possible to execute as they require very specific architectural foundations which, until recently, did not exist within enterprise HRM software.
So what is interrogatory configuration? Interrogatory configuration is easy to explain but VERY difficult to do, at least for complex HRM software. Basically it’s a piece of software (think TurboTax) which poses questions to the client ‘s business analyst (who could be a 3rd party, including the vendor’s implementation services person or that of a certified partner), provides a context for those questions along with the implications of selecting from among the available answers (e.g. explaining what types of organizational structures use what types of position to job relationships and why), and then, based on the selections made (and all such are of course effective-dated and subject to inheritance where appropriate), it does the configuration of the base application without manual intervention of any kind. Interestingly, Google filed a patent for a VERY limited example of this in 1997, which was awarded in 2001, in which they make clear that you can’t do this unless the underlying architecture, the software to be thus configured, is composed of objects that can be manipulated dynamically.
Highly configurable, metadata-driven, definitionally developed, true HCM SaaS is a wonderful thing. But even in configuration, all of the available choices have to be analyzed, selected, tested and implemented, individually and in combination with other choices. And this must be done with care and a deep knowledge of the downstream implications of various configurations, not only during the initial implementation but also every time business needs change, software upgrades are applied (even when applied as SaaS mostly opt-in updates), regulatory rules appear and/or change, including retroactively, new executives bring new perspectives, etc.
More Talmudic than Socratic, this question/answer dialogue continues, with each exchange doing one set of configurations while setting up the next set, until the customer has implemented fully the set of capabilities/business rules/coding structures/workflows/etc. that will be their implemented software as of the selected effective date. An interrogatory configurator is designed to work prospectively, so that you can see how a partially to fully configured application will look and behave before committing those configurations to take effect. For those configurations that are permitted to be changed retroactively, with the attendant retroactive processing once they are approved for implementation, the interrogatory configurator is also intended to work retroactively.
Without interrogatory configuration, every time those hand-done configurations must be changed, all those choices must be re-evaluated against the needed changes, and then new choices made, tested and implemented. Furthermore, the implications of each configuration change for downstream processes must be analyzed and actions taken to at least inform users of those implications. So, while we may be able to eliminate most of the programming implementation work by having great configuration tools delivered with our HRM software, without interrogatory configuration we have by no means reduced the business analyst time, effort and expertise needed to keep things running properly. And great HRM business analysts are really scarce, perhaps even more so than great HRM software developers.
Now imagine that the interrogatory configurator is an integral part of the marketing to sales cycle, allowing for a high degree of self-provisioning, at least for less complex organizations (notice I didn’t say small or quote headcounts). And even for the most complex organizations, imagine how much configuration could be done with data gleaned during the sales cycle so that a usefully configured application could become a sales cycle tool which blends seamlessly into the actual implementation once agreements are signed. To the extent that SaaS vendors proceed down this path, the whole dynamic of the sales to implementation processes, not to mention the role, staffing and economics of the systems integrators (SIs), are changed substantially, to the benefit of both the customer and the SaaS vendor.
Customer satisfaction and retention rates are driven by many factors, from having wonderful and useful product capabilities to having a very sticky user experience, and there’s a lot of room here for unique approaches by different vendors and/or for different market segments. Running a brilliant operating environment means building tools for everything from provisioning to payroll scheduling, tools which cannot be bought “off the shelf” and which are themselves complex applications. So one thing I advise all buyers to consider is how far along their proposed SaaS vendor is in having industrialized every aspect of operations, for much of which you must have the right SaaS architecture in the first place.
When I see cost comparisons between on-prem and true SaaS, it’s almost always done on a TCO basis from an IT cost perspective. But that doesn’t value not only having new functionality but also having it delivered almost continuously. It doesn’t value how much more effective vendors can be in meeting customer needs by aggregating data on feature usability and usage so as to inform their product roadmaps. And it certainly doesn’t value the ability of true SaaS vendors to aggregate benchmarking data which can then be fed right back into their interrogatory configurator, if they’ve got one, and into the analytics-rich, decision-making capabilities of their applications. So there’s a lot more here to consider than just TCO unless your business is so stagnant that you really don’t want or need agility or innovation from your systems.
There are SaaS vendors in our space that have architectures which can’t scale operationally, SaaS vendors which don’t have great operational tools, SaaS vendors whose agility is more about fixes than innovation, and so on. But I think we have some good to great SaaS vendors which will be quite profitable (or already are) because they’ve approached this new business model with the right stuff. And I would add that prospects/customers should be running for the exits from any SaaS (or so-called SaaS) vendor which isn’t well down the path of being able to meet successfully my six challenges above.
The bottom line. Reducing dramatically the elapsed time, complexity and cost of HRM software sales and implementation, not to mention ongoing configuration, is an important enough response to the six challenges above for HRM SaaS vendors and BPO providers — and creates a big enough competitive moat — to justify building interrogatory configurators. Doing this requires having the right underlying software architecture, one which enables effective-dated configuration without writing any procedural code. It also requires the product’s designers to know and be able to express the patterns of good practice in a whole range of HRM areas, from organizational designs to hiring practices, and the good practice combinations of same. And there’s an enhanced opportunity here for incorporating all manner of exogenous data, from salary surveys and hiring patterns to commentary on which organizational designs are common in specific industries — and why. If your vendors aren’t pretty far along on this, it may be too late for them to get started — or their underlying architectures just won’t support this. And if you’re a prospect for new HR technology, be sure to find out if your short list vendors are far enough down this path to ensure that they will remain viable and that your needs will be met. I’d also you’ll watch my “Firing Line with Bill Kutik” episode on this.
To get maximum value from attending #HRTechConf and/or #HRTechWorld, prepare your questions carefully and gather different points of view on possible answers. Be an investigative journalist in order to get useful answers to your important questions.
It’s conference season, and we’d better get our act together if we’re not going to be “Trumped” during our time spent at #HRTechConf and/or #HRTechWorld. That means knowing what questions you’re trying to answer before you’re bombarded with vendors, consultants, pundits and blogging fools, including me, telling you that whatever products/services/ideas they’re selling are the answers to your not-yet-formulated-clearly business needs. And this year, when everything is called “cloud,” when interfaced is called integrated, when mobile/social/predictive analytics/engagement/freemium etc. will be presented as ubiquitous, and when you’re promised a helpful chatbot to do what you thought that application you bought was already doing, you’d better have your “liar liar, pants on fire” meter at the ready along with your questions.
That’s why I published my first post on this topic on 9-12-2011, just in time for the 2011 HR Technology Conference, and why I’ve been doing a fresh version almost annually. I keep finding myself wanting not only to update the questions but also to provide my thoughts on the answers, and that’s a black hole from which I may never extricate myself. Nonetheless, I’ve included a few answers so that you’ll know (as though there was ever a doubt) where I stand. In this thorough 2016 update, you’re getting lots of important questions along with my own thoughts (biases?) on the appropriate answers to some of them. This is obviously just a “starter kit” of possible questions rather than a definitive list. Please feel free to use my questions as a starting point, but your own questions should be much more specific to your situation and more complete.
As always, in the spirit of full disclosure, you should presume that I am biased in all manner of ways that I’ve exposed quite thoroughly on this blog. I have strong biases about what constitutes great HRM and great HRM enterprise software, and of course there are many who disagree with me. But given my already stated plans to wind down my consulting practice, I’ve clearly stepped over the “trying to be ecumenical line” and cast caution to the winds with my comments on some of these questions. At a minimum, my thoughts should open up a robust debate within your own organization and between you and with whoever among the vendors/analysts/influencers/bloggers/etc. you discuss your questions.
Some combination of these questions almost always has been the impetus for that first call/email/DM/whatever to me from a global HR executive or their IT partner, and they also permeate the online HR technology conversations. Unfortunately, it usually takes a broader planning effort to make sure that sir/madam HR leader isn’t playing that loser’s game of whack-a-mole in resolving these types of questions. You know that game: no sooner do you put one question to rest than two more rear their ugly heads, and soon you’re entangled, not unlike Gulliver, by a hairball of these issues.
Knowing the questions is the first important step toward getting good answers regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself or getting (hopefully great) 3rd party advice. Toward that end, and presuming that you have studied my methodology for strategic HRM and HRMDS planning, here’s my list, updated as of its publication date, of the HRM delivery system questions that have given rise to so many of those requests for assistance — as well as my thoughts on some of the answers — in no particular order. Please note that, in the Talmudic tradition of reflection and analysis in which I was raised, for topics I consider to be of particular complexity and/or importance, the same topic is addressed with multiple questions to explore it from different angles. You’ll also note that I start with the foundations of your HRM delivery system, truly integrated HRMS/TM.
- Can we afford to and/or should we upgrade our licensed, on-premise ERP/HRMS? In almost all cases, my answer is a resounding NO. However, you might be the one in a thousand for whom this is still a sensible course of action, perhaps using 3rd party maintenance, at least until the newer true SaaS ERP/HRMS/TM (yes, with truly and deeply integrated talent management capabilities because core HRMS and TM are inextricably intertwined) have matured sufficiently for your industry/geography/business requirements. But if you do plan to wait, please keep an eye on the future because it’s racing toward you, and use this time wisely to rethink every aspect of your HRM policies/practices/data and coding structures/processes/business rules/etc. for the current era and to clean up you ratty data and coding structures for the future. This preparation will help you to move as quickly as possible when you’re ready to move to true SaaS.
- Can we afford and/or manage the integration of separate talent management applications? Here too, in most cases, my answer is a resounding NO. I’m not talking here about niche add-ons which extend talent management, e.g. sourcing tools, video conferencing, or course creation, but rather about the core applications which make up an integrated talent management suite. Here too you might be the one in a thousand for whom this is still a sensible course of action, and for the very same reasons and with many of the very same caveats as in #1 above. When you develop object models for talent management, the sheer number and complexity of the interconnections are revealed, and it is those interconnections which argue for more rather than less integration of the resulting applications and business processes. That said, some TM processes are less interconnected than others, so there are options here if — IF — you study carefully those interconnections.
- Are we better served by getting our talent management capabilities already integrated with our system of record’s (SOR’s) foundation from our SOR’s vendor than by piecing together and/or layering on a variety of separate talent management applications, no matter how supposedly integrated they may be? YES, but only if that so-called integrated talent management software from your SOR vendor is really integrated rather than glued together with some complex set of marketing-speak “integrations” across disparate object models, architectures, and underlying assumptions about HRM. With so much M&A across the HR technology industry, not to mention separate development efforts at the same firm, many brands now own a hodge podge of HRM software, including talent management software. While many of these applications may be quite good on their own, most are not integrated in the deep, profound way that’s only achieved through organic development of an integrated HRMS/TM suite based upon a shared set of object models, architecture and development environment. But, and it’s a huge BUT, organic development doesn’t necessarily produce great software. So we need both deeply integrated and great HRMS/TM. That’s the ideal, but all manner of approximations and combinations may work for you depending on your current HRM delivery system and your overall HRMS/TM strategy. Here too, modeling the domain leads to an understanding of what it is about core HRMS and TM which are inextricably intertwined and where there are less interconnected areas. But please note: if you plan to embed predictive analytics, calculated on the fly across a wide range of HRM processes and delivered “point of sale” to decision makers along with the related and actionable advice, you’d better ensure that all of these are resting on a common object model, with a common approach to effective-dating etc. so that your analytics aren’t a house built on sand.
- Are the so-called integrated talent management capabilities from our SOR’s (system of record’s) vendor truly integrated or are they in some stage of being interfaced and given a more or less common user experience? This is where those “killer” scenarios (and do search my blog on that phrase to find many posts covering the actual scenarios) come in along with your vendor’s own documentation. If there are integration processes/documentation/roadmaps etc., then you know a priori that you’re not dealing with the deepest level of integration which is only achieved during an organic build. Should you care? That depends entirely on where you need deep integration and where perhaps you don’t, and this is another great question best answered via using your own vision of HRM.
- Does our system of record’s (SOR’s) coding structures/data granularity/data accuracy/data-entry style self service/processes/business rules/etc. support talent management at the level we need? Let me say for the umpteenth time that you can’t do succession planning (executive or more broadly), position-based staffing, position-based organizational design (or even great org charts), workforce planning at any level of granularity, and so much more in TM if you don’t include a reasonable understanding and implementation of position in your object model and coding structures. No pain, no gain. Organizations which continue to implement new software on top of outdated processes, data and coding structures, and business rules are fooling themselves. Yes, you’ll be able to deliver analytics of some flavor to mobile devices, but you won’t have valid analytics or know if you’re even asking the right questions.
- Are the right capabilities available in our SOR and/or have they been implemented properly? So many of the ERP/HRMSs implemented with the help of major SIs were customized within an inch of their lives, often at the customer’s insistence — “we’ve always done it this way” — thus becoming a nightmare to upgrade. And with that huge sunk cost, on-premise ERP/HRMSs are going to have a long tail. But there’s a potentially huge opportunity cost to not having up-to-date capabilities, of not being agile in the face of business change, of not being able to attract and engage workers with a consumer user experience, etc. That opportunity cost can and must be measured as part of making the business case for staying on or moving off of your current SOR; use only TCO (total cost of ownership) at your peril.
- How can we bring our data entry-style self service into the mobile and social world? The bad news is that if you don’t build it, they won’t come — or they’ll sidestep everything you provide in favor of the consumer apps they know and love. Today’s workforce, especially those special folks with scarce KSAOCs who fill the key roles driving business outcomes, expect high quality technology enablement of their business processes, to include a consumer grade (but industrial strength) user experience. And they vote with their feet. In some cases you can upgrade a legacy on-premise HRMS or even an older standalone TM application with a new user experience, but that can often look like putting lipstick on a pig. So beware the shiny mobile thingy that doesn’t address the fundamental issues of having modern data structures, processes, business rules, etc.
- If we’re running on an ERP/HRMS, should we upgrade in place, implement that vendor’s next gen (when it’s ready, and whether or not it’s more or less next gen than we need), mix and match, or consider the options from other brands? I think I’ve already answered this, but let me say it one more time. Whatever else you consider, it’s absolutely necessary to take a hard look at all your options and not just those from your incumbent. This will be a new implementation even if you stay with your incumbent’s next generation, so you might as well take a look around before you make these decisions. Just because it’s time for a divorce, however civilized, it’s absolutely NOT the right time to jump into bed with the first person who asks.
- Will our smaller, primarily domestic, totally focused on HCM and still independent core HRMS vendor(s) be able to make the needed global, regulatory, architectural and functionality investments needed in their products to support our growing business? Will they be around long enough and with sufficient resources to deliver on mobile, social, global, analytics, gamification and so much more? What about that conversation user experience toward which our industry will be moving? This is an easy one because facts are facts. Just look at the track record of M&A in our industry, and you can see how many once independent players are now owned by aggregators, including private equity-funded aggregators. And while many of these products are still around, with some getting decent levels of maintenance investment, I believe it’s now clear that the weak are not going to inherit the software kingdom as we move aggressively to true SaaS.
- Lots of our vendors are describing their latest products as SaaS. How would we know if that’s true? Why should we care? Please, please read my posts on these points (just search for “true SaaS” to get them all) before concluding that if it’s hosted and subscribed you’ll be just fine. Those of us who’ve been around for a while remember very well what happened when then PeopleSoft put “client server” on the tips of every prospect’s tongue. Suddenly, every mainframe era HRMS vendor was declaring their product client server by coming up with definitions than even some of those vendors couldn’t say with a straight face. Anyone remember screen scraping? The whole debate about two-tiered vs three-tiered vs n-tiered? The bottom line was that you needed to start over, with a clean sheet of paper, in order to design truly client server software, and the same is true with SaaS.
- If our current vendors aren’t true SaaS as Naomi has defined it, are they likely to be viable long-term? Are there other workable definitions that make sense for some vendors? Sure. For example, one major vendor, Oracle, has a very different view of true SaaS than I do, and they have the long tail of their installed base plus almost unlimited resources to ensure that their point of view has legs. However, you should still educate yourself, if you’re a PeopleSoft or EBS HCM customer, about the real compare and contrast between Oracle Cloud HCM and your other options. And that said, do read my posts on the business benefits of true SaaS as I define it to be sure that you’re going to get those benefits — assuming you want them — via someone else’s definition of same, no matter the size of their marketing budget.
- Is it the right time to make the leap to a newer, SaaS generation of integrated HRMS/TM which are still building out talent management functionality and global capabilities? It’s clearly no longer a question of whether but of when. All the major vendors of licensed on-premise HRMS/TM are moving as fast as their legs can carry them to the cloud (regardless of whether I agree or don’t with their definitions) as well as to build out their cloud offerings, so they clearly are betting on a SaaS future (again, whatever their definitions). And there could be substantial $$ savings which would argue persuasively for a sooner rather than later leap. Your timing may be linked to an energizing event, e.g. the arrival of a new CIO who’s experienced with true SaaS and was brought in to move you there faster and/or the arrival of a giant bill from your incumbent vendor for extended support of an aged HRMS. But many of the leading organizations have already moved or are in high gear to do so very soon, so it’s well past time to get started.
- Should we stick to our older on-premise ERP/HRMS and add one or more talent management applications on top? With what approach to interfacing and/or integration? Forget integration if you go down this path as the best you can do is a great job of two-way interfaces. But if you must stay where you are for core HRMS — see above for potential reasons — then by all means figure out how to fill the gaps with interfaced talent management applications. The key to making this work is to really understand the limitations of and maintenance workload associated with these interfaces so that your expectations are in line with the reality delivered.
- What types of social technology capabilities should we consider for HRM? Across our organization? Unleashed within what processes? I’m a big believer in use case-based unleashing of a rich assortment of collaboration tools rather than just providing those collaboration tools and expecting customers to do the unleashing. One reason I feel this way is that results-oriented collaboration can degrade quite easily into time-wasting social noise. Another is that to achieve meaningful collaboration requires a full rethink of all the incentives and barriers to human collaboration, e.g. job descriptions, performance goals, and organizational designs. Seeing collaboration embedded within HRM processes, like the ability to add video “sticky notes” wherever you’d like or opportunities to rate proposals/suggestions/ideas/interactions/etc. and add relevant commentary, enrich the whole HRM experience while improving group decision-making.
- Should we be looking for social tech within the foundations of our HRMS/TM unleashed where we want them or looking at specific social apps? Not to sound like a weasel consultant, but the correct answer is both. Fundamental collaboration tools — embedded, user-created video content; discussion forums and threads; LinkedIn deeply connected to all worker/applicant KSAOC profiles and so much more — don’t all need to be built because many either open source or commercial capabilities can be made a part of the HRMS/TM foundations. But whether built or bought and deeply embedded, there are considerable use cases for embedding a wide range of collaboration tools into the foundations of all HRMS/TM software.
- Is it better to provide social technology capabilities that are specific to an HRM process or to provide broad access to those capabilities across HRM with a build it and they will come approach? See comments on 14-15 above.
- What policies are needed to balance the value of social and mobile technology, including “Bring Your Own Device” (so BYOD), with protecting our intellectual property, personal data privacy, and organizational productivity? I don’t know enough about you and your organization to provide an informed (biased?) suggestion here, but given the recent hacking of even Colin Powell’s emails, I’m inclined to err on the side of investing in proper security — physical, electronic, and organizational policy/culture/etc. — to protect both your workforce and your work.
- Is it better to provide mobile technology capabilities that are specific to an HRM process or to provide broad access to those capabilities across HRM? What’s this I hear about “mobile first” design, and why is that better? The train has so totally left the station on having a completely mobile strategy and design for all things HR technology, that I might have removed this trick question. But software that’s designed properly for mobile isolates the UX from other layers of the software and drives that UX to the maximum possible extent via effective-dated metadata so that changes to that UX can be done systemically via changes to the metadata and without causing unexpected ripples across other parts of the application. By the way, this is one of the big differences between the design of enterprise grade software and many consumer apps.
- Even as we’re automating the hell out of HRM, are there still obvious HRMDS targets for outsourcing? Of course there are, so are we doing as much of this as makes sense for us? Subscribing true SaaS is a form of outsourcing but here we’re referring to outsourcing an entire HRM process where the provider delivers the results to an agreed service level. I’ve long thought that background checking and US tax filing were obvious candidates for outsourcing to specialist providers. Global payroll processing and distributions also requires very specialized in-country capabilities in which many to most organizations shouldn’t indulge. Other great candidates include KSAOC assessment development and administration, US benefits administration, and those other regulatory processes, like garnishment management, which aren’t deeply interconnected with core HRMS/TM and which do benefit mightily from economies of scale. And of course, if you’re planning to stay on your aged on-premise HRMS or other such applications until hell freezes over (which, given climate change, could happen sooner than you expect), there’s always some flavor of lift and shift on offer to take the management and operations of those applications off your hands.
- What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to present an integrated view of organizational HRM data? Now that’s a great question, and you’re not going to like the answer. Any kind of integrated data view requires having all the relevant data, even if its aggregated data, within the same object or just data model and available to the same reporting and/or analytical tools. And when you outsource, you have to design both the technical solution as well as the contractual one needed to make this work.
- What impact would outsourcing specific HRMDS components have on our ability to provide embedded, actionable analytics? To me actionable means that the analytics, along with much needed context, advice, etc. are all delivered to me at the speed of human thought and decision-making. Have fun doing that when the data needed to feed the relevant algorithms is spread across myriad independent in-house and outsourced data sources. Of course it can be done, but you’re going to need some fancy footwork and a lot of processing power to get this done within the process which gave rise to the need in the first place.
- Are there areas within the HRMDS that just don’t make sense to do any way other than via tightly integrated components? Here core HRMS comes immediately to mind, and increasingly I believe that core TM requires tight integration with core HRMS.
- What impact would using best-of-breed solutions for specific HRMDS components have on our ability to present an integrated view of organizational HRM data? You also have to consider how analytics, particularly the quest for embedded, predictive analytics with advisory content, will work if various components are on different object models, with different approaches to effective-dating, etc.
- Our ERP/HRMS is described as licensed/on-premise, and we’re paying 22% of retail in annual maintenance. Are we getting enough value to justify those annual payments? You might want to follow the legal proceedings of Oracle vs Rimini Street to gain real insight into the reasons why so many customers are looking at other, lower cost options for the maintenance of their aging core HRMS. In many to most cases, I don’t believe late adopters of SaaS are getting enough innovation in their on-premise core HRMS to justify such high annual maintenance fees.
- Will our vendor’s next generation be free to us because of those annual maintenance payments? Are they essentially giving away their so-called “cloud” software, at least for a time, or providing major discounts in order to keep us in the family? There’s definitely some deep discounting going on by long-established vendors to retain their customer base as they transition to “cloud,” but there’s no shame in taking advantage of such discounts (always presuming there’s nothing ugly hidden in the fine print) if that vendor’s “cloud” products are the very best for your organization. But don’t be lulled into thinking that you won’t have a new implementation if you stay with the same vendor or that you can avoid a full-scale product and vendor evaluation to ensure that your incumbent vendor’s offering is the best fit for you. Once again, no pain, no gain.
- Are there alternatives to making those on-premise maintenance payments? Are their other sources for basic maintenance, especially if we’re on an older release? The answer is yes, and the options are many, but please do read consider the Oracle vs Rimini Street court documents. And you might want to get input from one of my colleagues who’s got great expertise in this area, like Brian Sommer, Holger Mueller, or Frank Scavo.
- Will our talent management software vendor(s) survive and prosper? What’s at risk if we’ve bet on a vendor that gets acquired? Heavy consolidation has already changed the competitive landscape across talent management, and there’s not many full TM suite vendors still operating independently. Around the edges of TM, where there’s a ton of VC-funded, sometimes innovative and sometimes not, vendors, many to most won’t survive in their current form. Their niche may have too small an addressable market and/or be overrun with startups. Their leadership team may underestimate the complexity of operating in a domain which is both highly regulated and increasingly global. At a minimum, when you’re selecting vendors on which you’re going to rely for core services, you must consider the impact of a change in vendor leadership and/or ownership on their product roadmaps and organizational viability.
- With all the consolidation going on in talent management, how can we determine if our vendors will be acquirers or be acquired? Does it matter? It does matter, and you have some important homework to do.
- Is it more important for us to get talent management right than to invest further in our administrative HRM foundations or will poor administrative foundations cripple our talent management efforts? This is one of the central questions addressed in any competent strategic HRM and HRMDS planning effort. Please see above for some useful links. One of the reasons that I would err on the side of truly integrated HRMS/TM is because those administrative foundations provide the objects and processes upon which TM is based.
- Do we really have to build/maintain the whole data warehouse apparatus just to get obvious analytics? To support actionable analytics at the “point of sale” (i.e. embedded in employee and manager self service)? The simple answer may be no with the big IF you’re running on an integrated HRMS/TM platform that does the heavy lifting for you. And that’s pretty much where you need to be because the whole data warehouse thing is so yesterday. But, if your HRM delivery system has myriad bits and pieces, you’ll certainly need some central place to pull together and modernize the relevant data, even aggregated data, to drive any flavor of analytics.
- Why can’t our payroll provider (yes, we outsourced that years ago) support the variety of workers, work roles, work schedules, total compensation plans, and other practices that we’re now using or need to use? What are our options here? The good news is that there are payroll providers which can address modern requirements. The bad news is that there aren’t many depending always on the geographies you need to cover. And no matter what they say, those providers cannot overcome the limitations of their software platforms without a ton of manual workarounds (which can of course be automated separately, but that’s by no means ideal), so perhaps it’s time to do a completely new assessment of both your needs and the capabilities of the best of today’s payroll outsourcers — especially of what their software actually can do and with what architectural and object model robustness that software operates. Yes, you’ve got it, I’m an object model and architectural bigot.
- What about our global payroll requirements? We’ve got large populations in a few countries and very small populations scattered everywhere else? Should we handle this ourselves? Do NOT try to handle all of this yourself. If you’re really concentrated in just a few countries with sizeable populations there and just a scattering of folks elsewhere, you might be a great candidate for using the true SaaS (but be sure that it really is true SaaS) payroll from your core HRMS vendor if they cover those key countries and then one of their global outsourcing partners to do the rest. Or, you could outsource the whole thing to one of a very small number of providers which is set up to do this well and at a reasonable cost. But for those organizations with significant populations in many different countries, perhaps with growth where you already are and more countries coming, you’re going to have to do a very careful assessment of capabilities needed versus costs because even the most capable providers differ in what they do best, where they do it best, and how they will price what you need. As of this writing, there is no global payroll provider using a single true SaaS payroll engine to service every country on the planet and with feet on the street in every country, so ALL of them are piecing together some combination of their own robust capabilities with those of owned in-country providers running on different (usually lesser) technology and 3rd party in-country providers over which they have VERY different levels of control. My own bias, assuming they have the capabilities that you need, is towards global vendors with the greatest control over their supply chain because that’s your best insurance policy.
- And what impact will the coming changes in verbal UXs, health care, talent management, social learning, robotic workers, globalization, HR technology, workforce diversity, executive compensation caps, government-inspired and/or -led growth programs, [you name the issue] have on our aging, too many moving parts, never implemented well and/or too expensive to maintain HRM delivery system — and on our ability to deliver the HRM outcomes our organization expects? I think you know the answer, and it’s not going to make you happy. The more moving parts you have, the most ripple effects there are when making changes, and change has become your middle name. Just as many of us are trying to declutter our homes and lives in order to mitigate the feeling that we’re always behind and overwhelmed, we must do the same thing to our HRM policies/practices/plans and to our HR technology.
- We seem to have a disconnect between our administration and strategic HRM data — could that be the result of disconnected systems, data definitions, organizational responsibilities, HRM business rules, etc.? Yup. See my answer to #33 above.
- What changes should we be making in our HRM policies and practices to support a more social, mobile and global workforce? Won’t our software vendors provide these? Are you kidding? You own our HRM policies and practices, but of course you want your HR technology to be robust enough — so rapid innovation, easy adoption, and quick/low cost configuration — to support us almost no matter what happens next.
- I keep hearing about social/mobile/global/embedded analytics/the importance of integrated talent management/[you name the hot topic here], but these capabilities seem to be add-ons at added cost etc. from our primary vendors. Is that right? I sure hope that you’re getting much of this without additional cost. It’s certainly reasonable for vendors to charge for major new capabilities, like a full-fledged, modern, video-centric learning application or a new layer of embedded intelligence, but you should otherwise be getting tons of new value each year in return for your subscription. ***Naomi — Are you as exhausted reading this as I am writing it? Unless I stick to the questions and stop with all the added comments, this will get posted sometime after the election results are in and long after both relevant conferences. So, from her on, you’ll have to flesh out the questions yourselves.***
- How do I push more and more responsibility for HRM to managers and to the workforce without having a whole range of compliance/productivity/decision-making problems? How do I provide these users with enough embedded intelligence to enable effective decision-making? To enable correct and timely HRM transactions?
- Every time I ask for a briefing on the current state of our HRMDS, my eyes glaze over from the complexity and detail. How do I know if we have more moving pieces than we need? If we have the right pieces? If we’re spending the right amount to achieve our needed outcomes?
- How can we keep all the pieces playing well together? How much bailing wire and chewing gum does it take to keep everything running? Can we afford that? Can we keep up with needed innovation?
- Our CEO asked me if we have the HRM capabilities we need to help the organization deliver improved business outcomes. Frankly, I haven’t got a clue, but I’d better try to figure this out ASAP.
- How can I find enough resources to invest in strategic HRMDS components when everything’s being starved because of the black holes of administrative HRM, including compliance, which really don’t drive business outcomes no matter how well-done they are? Whenever the government tries to consolidate military bases, you see a living example of what happens when interested parties go to war against each other rather than working together for the greater good.
- Cloud/smoud — my CIO is deadset against it but all the hot new software is built for it. What do I do? I could be flippant and say just wait for your CIO to be replaced, but that’s not very helpful. Perhaps you could provide your CIO with selected readings? Show him/her what true SaaS applications already in use — and yes, you’ve already got some, perhaps a lot, of SaaS in your organization — are delivering for the business.
- I know we need analytics, but which ones? My team has proposed 217, all of which sound interesting and potentially relevant, but what I really need are the half dozen that would tell me how we’re really doing. One of my favorite metrics for linking what HRM does to organizational outcomes is to calculate the average contributions to revenues and profits of each FTE worker (so both employees and contingent workers). In a for profit organization, increasing revenues and profitability are central to both survival and success, so why not start there? Going deeper, you want to highlight those aspects of HRM which drive revenue and profitability per FTE.
- Social sourcing sounds wonderful, and everyone’s doing it, but is it really applicable to our need for [place your scarce KSAOC list here]? I’m a big believer in social sourcing, using public services like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to broadcast opportunities and research potential candidates. But, and it’s a big BUT, the power of such broadly-based communities works best for those who have built up considerable street cred within these communities. If I tweet a link about job opportunities in the HR technology industry, there’s a huge probability that likely candidates are among my followers. But if I tweet the need for a nuclear physicist for a faculty position at MIT, there’s a much lower probability that my followers will include likely candidates. Building a positive and useful presence online, for yourself and for your organization, takes time and a ton of effort. If you intend to use such presence as a sourcing mechanism, there’s no time to lose because it will take considerable elapsed time before you’re ready to source effectively in this way.
- I’m hearing a lot about chatbots, but are they more than software that talks me through what I thought the software I just bought was already doing for me?
- I’m hearing a lot about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), but is this something I need to prioritize ahead of rebuilding my core HRMS/TM with truly integrated, true SaaS?
- With limited budget, what will give me the biggest bang for the bunk in terms of increasing worker satisfaction/engagement/productivity/”happiness”/etc.?
And now for a few of my personal favorites, consolidated from those calls for help for which I can no longer provide anything more than an hour of conversation and referrals, just for laughs.
- My global head of talent is telling me that we must get all of our talent applications from the same vendor in order to get the deep process and data integration that he tells me integrated TM requires. If we do that, buy everything from a single vendor, will it really truly scouts’ honor be fully integrated?
- The last guy who’s able to maintain the extensive COBOL code we used to create our highly customized Cyborg/Genesys/Tesseract/Integral/MSA/[put your favorite truly over-the-hill essentially payroll but now doing everything imaginable application brand here, and with full knowledge on my part that all of these brands are getting some level of quite sincere regulatory support and other updates from their current owners] has gone out on emergency long term disability, and we never did get him to document that code. Help!
- My predecessor insisted that we needed an enterprise-level ERP/HRMS. Four years and millions of $$ later, we’re not implemented, the SI (systems integration) leader (the new one, his predecessor was promoted) tells me that we don’t have either our organizational structure nor our jobs defined right to meet the analytical requests I’ve made of the system, the release we’ve been implementing seems to have been overtaken by the vendor’s newest release (and that’s the one that has the improved user experience that we really need), and now my new golfing buddy (who’s a partner at another SI) suggests that what we’ve selected is gross overkill for our 500 person, entirely US-based call center business for which our financials are moving “into the cloud,” whatever that means. When I told a trusted HR exec colleague about all of this, she said don’t make another move until you talk to Naomi.
All laughs aside, these are really tough questions, all of them. And you know that I’ve addressed a lot more, along with my thoughts on how to answer them, across my blog. When you put these questions into the context of a specific organization, of your organization, answering them is worthy of your best efforts. So “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” then delve into the details to develop your own answers. If you are facing any of these questions, please do your homework (which I hope includes reading my entire blog 🙂 and don’t be flimflammed. And please do take full advantage of the terrific sessions at the #HRTechConf and #HRTechWorld conferences. I’ll be speaking at both conferences this year and will look forward to seeing you there.
It’s that time of year again, and this year I’m scheduled for three major HR technology conferences between now and Halloween. Each is very different, but for me each represents a valuable opportunity to learn, network, visit with old friends, share what I know, and did I mention learn?
I’ll have my husband, Ron Wallace, with me at both HR Tech Conference & Expo in Chicago and HR Tech World Congress in Paris (trying keeping him away from Paris!), and that’s a huge help because I’ll be speaking at each of these conferences as well as hosting all manner of industry meetings. For Workday Rising, which is also in Chicago this year, I’m going on my own safe in the knowledge that, as an analyst there, I won’t have quite so many miles to scoot nor as many industry meetings to attend. Hopefully, I’ll get to see all of you at one or more of these important events in our industry’s calendar.
But whether you’re going to all of these or just one of them (and I can’t imagine that any of you will be missing all of them), it’s time to finalize your preparations so that you get the most out of your time in Chicago and/or Paris. I’d add that what I propose below applies equally well to any other sizable vendor-produced or industry events of the HR technology persuasion. They may also apply to all manner of other technology-related events, but you’ll have to decide that for yourselves.
If you’re anything like me, from the time you arrive in a conference city, you’re off and running, non-stop, on:
- vendor/industry meetings,
- exhibition hall booth visiting (I make a valiant effort each year to stop at everything single booth, but now the two big HR tech shows have gotten so large that many of these visits are flybys at best with no disrespect intended),
- session attending,
- session delivery,
- intense but wonderful hallway and restroom exchanges (do guys do as much substantive chatting and networking in their restrooms as we do?),
- time with valued colleagues and long-standing industry friends,
- an occasional meal and more than an occasional drink,
- tweetups and meetups,
- our annual Brazen Hussies gatherings, and more.
As I’m finalizing my own preparations for these conferences, I thought you might enjoy a few tips from my personal list. And like all good twitterstreams, please read from the bottom up:
Bonus tip: This is where I had planned to suggest that you read my entire blog, from 11/9/2009 forward, but that seemed really pushy. Instead, just read those posts that are relevant to your purpose in Paris and/or Chicago. I can’t help but encourage you to focus on the posts that discuss what’s happening in HRM software that’s just out of sight, what you should be looking for “derriere le mirroir.” What you don’t know can cost you dearly! And it will come as no secret that I’m urging buyers to be really pushy with vendors whose imprecision about what they have on offer fits right in with this wacked our presidential election.
#Tip #10: Get dates for #HRTechConf and #HRTechWorld 2017 on your calendar and in your budget right now. Each of these shows has its own special flavor and areas of emphasis, and only some of you may find that attending both is justified, but whatever your inclinations, do get that budget justification in process now.
#Tip #9: Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen because sharing questions, ideas and experiences with colleagues is the point. Bring your list of the folks you follow most on Twitter and make it a point to meet them. Come up to me after my sessions and hit me with your questions. And do feel quite comfortable approaching almost anyone about anything reasonable; it takes a village, and that’s HCM and HR technology all over. And I would definitely get your foreign language skills in gear — a MUST if you’re hoping to support global organizations or becoming a global citizen yourself — whether you’re planning to attend the Paris conference or just go out for authentic Italian food in Chicago.
#Tip #8: Bring a swag carrier if you’re flying in and plan to carry your giant stuffed toy home in your lap. Ron can’t imagine coming home from one of these conferences without a new monster, but I’ve warned him not to expect one this year given Randstad’s announced intent to acquire Monster. And if you’re a vendor doing some swag planning, we love: umbrellas (the rainy season is on right now, and you can never have too many), interesting stress reduction toys, cuddly creatures (why doesn’t anyone ever give away big stuffed alligators), shoe bags (those soft ones in which you pack your shoes when traveling), towels (all sizes appreciated), t-shirts (medium for Ron, XL for me — embarrassing but true), international electrical plug sets, great bottles of wine, and books we’d really like to read, but please no more vendor-branded tablet or phone covers. The risk of meeting with Vendor A with your iPad wrapped in Vendor B is just too high.
#Tip #7: Leave room in your schedule for serendipity and for nature breaks — well at least nature breaks. I’ve met some amazing women during those nature breaks; I can’t speak for what goes on in the men’s room. Given the sometimes impossible lines at the lady’s rooms at US convention venues, I think the French idea of shared restrooms — common sink area and a collection of stalls into which you slip as they become available — has real merit. Why should women be waiting on line while stalls in a separate men’s room are free? And sharing the sinks would also provide opportunities for mixed gender ad hoc discussions of conference-related topics — or not.
#Tip #6: Attend as many sessions as possible. I do because, at least when there’s NO sales crap allowed, they’re generally excellent. Come prepared to be an active listener, to take notes, to provide a twitterstream for your colleagues who couldn’t attend in person, and to boo any speaker who dares to give you a sales pitch or to trash their competitors. And the best thing we can do to support the hard-working men who program these conferences — so Peter Russell for the Paris show and Steve Boese for Chicago — is to complete those evaluation forms, adding comments as appropriate.
#Tip #5: Don’t try to attend > 3 vendor parties after a long first day of sessions. I hate missing all those great parties, but my party all night and work all day years are behind me — and behind many to most of you as well although some of you aren’t ready to admit it. Save at least a few brain cells for the second day of sessions; you’ll thank me if you do. And for those of you attending the Paris show, surrounded by some of the greatest wines in the world, I’ve learned my lesson about indulging in too much of those wines at the mid-morning coffee breaks.
#Tip #4A: Download the conference’s app and learn how to use it. Increasingly, this is the only way to know what’s going on, and the best of these apps support your networking goals, plug you into the best parties, offer suggestions on what sessions may be of greatest interest, etc. Being the oldest person you know in the industry, I like to support my aging memory with an overall itinerary for myself that includes my travel plans, all meetings with agenda, attendee information and logistics, location of the exhibitors I most want to visit, location of the sessions I most want to attend, details on relevant parties, and more. And while I carry this electronically, I also carry — yes, I really do — a hard copy. No dead phone battery, small screen/tired eyes combo, or last minute change is going to catch me unprepared. But of course, you probably don’t need such backup.
#Tip #4: Plan your conference in advance. With what vendors do you want to schedule extended and/or private demos? Make those appointments now. What attendees with whom you share specific issues/vendors/industry concerns/etc. do you want to meet? And if you’re all on the same true SaaS product, you won’t have to waste a minute asking each other what release you’re on! Do that outreach and arrange those meetings now. Pick your sessions and, because there are too many good ones for just one person, find a buddy with whom you can divide and conquer. Better yet, bring a whole team to these conferences and cover the ground.
#Tip #3: Carry a water bottle and refill it at every chance you get. Convention center climates are designed to dessicate, and they don’t always have enough refreshment stations. Lately I’ve been carrying a protein bar or two in my briefcase, something you may also want to consider. And I could also suggest that you bring a restorative flask, but we HR people would never make such a suggestion.
#Tip #2A: Assume that the convention center will be too cold/too hot/too drafty/too whatever, and dress accordingly. We’ll be overrun with executives from across the industry, buyers and sellers, so you may want to lose the flipflops, cutoffs, and anything that reveals parts of you that I’d rather not see. Here I’m showing my personal biases, but business casual does not translate in my book into anything lower down the sartorial scale than clean pressed jeans, a similarly clean ironed t-shirt with at least short sleeves, most of your tattoos tactfully covered, and shoes. Of course, these suggestions only apply to the granddaddy of HR technology shows, the big Kahuna, in Chicago, and to Workday Rising. Many of our Continental colleagues lean toward business formal, as in dark suit and tie. Hmm….
#Tip #2: Wear your most comfortable walking shoes. There will be few places to sit except in sessions and long convention center distances to cover. Yes, I know that my younger female colleagues will want to show off those Manolo D’orsay spikes — the latest in fashionista circles — and I don’t blame you, but be sure you’ve got a suitably designed male colleague at the ready to carry you after the first hour. Having done my fair share of spike heel time, I’m convinced that there’s a direct connection to my now arthritic joints. It doesn’t matter what shoes I’ll be wearing as I flash by on my magic carpet (electric scooter), but you’ll be limping by noon if you don’t select your shoes carefully. And speaking of that magic carpet, we finally found, in an English antique shop, a suitable horn so that I can give fair warning before running over fellow conference goers.
#Tip #1: For vendors of greatest interest, do your homework in advance, preparing the mental scenarios that you’d like to see, so that booth time is hands-on demo time. And be sure to spend time on the floor checking out some of the newer/smaller vendors. There’s a ton of innovation going on in our industry, and it isn’t always on offer at the flashiest booths. In spite of the heavy industry consolidation, VC moola has been flowing into all things HR technology, so there are going to be a bazillion vendors at both conferences of which you’ve never heard — and many of which will disappear just as quickly.
Most important: whichever conferences you attend, be sure to say thank you to the conference organizers. They work their butts of all year to give you the best possible learning/networking/problem solving experience, and they deserve our gratitude. See you soon….
For this 15th anniversary of jihadist Islam’s declaration of war on the United States, I wanted to express my anger at what this war has cost all of us in the loss of privacy and freedom as well as in human lives and treasure. It’s a war whose enemy combatants wear no recognizable uniforms, dwell in the shadows, and do not recognize the Geneva Conventions. And it’s a war that cannot be won solely on the battlefield.
But there is one weapon that has emerged over the last fifteen years which does have the power to help defeat our enemies in this global struggle between the forces of modernity, of diversity, of individual and group freedoms and those who would turn back the clock to the dark ages, enslave women, drives Jews into the sea and generally reduce civilization to pre-enlightenment brutality. That weapon is social technology and the ubiquitous access to same via our smartphones.
Thanks to this technology, we have all listened to the twitterstream and seen the smartphone pictures and videos of freedom movements across the Arab world — and those leading and participating in these uprisings have used social and related information technologies to plan and coordinate their brave actions in the face of almost overwhelming and violent crackdowns by the worst possible governments. When the brave citizens of Iran tried to rise up against their truly scary leaders, we changed our location on Twitter to Tehran in an effort to confuse Iran’s computer security forces who were trying to track down the rebels. And many in the technology community have worked hard to keep vital social technology operational even as these repressive governments were trying to shut it down.
But none of that social technology was available to us on 9/11/2001, and our cellular networks weren’t able to keep up with the traffic as we all tried to get to safety and to make sense out of what was happening. What follows is an email I wrote to friends and family on 9/13/2001 after arriving home safely in what can only be described as the great HR Tech Conference (it was held in Baltimore that year) evacuation of 2001. It was a very scary time, and what I wrote captures both my fears and my anger. If I’d had a blog then, I would have written this as a post. And if I’d had a smartphone with camera, I would have recorded our flight from Baltimore with pictures. But reading this now, the pictures are VERY clear in my mind.
“Dear friends and family,
I arrived home in Fort Myers last evening after driving for two days in a commandeered Dulles Washington Flyer taxi from Baltimore, where I had been speaking at the HR Tech Conference. We avoided all metro areas just to be on the safe side. Emily Eason, a dear friend whom some of you know, and I decided that staying in Baltimore wasn’t where we wanted to be (she’s from Seattle), so we called upon Ozzie, the driver we used when we both lived in the Washington area. While our usual driver was in Turkey to see his sick Mom, the colleague answering his calls had heard of us and, after confirming with Ozzie that “our check was good,” he agreed to drive us to Fort Myers — and to take our check. We’ve been checking on friends and family too, and so far, so good.
I know you all remember the start of the Yom Kippur war. I remember it vividly. Sitting in Kodimoh (my family’s orthodox schul in Springfield, MA), in the women’s section (can you imagine me being told to go sit in the women’s section?), deep in prayer, when the sabbath goy (the schul’s handyman) ran in and right up to the rabbi waving a note. We all continued the traditional chanting, thinking that the interruption was some housekeeping matter. And then the rabbi stopped the service to tell all of us that Israel’s enemies had chosen that day of all days to attack the Jewish state. First there was absolute shock and silence, then the murmurs began, and then I remember (but perhaps I only imagine it in my memory) that the sound of singing broke out, spontaneously, as we raised our voices in the Israeli national anthem. When the congregation took their seats again, our then Rabbi Weisfogel challenged us to do whatever we could to demonstrate our solidarity with Israel and to show our commitment to the failure of our enemies by succeeding. Success not just in war but in living. Again, it may be more in my memory than it was in reality, but I came away from that day really believing that in our individual and collective success lies the failure of our enemies. Where did you think they got the expression “living well is the best revenge”?
All of that came back to me Tuesday morning when, at the HR Tech conference in Baltimore, I was sitting on an industry analyst panel moderated as always by Bill Kutik, when a man walked in and up to Bill with a note. Bill stepped out for a moment while we continued the panel discussion, thinking it was some housekeeping matter. We finished the panel and then Bill announced, with utter disbelief, that the enemies of the US — the enemies of every civilized human being — had attacked the World Trade Center. We all know now just how extensive was that attack, and how well-planned. And I wish now that I had stood up and broken into our national anthem, but I was too shaken.
After two days of silent driving, it’s time to speak. If a small country like Israel has survived, surrounded by so many enemies, and Israelis have learned to live fully and richly in spite of the best efforts of terrorists to steal their freedom and their joy, can we do less? I for one intend to show these bastards that they’ve messed with the wrong woman. I’m back at work this morning, and I’m going on with a long-planned vacation to Italy at the end of September. With every successful business venture, with every successful volunteer effort, with every step forward, personally and professionally, that we take individually and collectively, we demonstrate our solidarity with our countrymen and our commitment to the failure of our enemies. ”
Let’s give them hell. Naomi
Update: 9-10-2016 Ron’s and my commitment to living large, to living well, to showing those bastards that our vision of civilization won’t give in to theirs, is even stronger now than it was fifteen years ago. We know that they’re spending their 15th anniversary of 9/11 plotting murder, mayhem and the overthrow of all that we hold dear, but we refuse to spend our 15th anniversary in fear of what they may do next. And to those in our own country who would preach fear of “the other,” who would preach isolation from this dangerous world, who believe our best days are somewhere in the past, I say you couldn’t be more wrong. So let’s sing out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ETrr-XHBjE
There’s been some great coverage of their latest earnings call, to include from Dennis Howlett at Diginomica and Larry Dignan at ZDNet (and please do point me to other high quality coverage). Now I’m neither a financial or IT analyst, but I do think there are a few items from that earnings call which deserve a little more attention. In addition to what was said explicitly, here’s what I “heard.”
The Power Of The Platform
Neither hyped by Workday on the call nor questioned deeply by the financial analysts, Workday Learning and Student will be generally available this month — although it’s still early days for these newer capabilities — and baked into their sales machine with good uptake. More importantly for this student of definitional, models-driven development, there’s a growing body of evidence that Workday is not only getting substantial reuse (translate: reduced development time/effort/cost/errors) from their object model (e.g. corporate learning courses/classes/content and academic courses/classes/content have tons in common in terms of their attribution and behaviors) but that their approach to development has reduced substantially the amount time/effort/cost/errors it takes to go from object model to delivered functionality.
When both Learning and Student first were mentioned, there were a number of comments to the effect that Workday might be biting off more than they realized to automate fully two such complex domains. Now you can look across what they’ve done and see how much leverage has been achieved by recognizing the “patterns in the problem” and abstracting those patterns to the greatest possible extent as effective-dated metadata. Of course this is how all modern software is being built, but you only get to do this systemically, thus getting maximum leverage from this approach for both vendor and customer, if you start from scratch, build your tools and methodologies to support this approach, and then impose strict and consistent discipline across the organization so that you’re not weighed down with exceptions.
The Power Of Interrogatory Configuration
I take a lot of teasing from my colleagues because of my emphasis on (some would say devotion to) some very specific design principles for enterprise software. One of these is interrogatory configuration. But what may have looked like foolish devotion to many is critical, in my view, to the vendor’s economics as well as to the customer’s sanity in the continuous implementation of true SaaS. Now that many vendors, particularly those with broad functional footprints, are working on some flavor of interrogatory configuration, the teasing has let up a little, but it should come as no surprise that I was delighted to hear Aneel speak about the “tooling” on which they’ve been working to reduce implementation cost/complexity/time.
While aimed (at least initially) at expediting the most common implementation paths for mid-market, non-manufacturing businesses, I’m reading between the lines to discern, given their past conservatism, that they wouldn’t have mentioned this until they’ve cracked the very difficult technical and domain expertise challenges of doing this. Aneel also mentioned that they’ll be talking more at Rising about what they’ve been doing, and I’ve got fingers crossed that we may see a demonstration. This is potentially huge, now with mid-market but over time with everyone.
The Power Of The IBM Relationship — Not Just IaaS
I don’t think there was a mention of financials and IBM in the same breath, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the possibilities here. IBM will be replacing their financials at some point, and I can’t imagine they would have gone to Workday for HCM (that’s confirmed) without thinking about the longer term pluses and minuses of bringing financials under the same architectural and object model umbrella. In my opinion, it’s only that level of true integration that provides the right foundation for predictive analytics at the speed of human decision-making.
But that degree of integration is not possible with SAP as HCM and FI run on fundamentally different architectures there. Plus S/4HANA only runs on HANA, and that competes directly with IBM’s DBMS market, something SAP didn’t do before. As for Oracle, their cloud applications only run on Oracle, which obviously competes with IBM’s DBMS market. Add that SAP and Oracle aren’t using (at least TMK) IBM’s cloud IaaS, and I think there’s a significant probability that IBM will move to Workday Financials when they’re ready for a next generation, true SaaS financials.
The Power of Partnerships That Go Poof!
First there was a lot of back channel discussion when Ultimate and NetSuite did their partnership. General view was that this was a good move for both firms, a primarily defensive move in a world where mid-market companies show a marked propensity to want financials and HCM applications to be “integrated.” There wasn’t as much discussion as I thought there should be at the time of how long this partnership would last once Oracle bought NetSuite, which was always assumed. Well, now that the NetSuite SaaS experiment has been bought back into the Oracle fold, there’s a lot to consider for customers of both companies who saw NetSuite and Ultimate, in addition to their other pluses, as the NOT Oracle and NOT ADP.
I think Ultimate loses big time on this even as pressure is increasing from mid-market buyers to get fully integrated ERP, which includes HCM. And I think this is a substantial net plus for Workday. Those mid-market customers are still hoping for a truly integrated HCM/Financials suite, and that’s something that NetSuite can’t provide even though it can certainly be made to interface smoothly with Oracle’s cloud HCM. And the uncertainty surrounding the channel competition (e.g., when does Oracle now offer its own cloud suite versus referring prospects to NetSuite? how does Oracle attach its own HCM suite to NetSuite or support a continued relationship with Ultimate?) bring opportunities in the mid-market for NetSuite’s competitors, now including Workday.
The Power Of Active Listening
I’ve been sitting in on a lot of earnings calls this year, educating myself about specific vendors and learning more about how financial analysts look at our market. One thing that fascinates me is how blandly those financial analysts pose their questions. I’m also amazed at how little attention is paid to the actual software, to its architecture, object model, development methodology, fit for purpose, etc. In my mind, what goes on behind the curtain is just as important, maybe more important, than what you can see easily in a demo or read from an earnings call transcript. There are many aspects of an enterprise software company which can be revised pretty quickly, from strategy to sales techniques to target market analysis. But vendors are for the most part stuck with their software foundations, with the good and bad decisions they’ve made about those foundations. While there’s always a certain amount of refactoring to be done, and smart vendors are always paying down their technical debt, the fact is that you cannot get to where most vendors want to be without having started as you meant to go on. Now that would be a great topic for one of these earnings calls.
[Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday, 10/2, and continues through sundown on Tuesday, 10/4. And thus begins the Hebrew year 5777. Yom Kippur beings at sundown on Tuesday, 10/11 and continues through sundown on Wednesday, 10/12/17.]
Last year’s Jewish High Holy Days occurred right when I was celebrating my 70th birthday, so I was already in the introspective, life assessing frame of mind which is a major focus of these holidays. 70 was the age I always thought of as really old, but of course I’ve now redefined old age to start at 90. 70 brought another decade of my life to a close, thus increasing the incentives for quiet reflection, reassessment and rededication which are central to this period on the Jewish calendar.
But this last year, while filled with so many of the good things in life for Ron and me, has brought us more horribly violent global conflicts and the millions of innocent refugees whose circumstances break our hearts, more fear of both terrorism and domestic gun violence and Zika, and US election primaries which not only have illuminated long unresolved cultural divides in my country but also have empowered those who would otherwise still be living under their rocks of prejudice, bigotry, reality TV’s narcissism, geopolitical ignorance, cultural insensitivity and even demagoguery. It’s been a really awful year for so many people, and all of this makes it more important than ever that we find space in our overbooked and over-connected lives to prepare for and then experience Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
So I thought I’d give everyone a month’s notice before the start of these holidays in hopes that you’ll have enough lead time to clear your calendars and minds for the annual stock taking which is at the heart of Judaism. It’s a wise person — and that includes everyone of my followers/readers no matter your religion or lack thereof — who will use this time to take stock of their lives, cherishing their accomplishments and vowing to mitigate their shortcomings, deciding what they’d like to do, see, experience, learn, accomplish, improve, etc. in the coming years as well of how and with whom they want to spend increasingly precious time.
Each year, even if I’ve been thinking about these questions at other times, I take seriously the purpose of the Days of Awe, that period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we Jews are commanded to take stock, to address our own shortcomings, and to rededicate our lives to higher purpose. We are also commanded, during this period, to resolve outstanding earthly issues before we seek atonement for our spiritual ones during Yom Kippur. Hopefully, I haven’t offended or harmed too many of you this year, and I’ve certainly tried to right any such wrongs. But, if I have wronged anyone inadvertently, please accept my apologies.
So what is it that we should be asking ourselves during the Days of Awe? Have we done as much as possible during the last year to serve mankind? Have we used our capabilities to the max in benefit not only of ourselves but of humanity? Have we dealt honestly with our family, friends and colleagues in both our personal and business dealings? Are there acts of kindness which we should have committed but whose moment we let pass without action? The list is long of all the ways in which we may or may not have lived up to our potential, and so is the list of potential commitments to improvement that we should be making for the New Year. But for us, these lists have long since been written.
Jews live with the responsibility to carry out 613 mitzvot (commandments) which, taken together, represent a value system that really does put the humanity back into human and the civilized back into civilization. And while many of those mitzvot may well appear outdated or even foolish when read on our smart phones while sipping a latte, it’s quite a collection of golden rules by which to live a full and worthwhile life while respecting the desire of others to do the same. Even if you’re completely non-religious, or if you practice a completely different religion, you’ll find in the mitzvot of Judaism at least a few ideas for improving your behavior, your contributions to society, your relationships and so much more. For your convenience, you can find the entire list at “Judaism 101.”
To my Jewish friends, family and colleagues, “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem,” may you and yours be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet year. And to all the wonderful gentiles in my life, I wish you exactly the same, even if you’re working off a different calendar. We can but pray that 5777 will be the year when mankind grows up.
And We Still Need A “Village!”
Some of you may know that I started my professional career in 1967 as a programmer trainee at then John Hancock Life Insurance in Boston. I was part of a trainee class that was made up primarily of new grads from Ivy League universities with degrees in such diverse fields as linguistics, sociology, anthropology and, in my case, English literature with a minor in natural sciences (cobbled together from the courses I had taken when my planned major was physics). Our class was about half and half, young men and women.
It wasn’t long before I learned that the women were all being paid $139 per week while our male colleagues made $152 per week for doing precisely the same work and with precisely the same credentials. If you know me at all, then you know that this early evidence of gender bias and income disparity did NOT sit well.
When I asked then Personnel (long before it became HR or acquired even more fanciful names, like central casting or associate relations, and before the supporting software went from payroll to HRIS to HRMS and on to today’s HCM) about this disparity and bias, I was told by the nice Personnel lady that those male colleagues would soon be family breadwinners whereas I would be leaving to raise my family or, at best, sharing my attention between child-raising and work. That too didn’t sit well with my feminist soul, and I left John Hancock as soon as I’d gotten enough training and experience under my belt to make that a sensible move.
That truly was what women of my generation faced when we began to enter the professional workforce in large numbers in the 60’s, but I never imagined we would still be fighting those battles now, a half century later. Gender bias and income inequality in the workforce, particularly in my world of enterprise software, may not be as bad as it was then, but it’s bad enough that we’re still talking about it. I’m not a researcher or an academic, and you should turn to them for an accurate assessment, country by country and job type by job type, of where we stand now. But what I do know from my own work experience is that, across the enterprise software industry, there are very few women in CTO, CIO, chief architect, head of development, and other technology leadership roles.
In this latest “Firing Line with Bill Kutik” conversation, I share my thoughts on why so many of my programmer trainee classmates didn’t get to the top of their field, what I did to face down the barriers on my career path, and some things we could be doing — right now — to improve the situation. I hope you’ll watch the video when you have a moment, but I also hope that you’ll get out there and do whatever you can to fix this imbalance.
Since this is my blog, and a place where you can comment, I’d like to speak directly to my colleagues about two challenges for which there just wasn’t time in our Firing Line format. First, there’s no way to get to the top of any field, technology or otherwise, without making huge personal sacrifices. And that goes for those who aspire as well as those who become their life partners. For every woman (or man, for that matter) who is capable of and interested in becoming a chief architect or CIO or head of development, there’s a long tough road ahead, many obstacles to be overcome, and decades of long hours and tough choices.
No one can manage all of this and raise a family and have any quality of life unless they’ve got a “village” to help them, and not all of us are fortunate enough to have that village in place when we want to start a family. Whether that “village” is a group of friends, a spouse, and/or family members, the reality is that you’re going to need their help, their understanding, and their active support if you’re going to pursue the highest levels of tech leadership and raise a family.
In our case, the choice not to have children wasn’t difficult, and it was the right one for us. It made it much easier for each of us to take on heavy travel job opportunities and to pursue them aggressively. But there’s simply no way that I could have had the last 15+ years of the career I wanted, especially once I developed the mobility challenges of which some of you are aware, if my husband Ron Wallace, like a knight in shining armor, hadn’t come to my aid. Even without children, it takes a “village.”
For a growing number of women in today’s HR tech leadership roles, their life partners are taking on, like Ron has done, the at home responsibilities so that they can pursue their careers and, perhaps, raise a family while maintaining the required heavy schedules, including travel schedules, that our field requires. In other cases, parents are stepping in to help on the home front so that both partners can pursue their career ambitions. Some couples earn enough early on to afford full-time, live-in child care or other such arrangements, while others patch together an assortment of child and home care arrangements to enable both careers to progress. Toughest of all, and those for whom I have the greatest respect, are the single parents carrying the full load of breadwinning, child and home care. And while salaries in technology can be quite generous, they can be much less so on the bottom rungs, in the many adjunct roles that don’t require quite as much education, and when that single parent cannot manage full-time work.
Over the years, especially once my own career was well-established, I’ve been that friend who held the fort for a colleague (although not when it comes to small children because I’m totally incompetent until they’re completely sentient) at a client site or on a deliverable when I could do it and they couldn’t. And, for close friends and family, I’ve been their patient advocate even lifeline as they went through the hell of serious medical treatments. Yes, it does take a “village,” and you can’t start early enough to build and nurture that “village” against your future ambitions.
Second, there’s something else that we touch on in the video but didn’t have enough time to explore fully, namely the role played by personality in reaching the top of whatever heap you choose to climb. Call it grit, perseverance, resilience, strength of character, or sheer determination to describe that collection of KSAOCs which enables some people to just keep moving, to pick themselves up when they’ve been knocked down, to refuse to be limited by the assessment of others, and to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. I don’t know the right words to describe these behaviors, and I don’t know why some people develop them while others, even siblings, do not. But I do know that all the women in my experience, who have made it to the top of anything, have these qualities in spades.
Others may have suspected this about me, but I didn’t discover these qualities until my first career dreams went up in smoke. I went to UPenn to become a nuclear physicist but discovered, pretty early in my education there, that I lacked that special intellectual gifts which were required to move beyond learning the proofs of even advanced physics to positing and solving what had not yet been proven. I remember very well that awful day when I knew that my dream wasn’t achievable, and you won’t be surprised that I had a couple of good cries while grieving for what was lost. But then I picked myself up, got some input from teachers and advisers, did some research, and figured out where to go next, all while working nearly full-time to pay my living expenses. There were still some zigs and zags before I landed at John Hancock as a programmer trainee, and many more bumps and lumps from then until now, but somewhere inside of me is a voice which just won’t take no for an answer. Many of you have that voice too, and I urge you to shut out the din and listen to it.
Please do watch our video and let me know what you think. I’ll try to respond personally to all of your comments on this post, but you can also reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I know that Bill would be delighted to hear your feedback on his “Firing Line” series, where you can comment and share after watching our video.