Saturday, March 24, 2012

While SuccessFactors and Taleo Assimilate, More Nimble Vendors Will Innovate

I haven’t had much to say since Oracle acquired Taleo.  It just wasn’t a surprise, or even all that interesting to me.  Even analyzing what the acquisition would mean from a product perspective was anti-climactic.  We all knew that Oracle already has competing Talent Management Platforms, Strategies, and resulting struggles internally.  We all knew that Taleo had platform and integration issues across their product suite as well.  So, even re-thinking where they would go with their solutions as one shop was, well…. a little boring.   I say this with all due respect to Taleo and Oracle customers – it’s anything but boring for them.
SAP acquiring SuccessFactors was a little more fun to think about for me.  Even if it was just for the ridiculous amount of cash they put up.  It brought renewed attention to the fact that the HCM space has been innovating in the “cloud” for years.  Hell, even before we called it the “cloud”.   Regardless of how you feel about SuccessFactors or SAP, this announcement was just exciting for the space.
SalesForce’s formal entry into HCM via the Rypple acquisition got us all thinking about how different the vendor landscape could look in 5 or 10 years.  Rypple itself was a very small acquisition, but the Salesforce market entry puts focus on  the Work Management and Collaboration product categories, and suggests that a platform like Salesforce could create an entirely new category in HCM.  Salesforce talks about the “social enterprise”.  HCM vendors and buyers should be listening.  I’m still expecting a few more shoes to drop any time on the Salesforce front.
The recent announcements of Cornerstone OnDemand acquiring Sonar6 and LinkedIn acquiring Rapportive… these seem like solid product moves, and also reinforce the consolidation wave in the space.
Saba acquiring Human Concepts is probably one of the more strategic acquisitions I’ve seen as of late.  The Human Concepts products will serve Saba well.  If they execute correctly from a marketing and sales perspective they could be incredibly differentiated from any Talent Management Suites that have offerings in the Learning space.  (read: Oracle/Taleo and SAP/SuccessFactors)  The big variable here is in Saba executing and truly moving from learning to talent management.  I would hope Saba has a few more acquisitions lined up, or the gap between Learning and Workforce Visualization and Planning will leave most Enterprise buyers trading strategic value for function with a full platform play.
What do these acquisitions mean for HCM vendors?   I have a different take than what I’m reading on Bill Kutik’s HR Technology Conference LinkedIn Group - or across the HR Technology Blogosphere.  The pundits, analysts, and bloggers in our market are focused on product issues and old school HCM Platform as a Service innovations – moving HR forward one product release at a time.
For me, true innovation in the Talent Management segment has to be defined as applying new technologies and approaches to solving challenges in HR –   The kind of innovation that disrupts existing vendors and technologies and moves RAPIDLY through the buyer/user community.  
This kind of innovation has been stymied for a while.  Taleo and SuccessFactors have been the ones to beat for a few years, and they haven’t exactly been disrupting anything.  Think about applying collaboration, social media, truly mobile solutions, or even analytics in the HR Enterprise.  The market leaders haven’t been innovating here – and acquisitions made in these areas turned innovative products into product modules squeezed into a slow road map.   Just being in the cloud isn’t enough to be considered innovation any more in this space.  The true innovations have been happening with the point solutions. The problem is that the point solutions in the Talent Management categories, and others, have been operating in the shadow of market leaders that are, well… small.   Based on Taleo and SuccessFactors’ positions in the market, the shadow they were creating had even the most innovative vendors looking downward trying to fit in an eco-system, and not forward with their own products….  “Does this integrate with Taleo?”  ”How would it impact my SuccessFactors implementation?”  … that’s the sound of innovation taking the back seat to integration for HCM vendors.
My prediction – my HOPE –  is that the recent acquisitions – particularly the acquisitions of Success Factors and Taleo – will open the window for more rapid growth and adoption of truly innovative technology solutions.  
Regardless of what the vendors tell you – history suggests that there will be an extended period of time where  SuccessFactors and Taleo will be quiet, possibly even silent, while they and their customers figure out where their products are going and what it really means.  While that window is open, I strongly suggest that any small to mid-size vendors that have been poised to either 1) enter the market, or 2) grow to the “next level”, align whatever resources they need and PUSH.  PUSH Product Development and Innovation… and PUSH Marketing, Branding, and Sales. The time is now.  History tells us that no one does any real innovation in the 12 months after they have been acquired.  It also tells us that buyers, including the respective installed bases, will be evaluating all options more openly and seriously.  Looking for a faster path to a solution – and one that doesn’t have the uncertainty of a product roadmap that is up in the air while the vendor gets assimilated.
I believe that a sea change is under way.  Complete markets, outside of HR,  have been changed or even swallowed-whole by software innovation.  It’s a cycle that repeats every 10 or 12 years – and a cycle that’s been accelerated elsewhere, yet a little overdue in Talent Management.  
The market leader of tomorrow probably won’t be the X-hundred million dollar vendor that just got acquired. In my opinion it’s more likely the 5 to 20 million dollar vendor with strong innovation that no one is watching – or the vendor from outside the space that is about to flank this market with their move into HCM.  Either will have the same type of story when we look back.  A true innovation story.
One thing is for sure… it’s going to get interesting.