The life and times of HR application software (2012 in review)

The life and times of HR application software (2012 in review)

Summary: From talent management, payroll, analytics, HRMS and other niche HR solutions, this year saw several cool innovations and emerging trends, plus a generous helping of M&A with a side order of IPO. Brian Sommer covers major issues, company highlights, and the year's big misses.


Part Three - Misses for HR Software in 2012

Where are the women, minorities, youth, etc. in HR software leadership? I took this picture at Oracle Open World this year.  With the red background, it looked too much like a Republican National Convention Panel than what I’d expect from a hip, cool, Californian HR vendor.  While I suspect there was nothing intentional by Oracle of this, I do believe they need to address the issue before next year’s event.

OOW 2012 065
Oracle's Application Leadership at Oracle Open World - copyright 2012 - All Rights Reserved - TechVentive, Inc.

Confusing Acquisitions with Innovation or Cloud Leadership – Okay, so a big ol’ on-premise software company went and bought a cloud HR product. Does that make the big on-premise vendor a cloud leader? I don’t think so.

You can give an on-premise vendor a blood transfusion but that doesn’t change its DNA. It’s an on-premise vendor with an acquired cloud application. It takes time for a tiger to change its stripes, if it even can.

Cloud-ignorant HR processes - As was alluded to in Part 1, all sorts of new cloud-based apps and data sources are impacting HR processes. I wrote about this phenomena months ago and even shared some graphics I developed with the consultancy Baker Tilly. 

HR process
Just some of the cloud apps and data sources impacting campus recruiting - All Rights Reserved - Copyright 2012 - TechVentive, Inc.

HR (and most every other business process) is being changed and traditional HR software vendors are NOT aware or caring about the changes. This is why LinkedIn is displacing ATS software. It's why third parties are creating the personal curation tools that are tied to workers (not employers). If HR vendors don't snap to, they'll find they're selling into one half of the HR software marketplace (for employers) and totally ignoring the other (for employees, job seekers and free-agents). The latter may become a bigger and bigger part of the picture. 

Cloud Johnny Come Lately – Likewise, when an on-premise vendor has a track record of bashing cloud solutions, multi-tenancy and other potential threats to their kingdom and then, voila, suddenly reverses course, are we supposed to celebrate? I don’t think so.

How predictable are some vendors in their attacks on forward leaning technologies. First, they absolutely disparage the new technology. Then, they qualify their disdain to a portion of the new technology until they finally develop their own version of the technology. Only then is the technology an approved technology which, to hear them tell it, they supported all along.

Too much focus on “customer-driven” product direction – Whenever you hear this from a software vendor, run. This vendor is waiting on you, the customer, to tell them what to do. Apple anticipates and designs products you didn’t know you wanted or needed. Who needs a vendor with zero imagination and innovation to give you something you’re already seeing from other vendors and, worse still, give it to you years late?

One vendor executive told me that it would be “suicide” for them to craft a vision for their customers.  Really?

Some focus on customer-driven product direction is appropriate but abdicating total direction to the customers that a vendor already has is a prescription for failure long-term.

Disclosure: Information for this year-end summary came from a variety of vendor interactions over the course of the year. Many were from telephone and internet briefings. Some occurred as a result of attending vendor or analyst events. For some of those, vendors may have reimbursed travel and/or lodging costs. Some did none of that. No vendors paid for my time in covering their events or announcements nor do I accept compensation for that. I do own a few shares of Workday stock.  

Topic: Enterprise Software


Brian is currently CEO of TechVentive, a strategy consultancy serving technology providers and other firms. He is also a research analyst with Vital Analysis.

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  • Video Vendors

    The list of video vendors goes well beyond Montage and Async: check out the full list at

    One there is JobOn that serves the hourly worker market - which is 80 million employees strong.
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    Great post! To you point that buyers are also demanding pure suites, with one development and PaaS underneath including HR and Talent Management, we at Vana Workforce could not agree more.

    Take a look - we offer one integrated, organically developed Human Capital Management suite from Hire to Retire developed 100% native on the PaaS platform.

    Our customers include Pandora Internet Radio, United Way, Achievers, Bluewolf, and many more.
    • Listening to the Marketplace


      I found your report to be puzzling. My take away was that companies want a integrated solution. And from my experience at PerfectSoftware over some 25 plus years I would agree with that. Our client needs continue to drive our development toward that goal. Learning that Talent Management companies are teaming up with Global payroll companies is not surprising.

      In your article you astutely observe that "HR software buyers continue to grow in sophistication. They are more savvy and not just about cloud computing. They’re also demanding full HR/Talent Management suites. They also want pure suites, with one development and PaaS underneath. They don’t want a bunch of best of breed stuff stitched together with some integration technology." But I was dissapointed that you did'nt connect the fact that what some of these technology vendors are attempting to do flies in the face of what the clients are demanding.

      Having disparet best of breed modules creates more work and sometimes inconvienences for organizations. Single sign on single entry is what the market has demanded for all of my years in this industry.