SilkRoad helps brewery turn HR into strategic function

By automating certain functions in the cloud, Ninkasi Brewing has been able to focus more on talent management and development.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor
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Which would you rather have: a personnel department or a talent management team?

Although pretty much every startup founder or manager would love to focus on helping developing the potential of his or her people, the reality is that compliance issues, payroll processing and other tasks can trap human resources (HR) managers under mountains of paperwork. That's the challenge that software developer SilkRoad is trying to tackle.

The company offers a suite of cloud-based HR applications that can help smaller businesses automate mandatory administrative tasks, allowing HR or "talent" managers to focus more of their time on career development or improving collaborative processes across their company.

SilkRoad's offerings include OpenHire (recruiting), Red Carpet (onboarding new hires), Wingspan (performance appraisals), Greenlight (training and learning), HeartBeat (an HR management and processes portal) and Point (a talent information portal).

"Most of our clients have more than one solution with us, but the individual products are focused on automation," said April Escamilla, director of product management, SilkRoad.

"From a cultural standpoint, not having anyone in my department be seen as a paper pusher is a huge advantage," said SilkRoad customer Cheryl Collins, who is vice president of organizational development for regional craft brewery Ninkasi Brewing, based in Eugene, Ore. Her team uses HeartBeat to manage processes and improve efficiencies across the 90-person company.

One of Ninkasi's biggest ongoing challenges is communication: about 30 percent of the workforce is remote and another 40 percent work in production facilities, while the balance make up the headquarters staff. "The education ranges and knowledges of technology across our company range dramatically," Collins said.

Ninkasi evaluated its cloud-based HR options shortly after Collins came on board two years ago, when she was faced with some hiring decisions and with supporting a rapidly growing workforce. As you would expect from a cloud software company, the various SilkRoad applications are priced on a per-employee, per month basis. They can also be priced as a suite or as bundles, but the company declined to disclose pricing specifics.

By adopting the HeartBeat system, Ninkasi avoided hiring someone full-time simply to manage the paperwork, which is how the investment was justified. That's important, considering that the company has basically doubled its workforce in the past two years. The rest of its HR team was also able to shift its focus away from creating spreadsheets to conversations centered on work culture and how to improve process efficiencies across the company. The brewer was in the process of bringing on Wingspan when I spoke with Collins.

In August 2013, SilkRoad raised $16 million growth financing, bringing the total raised so far by the talent management software company to $145 million. Its backers include Foundation Capital, Intel Capital, Azure Capital Partners, Keating Capital and Crosslink Ventures.

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