Last week I attended Ultimate’s User Conference, held in Las Vegas, to participate in their analyst events as well as to speak on the topics of employee engagement and talent management. Despite the many possible diversions, (“gamification” certainly has new – or is that old – meaning in Vegas), the content, customers and speakers were such that for 3 days I never left the Bellagio nor made it beyond the conference venue. But what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas when the news is impactful, and at Ultimate Connections 2012, where over 1100 people gathered to participate in more than 70 sessions, a lot happened.
Skip down to my POV if you’re familiar with Ultimate and the major announcements at Ultimate Connections. Otherwise please read on.
If you’re not familiar with Ultimate Software, it is a leading provider of SaaS-based Human Capital Management solutions. In business since 1990, Ultimate serves more than 7 million employees across 2300 customers. The client list includes a veritable “Who’s Who” across a wide variety of industries with companies such as Callaway, Subway, Wente, Quicken, Major League Baseball, The Container Store, Jockey International, Adobe Systems and Google among the roster. Ultimate has demonstrated impressive growth, with 2011 revenues of $269M, up 18% from the previous year, and expected 23% growth to $330M in revenues for 2012.
In 2002 Ultimate pivoted from an on-premise solution to a SaaS model. That year it launched SaaS-based UltiPro, and became one of the first vendors to provide SaaS HCM during a time when many still questioned the viability of delivering HR and Payroll in the cloud. It continued selling on-premise licenses through 2009, and today has fewer than 300 customers still utilizing that platform.
Ultimate has two offerings depending upon employee size: UltiPro Enterprise for organizations with 1000 or more employees, and UltiPro Workplace (a somewhat scaled down version of Enterprise) for companies with 250-999 employees). Uptake of the SaaS products beyond HR and Payroll has been significant, with 60% or more of new customers including one or more talent modules in every deal.
Ultimate today provides payroll for US and Canada; it doesn’t have a truly global payroll solution – nor does it aspire to. Their strategy is to deliver global HR and compliance support through UltiPro while facilitating integrations for local payroll solutions where clients pay employees in countries outside of the US and Canada. Multinational employers are fully supported through this approach.
Over the years, Ultimate has displayed a refreshingly focused approach: it doesn’t want to dominate the world; it doesn’t endeavor to take on Oracle or SAP and become the next global ERP. Ultimate’s focus remains solidly on providing end-to-end people management systems for predominantly US- and Canadian-based organizations. It is not a payroll service bureau, yet 65% or more of its business comes from organizations leaving the service bureau solutions of ADP and Ceridian. As demonstrated over the years and at last week’s conference, this focus does not preclude technology advances and innovations: Ultimate continues to roll out new functionality including advanced analytics, and is incorporating disruptive technologies such as mobile and social into its offering.
Ultimate Connections Recap
The Connections conference itself was a three-day opportunity for Ultimate’s customers and partners to connect and share experiences and future directions. During the event, Ultimate maintained a steady drum beat on the interconnected themes of the Cloud Ecosystem, a single System of Record, and the importance of having a Person Centric focus.
The challenge of operating within a cloud ecosystem for many clients, according to Chief Technology Officer Adam Rogers, is achieving complete “connectedness”; figuring how to connect all the components together. This is a burden Ultimate wants to address for its clients. In addition to continued investments in web services and single sign on to connect and access core system data, Rogers also introduced planned upgrades to their Managed Vendor Services (MVS) offering. The MVS offering is designed to ameliorate the many frustrations around client to vendor integrations (such as 1:1 integrations from cloud-based employer HCM solutions to on-premise and/or proprietary benefits carriers). The offering provides standardized integrations, managed by Ultimate and its partners, so that achieving ‘connectedness’ across the many technology platforms necessary to conduct business can be more effectively managed in the cloud. Eight thousand such integrations are managed through MVS today, and following upgrades in infrastructure and new approaches, this MVS service will expand to take on significantly greater integration tasks for Ultimate clients.
System of Record
With an increasingly vigorous talent management offering that spans talent acquisition, onboarding, performance and goal management, career development and succession planning, all delivered on the core HR/Payroll foundation, Ultimate has the necessary components to be the single, comprehensive System of Record for all workforce data.
Ultimate is leveraging this expanded system of record to deliver increasingly advanced analytics across the full people management spectrum. CTO Rogers spoke briefly of their predictive analytics capabilities becoming more developed in the near future as the employee record is augmented with the rich data resulting from talent management components. In fact, their 2012 roadmap is replete with new functionality that will drive greater insight into individuals across the enterprise.
In what was probably the most exciting news of the conference, Ultimate announced its partnership with Yammer, a leading provider of enterprise social networks, to bring enterprise collaboration into the Ultimate platform and advance its people-centric focus with new consumer-grade usability and functionality. The planned initial integration is surprisingly deep, extending the employee system of record with social attributes and enabling Ultimate to deliver what equates to early versions of Social Performance and Social Goal Management in addition to enabling real time employee collaboration.
Ultimate has some experience with social networking, as they’ve been using their UltiPro Ideas portal for several years now to interact with customers and drive new product direction. In fact, in 2011, just over 25% of the new features introduced were driven by this online client community. Until the Yammer announcement, however, there had been little evidence of commitment to social networking integration within the bulk of the UltiPro product lines.
The new Ultimate/Yammer integration is slated to launch in Spring 2012, and includes Yammer Activity Stream integration into the UltiPro Talent Gateway so that teams can follow social networking conversations without leaving the UltiPro framework. Company-wide announcements including job postings are also shared simultaneously with the Yammer feed, increasing transparency and accelerating information sharing across the enterprise. Another aspect of the bi-directional integration is the ability for employees to give “Praise” to one another, and to have this social feedback appear and become available for analysis on the employee’s profile within the UltiPro suite. It is with this feature that Ultimate begins to enter the Social Performance arena, as the social feedback can also be readily incorporated into the employee’s perforamnce review. Additionally, in an early demonstration of Social Goal Management, users will have the ability to tag accomplishments within Yammer and have those milestones captured within UltiPro’s goal management functionality.
These social enhancements (viewing activity streams, providing praise), are also visible and actionable through the UltiPro Mobile iPad dashboard.
The Yammer integration is but one of many areas of investment aimed at answering the common end-user challenge of “what’s in it for me,” which gets to the heart of user engagement. Other user engagement and people-centric initiatives are similarly underway, including Ultimate’s focus on delivering a “responsive web design” – namely a targeted experience that auto-adjusts its layout/configuration based upon the device being used (different screen sizes, mobile or tablet). Engagement was the subject of a panel I spoke on at the Connections event, and the ability to connect to others and perform work tasks when/where/how the individual desires, including through social and mobile technologies, was a large aspect of that discussion.
My Point of View:
The Human Capital Management (HCM) space is especially hot right now, with massive consolidation taking place across all types and sizes of vendors, and with an influx of innovative new vendors at the edges. The push is on to move processes to the cloud to capitalize on its many advantages for vendors and clients alike, while social technologies are emerging to augment and transform traditional people processes into ones which support the more natural ways work gets done in today’s highly connected environments.
The UltiPro solutions deliver solid capabilities across a unified platform spanning HR, Payroll and Talent Management in a pure SaaS-based offering. While today they may not achieve best-of-breed status within the talent management components, the trade-off between deep functionality and fully integrated solutions, according to studies by Constellation Research, is one that organizations are increasingly willing to make.
Ultimate’s addition of Yammer for social networking integration was a late but important move to bring collaboration into their suite and deliver a next generation solution to market. The performance and employee engagement processes will benefit from this integration immediately, with more to follow in subsequent releases. However in the area of Recruiting – the talent process where social media is most commonly adopted – there is still no real evidence of social integration, a gap their customers gave voice to frequently during the recent conference. Ultimate will need to overcome this deficit soon if it is to have a sustainable offering in this area.
The Yammer partnership is non-exclusive, which means that Ultimate customers utilizing other social networking technologies are not forced into using yet another collaboration tool. The integration between Ultimate and Yammer is quite deep, but Web Service APIs are also being developed to facilitate interoperability with other 3rd party social networking tools (although the resulting integration is not expected to be as rich as the co-developed work between Yammer and Ultimate). The availability of these web services also mitigates the risk of Yammer being acquired and Ultimate needing to find a replacement partner.
Was Ultimate’s approach to collaboration – partnership vs. natively embedded into the platform – the right one? Businesses are moving from transactional systems to systems of engagement, driven in large part by the rich user experience and intuitive designs of consumer technologies (Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, others). Can engagement and experiential systems be assembled through integrations – essentially through a connected network of networks – or must they be developed together with decision support, transaction support and social enablement all part of the DNA of the platform? Vendors are starting to take their stand on either side of the equation, and Ultimate and Yammer have taken the side of integration. It is a viable approach for these enterprise systems as long as the integration is well defined and supports collaboration and information sharing where it happens most naturally – in the context of getting work done.
For organizations (especially those in the mid-market) evaluating their HCM options, and which are ready to explore the opportunities of social collaboration, Ultimate should be on their shortlist. I’ll continue to watch Ultimate with interest to see how the collaboration components continue to evolve, and to see if and how they leverage the newly available social data within their business intelligence framework for metrics and predictive analytics.
- Moving from Transaction to Engagement (HBR Blog Network)
- Getting to Workforce Planning 2.0 with Social Network Analysis (nextgeninsights.com)
- Ceridian Claims its Seat at the SaaS HCM Table (nextgeninsights.com)
- Seven Ways Infor is Advancing HCM (Hint: Lawson is But One) (nextgeninsights.com)