Breakaway Strategies: Looking Beyond HCM Vendors for HCM Technology

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In the run up to this year’s annual HR Technology Conference, I’ve been meeting with HCM technology vendors large and small. As expected, almost every vendor articulates an interest in, if not full vision for, social enablement of its offering. Some offer social capabilities today, some are expanding beyond initial forays in recruiting or learning, and others point to future directions with social based on customer demand. The path to social is also varied, coming through native development, partnership or even acquisition.

The Social HCM market is nascent, with vendors evolving their strategies and customers wrestling with questions ranging from business applicability to internal ownership of “social” in the enterprise (should these initiatives be driven and owned by IT, Legal, HR, Marketing, or…?)

Applying a different lens to the definition of Social HCM – one focused on employee enablement, engagement, and knowledge acceleration – brings another class of vendors into view: social business software providers. These vendors deliver on the foundations of social learning and social talent management, and have been doing so for years. They’re just not top of mind for HR when shopping for those solutions because they don’t typically market to an HCM audience with an HCM messages.

Consider players like Atlassian, Jive, NewsGator, Socialtext, Telligent, IBM and the many others that serve the social business software market. By their very nature of being social collaboration tools, they support many foundational processes such as social learning and social talent, with companies routinely reporting measurable benefits across employee and business performance. Yet for various reasons – including the fact that HR is not usually a driver for social technologies – you don’t see these players at the HR Technology Conference. But you should, as they routinely deliver on these and many other social use cases that are of direct interest to HR leadership:

  • Social Onboarding: establishing and assigning new hires to communities and groups; ability to follow people/content; system-driven recommendations on who to follow, groups to join, content to review.
  • Social Performance: informal and social feedback via activity streams; badges or other recognition feedback and social rewards; granting “skills” or “expertise” levels to others in the social network; improved engagement through gamification.
  • Social Goals: broadcasting activities and goals (including status and completion); soliciting feedback on goals and projects; granting badges or other recognition; task management for shared goals and objectives and identifying related work of others.
  • Social Learning: creating, posting, sharing, rating, tagging and following content; informal learning through micro blogging and activity streams, often with embedded and actionable content; expertise identification; ideation and crowd sourcing innovation across the enterprise.

Looking at the list of Exhibitors at the HR Tech Conference, I found only two pure-play social networking providers exhibiting this year: NewsGator1 and Yammer1. (I say only two, as Socialtext is now part of Talent Management provider Peoplefluent, and other solutions like Saba and SuccessFactors are already broader talent management providers with embedded platforms. In fact, even Yammer is now part of the broader Microsoft stack and can no longer be considered “pure play.”)

NewsGator in particular is an interesting addition to the list of exhibitors this year. If you’re not familiar with them, NewsGator has been delivering social business applications for many years through their Social Sites offering. They also integrate directly into Microsoft SharePoint – a solution in use by an estimated 75% of organizations.

Recently, NewsGator launched a new offering called NewsGator Enrich, which goes beyond the core use cases above and focuses on specific learning use cases to power informal, social learning across the enterprise. This latest offering includes a socially driven knowledge base for collaborative knowledge development and exchange, and interactive video learning capability for complex learning scenarios. A few of the core tenets of the Enrich Knowledge Base (KB) are described below.

  • Create knowledge base (KB) items in context of business workflows. Conversations in the activity stream, or specific question and answer      activities are readily tagged and saved to the knowledge base. A bookmarklet enables any web page to be referenced to the KB with a single click, and documents of any type are quickly added as well. Content can also be created directly within the knowledge base, turning any employee into a contributor to organizational know-how.
  • Quickly access the right knowledge. In addition to filtering KB content based on the most recent, most viewed or other categories, user-added metadata such as titles, tags and descriptions facilitate searching, discovery, and categorization of the knowledge base content.
  • Turn unstructured Q&A into a powerful resource. Answers can be accumulated, with the “accepted” answer identified for clarity and consistency.
  • Drive engagement with embedded gamification. Award badges and provide recognition to users based on their contributions and activities.

The HCM technology market is undergoing a significant shift. As we move from systems of transactions to systems of engagement, traditional “HCM” processes will be redefined, and it is only natural that new solution providers emerge from outside the HCM space. The move by NewsGator to deliver on highly targeted social learning use cases is the latest case-in-point, as well as a broader signal to the market that HCM technologies can come from non-HCM vendors.

While you’re checking out the many vendors at this year’s HR Technology Conference, I encourage you to stop by the booths of “non-traditional HCM” vendors as well. The door is open for social technology vendors to expand beyond their social collaborative networking foundations and deliver next-generation approaches to traditional learning, talent management and other “people” processes. I expect we’ll see more from NewsGator and others like them in the future, as “HR Technology” gives way to more business outcomes focused “Work Management Technology.”

1(Disclosure: NewsGator and Yammer are both clients of Constellation Research.)

The Path to Social Talent: What is Your Vendor’s Route?

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There is an interesting tug of war taking place in the world of social talent management software. Some players take the side that “social” should be a core competency of the talent platform, and hence delivered natively with that solution/suite. Others consider social a technology that should be plugged into talent and human capital management (HCM) solutions, and are developing various connectors to fit the different social tools. Yet still others are taking a hybrid approach – acquiring social technologies with a view toward deep and unique leverage of the social platform, while building plug-ins to additional social tools.

Different approaches will certainly yield different results. Integrating social to bring activity streams and social conversations into a talent process is a good first step, but even in today’s early adopter market the emerging buyers for social talent software are looking for greater benefits from their social investments. Building out (or acquiring and deeply integrating) a social platform to bring social collaboration into a suite of talent processes can be a game changer for organizations, but what if other social tools are already in use? Will the enterprise end up with too many tools, too much noise and ultimately face social fatigue?

Let the technology vendors duke out the “HOW” of “getting to social.”  Buyers should instead focus on the “WHAT”: what business value is generated from these newly social applications? Ultimately the vendor needs to demonstrate, and buyers will need to prove to their own organizations, that investments in social technologies yield results such as these:

  • Sustainable employee engagement, not just a short term increase from a passing fad;
  • Beyond connections and file sharing – although this is a good start – improvement in how work gets done (efficiency, quality, improved productivity, cost reductions, etc.);
  • Rapid access to knowledge and expertise wherever it resides across the enterprise;
  • Accelerated innovation;
  • Improved workforce connectedness for frictionless work;
  • Revenue creation;
  • Improved customer outcomes.

Look for my latest Quark entitled “Understanding the Paths to Social HCM: Evaluating Integrated vs. Embedded Social Technologies for HCM,” now available to all Constellation Research clients. I’ll also touch on this topic in my upcoming presentation at HR Technology Conference in Chicago, on Wednesday October 10, entitled “The Social Enterprise: New Tools Transform How Work Gets Done”.

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