A Talent Management Vendor’s Obituary


Born 1/15/1999, deceased 4/18/2011. The stand alone talent management vendor passed away quietly in its sleep after a long, hard-fought battle with innovation. It started as an idea born in a cafe somewhere in the East Bay, grown and developed by bright, dedicated, hard-working professionals supported its evolution with its education funded by several eager venture capitalists looking to prop talent management into a highly-valued technology company with a large book of fortune 500 clientele.  The Talent Management Vendor is survived by its brother the Talent Acquisition Vendor, and its parent the Enterprise Core HR system.  Memorial services will be held Mary 15-18 at the IHRIM conference in Washington DC.

Let be perfectly clear, I’m being tongue in cheek here – but there is a point to be made if you keep reading.

It started with applicant tracking and automated performance management systems at the same time as the dot-com meltdown.  Vendors rose from the ashes of the internet’s birth bringing simplicity and efficiency to necessary HR processes.  They promised flexibility and a more engaging user experience to these processes than their ERP-based predecessors.  This wasn’t too difficult at that time since many back-office systems being designed for more frequent users of the software.  Casual users of ERP-based solutions were often left trying to navigate through a perplexing set of menus and features which left many frustrated and deterred.

Adding to the complexity of the user experience, the functionality offered by vendors ERP-based vendors at the time were a fairly lackluster attempt to “check the box” on RFPs to say that they had features which were sought by some more progressive HR organizations at the time.  The features were still evolving, with functionality that was limited and more complex than the solutions offered by newly formed companies such as Recruitsoft (now Taleo), Recruitmax (which became Vurv which was acquired by Taleo), SuccessFactors, Brass Ring (acquired by Kenexa), Learn.com (acquired by Taleo), and countless others.

What these other companies offered were two advantages when competing against the big dogs in the space; the ability to empower HR to function with more limited support (or none) from their counterparts in IT, and more frequent updates to software as a result of the emergence of SaaS capabilities.  While most of these vendors actually were hosted, subscribed systems rather than multi-tenant SaaS, it was the birthplace of SaaS HCM.  They offered solutions for a monthly fee and handled all the technical care and feeding.  No matter how you look at it, the market has become fragmented with talent management platforms focused on strategic functions and the core HCM platform supporting more transactional elements of HR which include personnel data maintenance, benefits administration, payroll, position management, and even less exciting capabilities (but equally if not more critical).

After having a fairly free run at the market uncontested by their ERP-based counterparts, vendors with roots in a single discipline of talent management quickly morphed into talent management suites.  The sought to fulfill the promises of unified or integrated talent management.  In 2008 much of the momentum in product development, sales and marketing were in efforts to deliver upon the integrated talent management story.  2009 and 2010 were periods significant market consolidation driven by the downturn in the economy and rapidly shifting dynamics of the HCM technology market.  Well known brands disappeared, new ones emerged, and the future of the market shifted in ways we could have only dreamed about ten years ago.

Now, 12 years after the industry started, we are staring at two monumental developments which have the capability to reshape the market yet again.  First is the formal delivery of Oracle’s Fusion HCM suite.  With this much anticipated product the team at Oracle have taken the time to provide a substantial upgrade ground-up rebuild of the HCM product line.  The result is a highly competitive offering which should cause many Oracle customers to give it a good look when their SaaS Talent Management contracts are up for renewal.   With strong functionality, mixed-deployment options, and what I anticipate will be more flexible contract terms than on-premise software much of what caused the birth and growth of the dozens of vendors in the talent management space will have vanished.

At the same time, Workday has been aggressively developing their talent management capabilities while rounding out their product offering in the HCM space.  Workday’s VP of HCM Product Strategy Leighanne Levensaler brings a wealth of talent management domain expertise from her days as an industry analyst at Bersin & Associates. Additionally, Ultimate Software, SuccessFactors and a number of other vendors have also been busy evolving their product line to bridge the gap between the strategic functions which HR desires and the administrative functions which HR cannot live without.  Needless to say there is a substantial sea change underway in the HCM technology market right now.

Twelve years ago the talent management technology market was in its infancy.  In order to grow, develop, and mature the market it needed to exist as a separate set of capabilities.  We’ve reached a point in the maturity of the HCM technology market where the emphasis is not on new bells and whistles (although there are plenty), but rather how HR can and should absorb all of these capabilities.  The questions being asked aren’t as much about can a product function in a certain way, but rather do we need specific features at all?  And if so, why?

Just as the talent management technology space was born out of a need to separate from Core HR, the same challenges are likely to drive the reunion of these two in the not too distant future.  For those talent management vendors who choose to head down the Core HR path, the road is paved with high levels of competition from the vendors who have been there all along.  Those who choose to avoid that route may find themselves with a somewhat darker future.

2010 was the year of the acquisition in the HCM technology space.  The coming year or two might see a few more big ones fall but for very different reasons.  While I can’t predict which vendors will thrive, survive, or fall, many paths seem to lead to the same end-point.



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