The Five Horsemen and you

A rambling post of thoughts for you.

For a few years there has been talk of the “five horsemen” of tech – Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. The opinion of having Microsoft included has varied over time the final number doesn’t matter, these five organisations are massive – in terms of impact, revenue, employees and valuation.

In fact they are the largest in the US stock market! What a change. In 1996 (20 years ago) the five largest companies were – General Motors, Ford Motor, Exxon Mobile, Wal-Mart Stores and AT&T. Even ten years ago the list had not changed a lot – Exxon Mobile, Wal-Mart Stores, General Motors, Chevron Corporation and Ford Motor. Today the top spots are filled with technology based companies.

(It is not just US companies – Alibaab is a valuation of $210b with approximately $16b in cash.)

Today I was listening to TWIT’s episode “Headless Body in Topless Bar” where the discussion continued and what struck me was the impact these five companies are (and will in the next decade) have on our lives and the workplace.

The impact is and will be profound  – they are all shaping today’s workforce and tomorrow’s. Be it through smartphones, collaboration, social media, retail, search, machine learning, logistics and artificial intelligence. Yes Microsoft might be replaced by a Telsa/SolarCity (or another) but the fact still remains technology and the companies that create it are defining the modern era.

Some initial thoughts – What is the impact of these technologies on your workplace? Are you embracing them?

It must of been the recent earnings announcements from many of the five, as Jason Calacanis today published an interesting piece on what the five could be also doing on the M&A front. As he states it is pure speculation based on a tweet, but the results are interesting.

Jason talks about how poker players act differently depending on the size of their stack. When you have a lot of money the game you play is very different to when you don’t. Just look at the “stack size” of the “five horseman” and then their M&A activity compared to some “traditional” companies:

Tech companies that are wildly deep-stacked right now:

1. Apple $200b+ in cash/equivalents, $593B valuation
2. Google $75b+ in cash/equivalents, $551B valuation
3. Amazon $16b+ in cash/equivalents, $366B valuation
4. Facebook $23b+ in cash/equivalents, $362B valuation
5. Microsoft $105b+ in cash/equivalents, $457B valuation
6. Cisco $60b+ in cash/equivalents, $157B valuation

Those six companies have $470b+ in cash/equivalents and $2.5t in market cap.

Zuckerberg has been the master of acquisitions in the past couple of years, having the audacity to pay $22b for WhatsApp and $2b for a *pre-customer* Oculus. Think about that for a moment. Zuck paid $2b for a company without a market, and that may take a decade to have 100m users — if that ever happens!

And look what just happened. Unilever, GM and Walmart just sat down at the big game and shot the locks off their wallets:

1. Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for $1b
2. GM bought Cruise for a rumored $1b+
3. Walmart is buying Jet.com for $3b
4. Verizon is buying Yahoo for $4.83b

Jason goes on to review a few companies who are the most desirable to deep staked players aka “five horseman” and some companies “wanting” to sell.

Interesting in both lists are two enterprise software vendors – Slack (desirable), and Zenefits (“wanting” to be sold).

Finally have a think about your workforce. Is your talent pool deep-stacked? Can you use that talent to out maneuver your competition? Can you make bets like Facebook’s $22b for WhatsApp or are your stuck with buying Jet.com for $3b?

Some content for you

In the interests of trying to save some of you from subscribing to multiple locations I will try to cross post content from Navigo Research here.

A few recent posts.

You have to action your data for it to be meaningful

A recent study by Cleo Magazine has found that many organisations are complying with the reporting requirements of the new Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Act) but not actually actioning the details. In fact until they were contact by Cleo they did not realise there was in fact a salary gap between genders, even though the information was in the reports submitted to WGEA.

Social Network Analysis and Succession Planning

A very neat use of LinkedIn Company Insights to look at the movement of staff between the different financial institutions in Australian. Also some thoughts on how social network analysis can be used for succession planning.

Since writing the post I have caught up with Riges Younan from Avature. Avature has a feature that allows organisations to build organisation charts within their talent pools. This reminded me a bit of the analysis undertaken by Dr Laurence Lock Lee in the post.

Speed, Agility and HR/Payroll Software

A short summary of the recent conferences (ATC and SuccessConnect) I attended. The outcome of which was a thought that while we are getting faster software  releases through SaaS/Coud offerings, have we restructured our businesses to take advantage of these features?

Reputation in the workplace

After reading a post about collaboration and recruiting from Jobscience I went to watch the TEDGlobal Video of Rachel Botsman who explores the currency that makes systems like Airbnb and Taskrabbit work: trust, influence, and what she calls “reputation capital”. To me what Rachel is talking about is really the same as Whuffie, a term coined by Cory Doctorow in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom back in 2003, or social capital and not really something that new or revolutionary but is something very important.

The ability to transfer your reputation across different sites and services, just like Whuffie, would change the way we use new sites and services. For example I have looked a Airbnb and many property’s prefer you to have a good reputation before they will allow you to use their property, makes sense, but how does one get a reputation to start with if you can’t book a property. Enter the transferable reputation. I could transfer my eBay or LinkedIn reputation to Airbnb and immediately gain access to these properties. (Yes I know Airbnb allows you to link to these services and provides other methods but you have to start from scratch.)

Now into the workplace.

With the growth in collaborative, social enterprise software over the last few years now means many of us have (or will) built up internal reputations, earned badges, become experts inside our own organisations. This reputation in a collaborative organisation can help you get promoted, onto new projects become the go to person on topics etc. (Not to mention many people just like getting badges for the sake of badges, the whole gamification thing.)

But when you leave the organisation what happens to all of this reputation? Nothing. You join a new organisation and you start from the beginning again. Just like in the consumer world it would be great to be able transfer the reputation gained on these internally focused tools to your new organisation.

Again many in new organisations will review your Linkedin profile and other publicly available sources but still all that effort in your last organisation is basically lost.

Cloud Computing and HR

cloud-computing

Yes another trend post, there might be a few more as I get my head across all that has happened in the last year or so.

Cloud Computing has been gaining momentum over the last few years, in HR it is getting some significant airtime and how could it not with the success of cloud vendors such as Workday, Rypple now Work.com part of Salesforce and Taleo now part of Oracle. However I want to look a bit further as what makes up cloud computing not really looking at at vendors, benefits or pitfalls (these could be later posts).

In simple terms Cloud Computing is basically off-premise computing, essentially where you, the customer, do not have the computing environment located physically in your offices. In reality things are far more complex than this. I first talked about Cloud Computing 4 years ago since then the industry has continued to develop its definition of cloud computing and now we seem to have a common understand and framework around the topic.

Essentially there are three relevant “flavours” of cloud computing each operating at a different level in the technology ecosystem. First Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), then Platform as a service (PaaS) and finally Software as a service (SaaS) (there are two additional layers around the network and communications infrastructure but do not really influence the application landscape).

What is IaaS? At a basic level this is where a vendor provides you a virtual server to deliver a specific application usually a web site. Essentially all of my web sites and applications run on a IaaS model provided by Rackspace Cloud. Rackspace provide me with a virtual server and I do the rest, install software, complete maintenance and upgrades. Other examples of IaaS include Amazon EC2, DynDNS and Joyent. There tend to be two types of IaaS; public and private. As part of an HR technology strategy public IaaS would usually only be included when it’s part of a broader organizational-wide IT strategy to use public IaaS.

Today most corporate IT environments have been virtualised onto a private IaaS model. This change has impacted us from a HR technology perspective as it has significantly reduced the lead time in getting new servers for projects.  Now most HR technology projects have a portion of IaaS in them, even if it is private. The benefit; gone are the days when a 8-12 week lead time is needed to have a new server ordered, delivered and commissioned by the IT department, most servers can now be delivered in a matter of hours. Another benefit is scalability, need more “grunt”? Need more memory? Need more disk space? Most can easily be added by the flick of a switch. For public IaaS offerings the service is usually delivered on a utility basis ie based on how much you use.

PaaS is when a cloud provider delivers a computing platform where applications and services can be built on top of, resulting in developers being able to focus on building cool software solutions instead of worrying about managing the hardware, operating system and databases. Example PaaS providers include Google App Engine, Force.com and Windows Azure Compute. We are starting to see a number of HR offerings being delivered on top of these platforms, specifically on the Force.com platform where you can access full-functioning HR systems, recruitment solutions and learning management systems along with smaller apps that can site onto of Salesforce to providing LinkedIn information as part of the sales process.

Finally SaaS is the layer in which most people interact with Cloud Computing. Here the provider offers their application to you the user across a network, usually the Internet, and you do not need to worry about installing and running the application on your own computers or those of IaaS providers. Most of the time you gain access to the software via a subscription model, but not always. It is at the SaaS level we see the most impact on HR Technology Strategy. Today you can run your entire HR Systems environment “in the cloud” through solutions such as Workday, SAP (Cloud Global Payroll and Employee Central), Oracle Fusion to just a specific HR process using one of the vast range of point solutions.

In Australia we also have a huge marketplace of SaaS vendors covering the whole spectrum of HR and Payroll management including long time players such as PageUpPeople, NGA.net, Northgate Arinso and newer vendors like Recruitloop, Sherpa or murmur. If you are an Australian business looking at cloud computing for HR there is no reason you should not be able to find a solution to suit your requirements and most likely that solution will be Australian made.

The biggest issue with SaaS is there are so many vendors to choose from, do you look towards a full service offering or just point solutions? Do you go with global vendors or local vendors? This is where you need a clear strategy around your HR technology program and how it aligns with your not just your HR strategy but also IT and business. Cloud computing offers significant ROI when deployed for the right reason to support clear business objectives.

In summary from an HR perspective we are seeing cloud computing infiltrate at the bottom layer through private-IaaS and at the top layer through SaaS. If you do not have some form of cloud computing in your HR technology landscape today you will in the very near future.

The glass is full with Google Glass

One of the coolest inventions of 2012 is Google Glass, a wearable computer, running Android, that looks like a set of regular glasses that includes a video camera and augmented reality head-up display unit.

Sergey_Brin_Glass

Wearers of the glasses interact with them using natural language input while connected to the Internet. The best way to describe how they work is through a short video Google released called Project Glass: One day…

Yes the obvious functions of this type of device are to mimic today’s smartphones and go towards creating a world as shown in Apple’s Knowledge Navigator video from 1987!

Now back to how Augmented Reality fits with HR and management. What could be done in the workplace with such devices?

Steve Boese covered a few of the options late last year to gain access to real-time information during the work day:

Candidate Interviews – Feedback from references, instant assessment of candidate body language and verbal cues, real-time fact-checking for candidate job history – what wouldn’t these AR glasses be useful for in interviews?

Performance Management Discussions – Context is everything in these discussions. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a ‘live feed’ of the last 3 months of peer comments scrolling by as you chat with an employee about their need to be more of a ‘team player.’

Talent Planning Sessions – it would be cool to see the updated and real-time financial performance of each unit for the execs under discussion just as the CEO is advocating for one of their golfing buddies for a plum assignment or promotion

I see the ability to have access to real-time information at points in time when it is needed is as the “killer app” for the devices to go from hype into being a productive part of the workplace. I also see great potential for these devices, away from the office worker.

  • Safety: The glasses could alert workers to unsafe practices like moving too close to a edge or in mining that a colleague is on the other side of a tunnel before drilling or laying explosives.
  • Real-time information: In a hospital setting have nurses and doctors be able to get live updates on how their patients are doing. As they approach the bed side of the patient the relevant information is displayed on the screen no longer requiring them to flip through a chart. The wearable device removes some of the big issues with technology by the bedside; portability, obstruction, safety and infection control. Wear a device like Glass is no different than wearing regular glasses.
  • Quality control: Glass could use the video feed to take photos to complete with specifications to ensure products are being manufactured at the right quality levels.
  • Stock taking: Instead of manually counting stock Glass could count for the wearer.

The list goes on.

With this type of device also comes great questions and obstacles for employers. How do we protect the privacy of our employees? While we are seeing BYOD starting to make their way into the enterprise how will CIO’s react to bringing your own Glasses to the workplace? How do we stop the devices being used for time and motion studies?

How long till we see these devices in the “real” world, not long. Mashable reports that Google is starting to provide developers access to Glass through a “Glass Foundry” in San Francisco and New York to begin working with the APIs and have allowed developers to pre-order the Explorer Editions for $1,500 to be shipped sometime during 2013.

Mobility and HR

ipad
Source: Flickr user smemon

Be it mobile phones or tablets Australians love our mobile devices with 76% of us having a Smartphone and almost 40% of us now have tablet devices, however only 50% of these with non-wifi communication capability limiting the remainder to use in cafes and other public wifi locations.

The 8th Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index goes on to look at the types of activities Australians are undertaking on their phones; excluding voice and SMS. The growth rates for the period 2010 to 2012 of these non-traditional activities are fairly substantial:

  • Send and receive emails – 25%
  • To get information – 21%
  • For entertainment – 15%
  • To visit websites, and/or search or browse the internet – 20%
  • For banking, including transfers and bill payments – 19%
  • To buy things online – 16%

The survey also reveals that “approximately 40% of respondents use their mobile phone to compare prices online and to look at product or service reviews before making a purchase decision.” This implies that consumer facing organisations that do not have a mobile optimised web site could be suffering when consumers are making purchasing decisions. From personally experience will I often double check information and prices while in the store before making the final decision so I am not surprised 40% of users are doing the same.

With a majority of Australian’s now actively use mobile versions of web sites and downloadable apps how are we doing from a HR perspective in leveraging mobility?

Not very well.

Of the top 20 listed companies in Australia only 3 had any form of mobile optimised career or job search site. The rest directed mobile job search traffic to their traditional ATS which assumes the candidate is on a desktop device and able to complete the extended application process including the uploading of a resume. A handful of organisations have mobile sites which automatically redirect users when a mobile browser is detected, unfortunately other then Wesfarmers the user then needs to navigate to the main site to find career information.

Company Mobile Careers/Jobs
AMP No
ANZ No, only banking site
BHP Billiton No
Brambles No
CBA No, only banking site
CSL No
Macquaire Group No
NAB No, only banking site
Newcrest Yes once you reach the job search
Origin No, but do have a mobile site
QBE No
Rio Tinto No
Santos No
Suncorp Yes once you reach the job search
Telstra No, but do have a mobile site
Westpac No, but do have a mobile site
Westfield No
Wesfarmers Yes a mobile site that integrates some careers information but not a job specific job site
Woolworths No, but do have a mobile site
Woodside Petroleum No

Is this an issue?

Yes. Primarily because we are seeing a growth in the usage of mobile devices in the workplace. The Telstye 2012 report “Digital Workplace: The fast pace of business change” found that 43% of Australian organisations are allowing the practice of “Bring Your Own Device”, which allows employees to connect their own devices to the corporate network, and 28% allow some form of “Bring Your Own Application”, using non-corporate IT applications on your devices, resulting in more employees undertaking workplace tasks using mobile devices. According to the report’s author Rodney Gedda, the number of applications people can use in a work environment growing due to the increased use of cloud based offerings.

As more business processes become accessible via mobile devices employees are going to expect HR processes to be accessible on mobile devices. Recruitment tends to be the first process to “embrace” new technology and this lack of “mobile aware” careers and job sites indicates that HR is behind in being able to offer mobile solutions to the workforce.

UPDATE – 23 Jan 2013

I just spent a few hours with Simon Cariss Senior Vice President – Innovation at PageUp People, looking at a number of their new product offerings. We got discussing mobile and how limit usage it has at the moment. A majority of the sites that had mobile job offerings were in fact based on their platform, a fact I left out of the post as it was not a review of products.

We then discussed the Suncorp site as they do have a mobile optimized Career’s site, the issue is if you visit Suncorp directly via your browser you are sent to the banking home page and then have to navigate through a non-mobile optimized site. However if you search for Suncorp via Google there is a link directly to their Careers landing page in the Google search results allowing you to experience their mobile offerings. Another interesting fact is Suncorp do not have an Apply Now button on the mobile jobs site (a configuration feature clients control), instead they are using PageUp’s email feature to allow the job seeker to email the job directly to themselves to deal with at a later date. As soon as the job seeker completes this step the recruiter has their email address and then follow up if no application is received.

A final update PageUp People have a very interesting tool that is a practical use case for Big Data, more on that later.

Big Data and Management

Over the last couple of weeks I have been very interested in the growth of Big Data. A few years ago Big Data was primarily found in academic and marketing writing, ie not in the main stream. This has changed with many commentators now discussing the merits that this new frontier has to offer.

For those not up to date what is Big Data?:

big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.

In other words think the Human Genome program or where I have seen more mainstream commentary, analyzing the status updates from services such as Twitter or Facebook. There are lots of reasons why Big Data is important and understanding how to use it and leverage it will become critical for business success. The biggest issue we face that Big Data will help solve is the vast amount of data points we are generating through social networks, trends such as cloud computing and The Internet of Things.

While much of the discussion around Big Data is consumer based there have been a number of notable discussions about the use of Big Data inside the enterprise and unsurprisingly these discussions include the impact of Big Data on HR and how we can now tie employee data to other large datasets for predictive modelling and recruitment.

In her paper from April 2010, Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data, danah boyd raises a number of pertinent points that I think deserve more thought an discussion in terms of their impact on business.

danah’s key points:

  1. Bigger Data are Not Always Better Data
  2. Not All Data are Created Equal
  3. What and Why are Different Questions
  4. Be Careful of Your Interpretations
  5. Just Because It is Accessible Doesn’t Mean Using It is Ethical

Each on of the above points have tremendous influence on how successful Big Data will be when used inside an organisation but I want to touch on two of her points that struck a chord with me. (However I would strongly suggest you go read her whole paper.)

danah’s first point of Bigger Data are Not Always Better Data, “Big Data is exciting, but quality matters more than quantity.  And to know the quality, you must know the limits of your data.” At a basic level just because you can review all of the tweets and connections of your employees or candidates does not mean you have all of the information about these people as they might have different accounts under different pseudonyms some might be protected others not. Just because you have access to millions of datapoints does not mean you have the right data points.

danah’s final point is the one that deserves the most thought. Just because data is accessible doesn’t mean that using it is ethical. Just because a candidate or an employee tweets or puts a status update on Facebook should we really use that data in our analysis? To quote danah:

To get here, we’ve perverted “public” to mean “accessible by anyone under any conditions at any time and for any purpose.”  We’ve stripped content out of context, labeled it data, and justified our actions by the fact that we had access to it in the first place.  Alarm bells should be ringing because the cavalier attitudes around accessibility and Big Data raise serious ethical issues.  What’s at stake is not whether or not something is possible, but what the unintended consequences of doing something are.

From here danah goes on to look at the concept of privacy and its many facets when it comes to information that has been placed in a public space. Recent case in point, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister and her Christmas photo. danah concludes that our obsession with Big Data has the ability to destabilise and change our social norms, I would say it already is, but this does not mean we need to remove the concept of privacy altogether.

Big Data is made of people. People producing data in a context.  People producing data for a purpose.  Just because it’s technically possible to do all sorts of things with that data doesn’t mean that it won’t have consequences for the people it’s made of.

There are great opportunities ahead for HR with adoption of “new” technologies such as Big Data and Cloud Computing however as we move towards this new world we need to be careful not to destabilise our workforce to a point where they disengage or worse still create a world that makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a kindergarten picnic.

4 years on some thoughts

I was have a chat with an old colleague this afternoon and we were discussing where social media has gone in the last few years, specifically around recruitment.

Which got me thinking. You know where has social media gone? This then took me back in time to some of the crazy ideas I had about what one could achieve with social media, specifically inside the enterprise.

About 4 years ago I published a list of 52 Social Media ideas for HR, at the time I had not seen a single consolidated list of ideas documenting the various ways these tools could help transform an organisation and its business practices. Now some of the ideas (and sites mentioned) are not relevant or the benefit just not lived up to the hype. However other ideas, actually more the philosophy of the idea, I firmly believe are still important to engagement of your current and future employees.

For example allowing your employees to engage in frank, open, constructive discussions internally, leveraging your workforce for referrals, focusing on “headcontent” not headcount, are all still as relevant as they were 4 years ago and I suspect will be relevant in 5-10 more years.

I am interested and if I find the time I might start a research project to find examples of all 52 ideas to see if anyone actually implemented any of these “crazy” ideas! I  know some organisations have implemented similar concepts as I discussed which is not surprising as most people floating around the social media circles at the time would have come to the same conclusions.

But these are just my thoughts, you might disagree, let me know especially if your organisation has implemented a similar idea.

Not dead and not forgotten

Yes I am alive, and yes this blog is alive. While it has been almost a year since my last post I have not been slacking off, just to documenting my journey. Over the years of blogging I tend to self-censor when I feel the work I am doing might lead me to write about something I should not, therefore I find it easiest not to write.

Over the last two years I have been involved in some very interesting activities, the largest being a major HR/Payroll systems overhaul in a health care provider. This activity has been the primary reason for my absence. As this process is nearing the end I am starting to look towards my next activity and reflect on my learnings from the process.

Some of my thoughts on this journey so far are:

  • Transforming businesses is never easy
  • Transforming a business that has done something the same way for 20+ years is not easy
  • Health care is complex
  • Bureaucracy and I are not the best of friends
  • Technology is usually never the issue
  • People are people

The above list might not be revolutionary but as with most things the “devil is in the detail” and the detail is not something I can share.

That is it for now, I hope to post more over the coming months.

NGA.Net Acquires Acelero for Performance Management

Last night at around 5.30pm I received a call from Penny Elmslie, the marketing manager at NGA.Net about two topics that they were very excited about. First was they had started a blog, second they had purchased a company.

While the first piece of news is not that earth shattering for some, I personally feel it is great that another Australian vendor has entered the blogging space. Hopefully NGA.Net will use this as an opportunity for people outside the organisation to learn a bit more about what makes them tick. You can find the blog at http://blog.nga.net/, the RSS feed is also available.

The second piece of news is far more exciting, well in my mind. NGA have acquired Acelero, the Sydney based Performance Management vendor. The acquisition fills a much needed gap in the NGA product line and to be honest allows them to meet their marketing claims:

“Software that helps large organisations to connect, recruit & develop their people”

Good news for Acelero staff as it seems 14 of them will be joining NGA, with Managing Director Ken Sheridan remaining as the head of the new NGA Performance Management division.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes to fully integrate the product lines so that NGA.Net customers have a true integrated talent management solution. I am not aware of the technical platform that Acelero was using, however it is good to see NGA were sensible and purchased an existing SAAS vendor so at least architecturally they are somewhat aligned.