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?

On the Move

A few months ago I started assessing what I would be doing come the end of March after this very long project was over. I blogged a few times about the process of trying to decide where I was going and what I was doing, I even applied for a few jobs.

Well it is now time to make it official, from April 2nd 2013 I will be joining Navigo.

There is a fair bit more to this story than I am off to join some organisation.

Firstly very soon after my first post about starting to look for new challenges, Peter Forbes the owner of Navigo, reached out and asked if we could catch up. We caught up for a coffee in Hawthorn and discussed the state of the Australian marketplace, some of the things I have been trying to do with Inspecht and more importantly where he had been going with the Australia HR Technology Report. Navigo had released 2 reports purely focused on HR Technology in Australia, something brand new and really needed.

We both knew that the marketplace wanted information about vendors and trends but Peter could now back this up with solid research. I had experienced the same while building Inspecht and what Navigo now had, which I did not at Inspecht, was this research.

During 2012 Peter decided that he wanted to build out a new business line under the Navigo brand focusing purely on Research and Advisory. As part of this he went to market to try and recruit a Research and Advisory Analyst, with very limited luck. However when I blogged about looking for new work he felt I might be suited to the business, so he reached out.

Over the next couple of months we met a few times discussing what the role might look like. I took Peter through some of my thoughts about what I was looking for in a role. At the same time he took me through the way the Navigo ran it’s business, from the heavy use of Confluence, fully integrated into their Sugar CRM environment to their process focused style of operations. As the relationship grew so did my comfort level of joining another organisation to continue the type of work I had started in 2009/2010 with Inspecht.

So a couple of weeks ago I accepted the role as Senior Advisory at Navigo Research.

What does the role do:

  • Produce analysis and research into technology used in HR
  • Provide consulting and advisory services to Navigo Research customers
  • Promote and build the Navigo Research brand

Basically I will be building on the fabulous foundation of work already done on the HR Tech Report to write reports, white papers, and other research. In addition I will be building processes and practices to help organisations undertake technology reviews and complete the systems selection process. I plan to also work with both buyers and sellers of HR Technology in Australia to understand both the existing marketplace and the trends. (Vendors be ready for me to contact you.) With the best part of the role being to blog, write, and network with everyone and anyone in the HR Technology space in Australia.

There are a few practical things that will also change. (Other than I will have a real job.)

The Inspecht site has been closed and now re-directs here. There will be a new domain http://navigoresearch.com.au that will be launched before the end of April to be Navigo Research’s new home. We will be migrating all of the content from HR Tech Report to the new brand ( I say we but it’s really Jules the Navigo Marketing Manager who will do this part). From April 2nd you will also see me start to blog over at Navigo Research, this site will continue for personal blogging and the occasional rant.

Something else I want to address; products and independence. While Navigo resells some products that is under their solutions business line which is separate from the research. I will be working very hard to ensure that complete independence is kept and all vendors get an equal showing a view strongly held by Peter as well. If someone ever feels that is not happening please contact me as it will be my personal reputation on the line if that does not happen.

Assessing cloud for HR Technology

I was driving home today listening to The Cloud Computing podcast where Chris Dailey discussed an article entitled Scrap you code. Start from scratch for cloud which was suggesting that smaller companies do not need to invest on-premise computing offerings instead they can go straight to the cloud for everything. The premise of this, going all cloud, was you saved money, became more agile, executed faster deployments delivering an overall better result. Chris and his fellow panelists disagreed with this approach being 100% right all the time, and I totally agree with them. To quote one of the panelist:

Buy what you can for your business from the cloud that makes sense but there is a good chance there is an expect of your business that will require specialization and that the cloud will not make that go away.

Instead you should go through a process of mixing and matching different technologies to an end result that delivers value for your business and allows your business to operate in the manner it finds most effective. Just like on-premise software implementations to be successful you need to start by assessing your business needs and then select the most effective product for that need, regardless of technology.

Going cloud for every new requirement or migrating currently operating on-premise software to the cloud just because everything should be cloud based is wrong.  You need to work towards an optimized solution that considers your business requirements, reviewing the value of all existing technologies to determine which types of products and technologies provides the best value for your business problem.

These same process should take place with your HR/Payroll technology selections. Does it make the most sense to host your online job board on your own IT infrastructure running on-premise software or is it best to use an Software as a Service (SaaS) provider? Your payroll software should that be on-premise or SaaS?

Finally these questions cannot and should not be answered in isolation they need to be reviewed based on your business requirements, IT strategy, HR strategy to determine the solution that offers the most value to your organisation.

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.

MySpace is Back and Different

Yes you read that right. MySpace is back, new, improved and very different.

Mashable have a very good round up of the new MySpace service with the opening paragraph summing up how I felt after using the service for the first hour:

The new MySpace is pretty. It incorporates many of the trends in modern web design and social media — big visuals, responsive design, easy discovery — and gives them a clear focus: connecting through music. And it really works.

The new MySpace is all about Music, and it makes finding existing artists and new artists very very easy. The fully integrate audio player, constantly located at the bottom of the screen, allow you to continue to listen while exploring further. My only gripe is at times the site is a little confusing to navigate and you end up accidentally playing music you did not intend.

Finally I really liked the 404 Page Not Found page:

We’re sorry, we can’t find the page you’re looking for. But what we can do is offer you this special mix of tunes with running time of exactly 4:04. Just click on the album covers, or one of the links below, and enjoy.

If you are into music go check it out.

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.

Who owns your brand in the social media world?

Tomorrow morning I am doing a presentation for MyCareer and some of their clients looking at the wonderful topic of:

Who owns your brand in a social media world

An interesting topic some might think more interesting have a job board promote social media, more on that later. While I have a large amount of content, even spoke on a similar topic in October last year, I have revised a major portion of my talk based on some ideas from a few others:

Some of the topics I will cover include:

  • What is social media, I like to ensure the audience knows where I am coming from
  • What can happen to a brand online
  • Strategies
  • Learn to Adapt
  • Be Smart no Clever (hat tip Jared)
  • Add value
  • Be consistent but authentic and definitely not generic
  • Provide support to recruiters
  • Processes, Processes, Processes

If you happen to be lucky enough to attend I would love to hear your feedback.

Building your technology business case

FinanceOne of the most important tasks of any project is building and maintaining your business case. Unfortunately the business case is so often a single document not covering full life cycle costs and produced to obtain funding approval and never looked at again!

Bad!

In fact your business case needs to document the full cost of the business change you are creating and be monitored for viability on a regular basis.

A business case has many components and will usual vary by organisation and it’s own requirements. However in general a “good” (I use the term to define the scope of a business case not the output) business case will include information on:

  • Background reasons
  • Expected Benefits
  • Anticipated Costs
  • Known Risks
  • Timelines
  • Investment Appraisal and Evaluation

This content will help your organisation ensure that the business cast is justified and that the reason for your project to continue is aligned with overall corporate strategy.

The business case is also a living document. As such you should review and update the contents at regular/various stages in your project, at least when ever something significant happens within or to the project. The project board or steering committee should be reviewing the ongoing viability of the project and if the business case is not longer valid the project should be stopped. Stopping a project is always a political issue however if the benefits no longer outweigh the costs (sunk and future) then it should be stopped.

Best in class organisations also conduct post project reviews including benefit realisation assessments to ensure that the project achieved the expected outcomes.

So does your current technology project have a valid business case?

(Photo Flickr User: alancleaver_2000)