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On the Fringes of the HR Technology Market

June 6, 2007
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Featured Article
Acouple of software strangers have come to town.

    Cognos and Business Objects are not as familiar to workforce management leaders as are such HR application vendors as Oracle, SAP and SuccessFactors. Cognos and Business Objects typically are called "business intelligence" software makers, but both vendors make products designed to analyze talent-related information. And like the proverbial movie strangers who spur self-reflection and shake up communities, the firms provide greater insights compared with analysis tools from the usual suspects in human resources technology, according to the companies.

    Still, it’s not always easy to be the outsider. Business Objects has seen just moderate growth for its Workforce Analytics product, even as other vendors report solid progress. Business Objects plans to reintroduce its workforce analytics software this year, says Richard Stocks, the company’s product marketing manager for analytics applications. Stocks and his colleagues plan to clarify that Business Objects makes software of interest to more than just techies in information technology departments.

    "There’s been a lack of education in the market," Stocks says.

    That market is poised to invest more heavily in software products that analyze workforce data, experts say. Companies have become more focused on managing their talent through the use of metrics. In addition, vendors have made improvements to software tools designed to study the efficiency of HR operations and show the links between workforce matters and business results.

    In a recent study from the International Association for Human Resource Information Management professional group and consulting firm Knowledge Infusion, 30 percent of companies with 2,500 employees or more indicated they will make significant investments in analytics software during the next three years.

    The giants of the HR software field, Oracle and SAP, sell workforce analytics products. Also offering analytics tools are talent management specialists that focus on such tasks as recruiting, performance management and learning management.

    Vendors that limit their wares to talent management software typically can’t mine data outside of the applications they sell, says Farhana Alarakhiya, associate vice president of analytics applications at Cognos. In addition, she says her company’s application is easier to use than analytics tools from SAP and Oracle and comes with "high-touch" service.

    At the start of a software implementation, Cognos makes sure to bring together line managers and HR officials to ask what metrics are most important to them. "Users are getting exactly what they want the first time," she says.

    SAP and Oracle both dispute the portrayal of their analytics products as hard to use. SAP says its business intelligence tools have advanced to be as simple to use as a pocket calculator. Oracle argues that using a third-party analytics tool can lead to integration headaches.

    Cognos launched its workforce analytics application about a year ago, and has seen significant business for it. The company says its tool is used to track workforce data for more than 500,000 employees and is used by four out of the 10 top HR outsourcers, including IBM.

    Despite less-than-scintillating sales of its workforce analysis product, Business Objects remains bullish about the field. Stocks, an outsider to the HR world, still believes he can help workforce management professionals see the big picture more clearly, and have the time to focus on it.

    "I always tell people, ‘Analytic applications give you your job back.’ "

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Workforce Management, May 21, 2007, p. 26 -- Subscribe Now!

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