Oracle's recent move to gobble up Taleo, which follows on the heels of SAP's pending acquisition of SuccessFactors, means the HR software world's biggest players have chosen a talent management specialist to acquire.
It also means the remaining talent management vendors may struggle to remain relevant. And the very term "talent management"—the major buzzword during the past decade in HR technology—is going to lose its luster.
During the past decade, a key battle line in the HR software world has been between core HR titans—especially SAP and Oracle—and the smaller makers of more-strategic applications dubbed talent management tools. The core HR vendors provide companies with a system of record, which track basic employee information such as name, supervisor and pay level.
The talent management players, such as SuccessFactors, Taleo, Halogen Software, Cornerstone OnDemand and SumTotal Systems, have focused on applications for tasks such as recruiting, compensation decisions and employee performance management. What's more, these upstart "best-of-breed" vendors typically have offered their software through the cloud—as a metered service over the Internet, which promises faster implementations and fewer tech headaches compared with the traditional on-premises approach associated with Oracle and SAP.
It's been a David-vs.-Goliath fight. The Goliaths have had some capabilities in recruiting, performance management and the like. But the Davids, arguing that they had superior talent management features and a better delivery model, have scored a lot of victories. Just look at Cornerstone OnDemand's revenue, which rose 62 percent last year to $75.5 million.
But the Oracle-Taleo and SAP-SuccessFactors deals change the battlefield. Now the major Goliaths are poised to have a leading David on their side. Jason Corsello, vice president at Cornerstone OnDemand, claims that little guys still can hold their own against the big guys, also known in the field as enterprise resource planning vendors, or ERPs.
"History has proven that when ERPs enter a market, the leading best-of-breed vendors cannot just survive but thrive," Corsello told me. "Just look at Salesforce.com."
He has a point. But I think the recent mergers spell trouble for most talent management vendors. Over time, new business software features tend to get folded into the software of soup-to-nuts providers such as Oracle and SAP, and customers often choose those comprehensive products because they like the convenience of dealing with one vendor.
This happened in the field of business intelligence software a few years ago. It also has happened on a smaller scale within talent management software itself, as players such as Taleo and SuccessFactors snapped up other vendors to offer a broader suite of applications.
More consolidation could be on the horizon. Maybe another Goliath such as ADP or Infor or Saleforce.com will step in and snap up a Cornerstone or Halogen. Ultimate Software and Workday, which offer core HR and talent management tools, also could be buyers or sellers.
In the wake of the Oracle-Taleo announcement, Josh Bersin of research firm Bersin & Associates also sees challenges ahead for the remaining talent management specialists. "The 'losers' are some of the smaller human capital management vendors who now have a much bigger sales force—Oracle—to compete with," he says.
One possible downside with consolidation is innovation can diminish as the number of competitors dwindles. But I don't worry much about that. Already, a new generation of social and mobile HR tools is cropping up—such as Achievers and Yammer.
Some of the talent management vendors are trying to tap into this emerging field of collaboration. But don't be surprised if they stop calling themselves "talent management" companies in the near future.
That buzzword always was a bit self-important, with its claim to higher-level concerns than mere "human resources." And now its time in the spotlight is coming to an end.
Ed Frauenheim is senior editor at Workforce Management. To comment, write to email@example.com.