behavioral science

Infor Acquires PeopleAnswers: New Twist to Continuing Trend in ERP and HCM

Big Data, Predictive Talent Analytics Drive Performance

On January 8, 2014, Infor announced it had acquired PeopleAnswers,  a pioneer in cloud-based predictive talent analytics. This continues a trend of large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendor acquisitions in the realm of performance management and recruiting. But unlike other acquisitions, this one adds quite a unique new value proposition to its broadening footprint of Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions. Its software as a service (SaaS) talent analytics capabilities add a measure of data-driven behavioral science to an otherwise “soft” discipline.

Adding Talent Management to ERP

For decades in the world of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), human resource management (HRM) was little more than an afterthought. For many years, the perceived requirements were rudimentary at best and Human Resource Management modules often were just repositories for employee data. They didn’t really manage anything. ERP continued to expand functionality around the transactional system of record of the business. And apart from payroll transactions, which might or might not be included in the HR landscape, HCM really didn’t involve the transactions that fueled trade. Integration didn’t have to be “tight,” leaving a world of opportunity for separate add-on applications.

A Developing Market

This left plenty of room in the market for a lot of smaller HR specialists to seize the opportunity and grab a niche. The overall software category of HRM became broader, turning into human capital management (HCM) and several different “specialty” categories emerged: talent management, including recruiting, performance management (reviews), incentive compensation, as well as skills development and learning, workforce planning and analytics and time tracking. Sometimes payroll was included, sometimes not.

The number of players in the market proliferated.  Because few took the full suite approach, new HCM software vendors could grasp a foothold and gain traction even with a relatively small footprint.  The success of these new vendors proved to the market just how big the demand was (and is) for this type of software.

Customers and ERP Vendors Respond

Today, not only are customers more demanding and less willing to subject employees to the hassle and confusion of multiple systems, but also the big ERP players are no longer content to leave that opportunity on the table. The result: A big round of consolidation has begun. The year 2012 saw SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s acquisition of Taleo. Last year NetSuite announced its intention to acquire TribeHR. All three of these are cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) solutions in the talent management arena. So Infor’s announcement was the fourth major ERP vendor to announce an acquisition of a talent management solution, and a cloud-based one as well.

This is not Infor’s first venture into the realm of HCM however. It already has quite a comprehensive offering across the HCM landscape, offered either on-premise or SaaS. Its acquisition of Lawson back in 2011 was a major step forward, particularly in satisfying the human capital needs of certain industries, including healthcare, retail and hospitality. Coincidentally, all three of these industries are human capital-intensive. It later rounded out its offering with its acquisition of CertPoint, which filled an important gap in learning management. Now it is seeking further differentiation through PeopleAnswers’ decade-long investment in “big data” and its unique approach of including behavioral science.

How is PeopleAnswers Unique?

Some areas of HCM categories might struggle to produce hard data that supports evidence of return on investment (ROI). After all human resource management is a relatively “soft” discipline. Manufacturing can accurately produce hard measurements such as production output, lead times, and quality metrics. Sales can measure bookings and revenue against quota. Marketing can count leads captured and converted. Finance can measure discounts lost, days sales outstanding, earnings and profits. But capturing human capital metrics related to performance and employee engagement are indeed softer and harder to measure.

Yet the metric PeopleAnswers attacks most directly is much more firm and definitive. Although its product can legitimately be characterized as both performance management (employee assessments) and recruiting, the real metric that drives ROI is turnover. The premise: By accurately assessing the performance of individuals, you improve your ability to hire the right people. By hiring the right people you improve overall performance and retention. Customers routinely report reduction in turnover by 40%, and even higher returns in reducing involuntary turnover.

How does it do that?

PeopleAnswers uses a data-driven scientific approach to objectively tie individualized performance metrics to the key behaviors of its customers’ best employees. This is not a fluffy, feel-good approach to performance management, but patent-pending scientific research. PeopleAnswers has a science team, including 10 individuals with PhDs in behavioral science.

Through its research, this team has determined that skills alone are not predictive of the future performance of a new hire. The team developed a list of 39 attributes that correlate most directly with performance, including ambition, discipline, energy, acceptance of authority, attention to detail, flexibility, conscientiousness, and empathy. Good hiring managers have been subjectively evaluating these traits for decades. PeopleAnswers takes the subjectivity out and puts consistency in.

The implementation process starts by developing customized Performance Profiles™ from employee assessments, focusing specifically on characteristics and behaviors of top performers and weighting the 39 attributes differently for different jobs and perhaps even geographies. These Performance Profiles become the benchmark for selection, development, and succession planning.

Candidates are required to fill out a questionnaire uniquely tailored to the company and the position. This is used to construct what PeopleAnswers calls the Behavioral DNA™ of the candidate. It then compares that against the Performance Profiles of top performers and “scores” the candidates to help identify future superstars.

PeopleAnswers is also unique in how it charges for its service. It is not unusual to charge on a per-use basis (per assessment and/or per applicant) in this category of software, and PeopleAnswers certainly can accurately measure this. However it prefers to eliminate any excuse for delaying, reducing, or skipping the assessment process in order to save money. To get the most value from the solution, you need to assess every employee and every candidate that applies for a job.  So PeopleAnswers doesn’t charge based on the number of assessments but rather a flat, all-inclusive fixed fee that includes unlimited assessments.

Data Needed

This eliminates any (valid) excuse for not entering an assessment and makes the calculation of ROI that much easier. Of course any customer needs to start the implementation with some clear baseline metrics. Figure out your current turnover and estimate the cost of losing an employee. This might be different for voluntary and involuntary turnover, but even a single estimate will provide a good starting point. From these two numbers you can figure out what turnover is costing you today. If you, like other PeopleAnswers customers, can reduce turnover by 40%, the software will probably pay for itself pretty quickly.

But apart from simplifying the math, providing incentives to collect as much data as possible only makes sense. This is particularly important since without data, the model is useless. In fact without a lot of data, it would seem the model is useless. The more employees you have, the more recruiting you do for the same or similar positions, the more value can be derived directly from the tool. So this may not have the same value proposition for small companies, as it will for large companies. And human capital-intensive industries will benefit more. So a small manufacturer operating in a highly automated plant might not gain the same ROI as perhaps a large healthcare facility staffed with hundreds of nurses, or a retail environment with thousands of in-store personnel.

Who Will Benefit?

Infor’s installed base of customers includes all of these different profiles. At the time of the announcement, Infor and PeopleAnswers have 80 joint customers. About 70% of this customer overlap is from prior Lawson customers, which are most likely to fit the “human capital-intensive” bill. So that will be the first order of business as Infor starts the integration process. The goal is to deeply integrate the PeopleAnswers’ Behavioral DNA into the current Infor Talent Management suite, starting with the Lawson product. If the Lawson acquisition is an indicator of success, this first wave of integration should take about 120 days. Note, this time frame is the current plan and is reflective of past performance, but many factors can impact development plans. So this should not be interpreted as a hard commitment. The timing of future releases and Infor’s development plans remain at the sole discretion of Infor.

This effort will also include bringing Infor 10x enabling technology to the PeopleAnswers products, including Infor ION (light weight middleware), Infor Ming.le (a centralized platform for social collaboration, business process improvement, and contextual analytics) and Infor Motion (mobility).

At the same time, it will be making the Infor Enwisen HR Service Delivery platform more “behavioral.” Infor will then move on to integrating PeopleAnswers to the Infinium product line.

What Does the Future Hold?

While this new addition to the Infor family of products may not be uniformly applicable to its entire installed base of 70,000 customers, it certainly adds clear and measurable value to the subset that operates in human capital-intensive industries where making the right (or wrong) hiring decisions can make (or break) a company. But the potential value might not stop there.

Acquisitive companies typically look to improving bottom line performance by eliminating redundancies between the merged companies. This is an effective approach when those redundancies are limited to back office administration. But when staff reductions start to hit the development team, it can become counter-productive. Infor recognizes this and tends to not only protect the acquired development staff, but also add to it.

The first order of business after the acquisition is completed will be to integrate PeopleAnswers with selected Infor products (Lawson S3). Infor intends to preserve the PeopleAnswers team in order to expedite this. But at the same time it will bring Infor10x technology to the PeopleAnswers product. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Infor will actually add development staff to do this. While at other acquisitive companies an acquisition may trigger layoffs, at Infor it is just as likely to trigger hiring.

As big data and analytics continue to make their way to the forefront of employee and business performance management, it will be interesting to see what other results the addition of a “science team” can produce at Infor. And as the combined Infor and PeopleAnswers teams start to work more cooperatively together, who knows what other value behavioral science can bring to a whole host of other activities beyond recruiting.

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