There’s been some terrific discussion in the blogosphere about SuccessFactor’s recent acquisition of Inform, and I won’t repeat here what Ventana Research, Knowledge Infusion OnDemand and others have had to say about what looks like a smart move for SuccessFactors and a potentially important contribution to HR’s ongoing quest for the “holy grail” of actionable analytics, of improved HRM decision-making. Since I’ve been on the trail of business outcomes-driven HRM and embedded intelligence in HRM software for as long as anyone can remember, of course I’m applauding this move. But the plot really thickens when you realize just how much heavy lifting is needed – translate: analytical work that must be done by some combination of in-house and consulting resources who are subject matter experts in KSAOC-modeling, workforce behavior, and the integrated and KSAOC-centric nature of strategic HRM – in order to unleash properly any serious attempt at workforce planning.
That said, the multi-tenant SuccessFactors platform, assuming they’ve built it correctly to aggregate up and across and not just to inherit across and down, could be perfect for building benchmarking data from whatever their customers are using for KSAOCs, whether formally modeled or colloquially muddled, and many other strategic HRM building blocks. The power of multi-tenancy, when done very well, unleashes entirely new possibilities here. In addition, the well-respected Inform consulting team and their own analytical tools, which have a long history of pulling needed data — and you can’t design HRM to drive business outcomes unless you can tap into the systems that manage business outcomes data, which goes well beyond financial results — from every imaginable source, will add to SuccessFactors’ less experienced capabilities in these areas.
What’s very clear is that across the entire HRM software and services industry, as well as within corporate HR departments and even in academia, there simply aren’t enough strategic HRM thinkers/consultants/analysts/implementors with the right KSAOCs, experience, budget and authority to ensure that all of the strategic HRM technology (aka talent managment), to include integrated workforce analytics and embedded intelligence tools, can really be used as intended, to improve business outcomes. There are a lot of bright folks who can be taught or have already learned the mechanics of implementing a particular piece of talent management software as well as the project/client management skills to get these projects done on time and within budget. But these KSAOCs are a far cry from the richness and depth of consulting expertise needed to analyze individual organizations in terms of their specific competency models, most effective total compensation plan designs, best sourcing and staffing strategies, future workforce requirements and how best to achieve them, etc.
All of the really tough HRM questions cannot be answered just by implementing software, no matter how terrific and agile that software, how easily implemented, how social the user experience, or how cost effective it is to obtain via SaaS. There’s a ton of heavy analytical lifting that must be done to design and implement workforce analytics and embedded intelligence in a specific organization, and there are far too few of us who have the chops to do this. This is why Inform’s consultants could be so valuable to SFSF, assuming that they stay and can scale and institutionalize these capabilities a lot faster than Inform was able to do. But the bigger issue is how will our industry as a whole will develop the number and capabilities of HRM and HRM delivery system consultants that we must have if the promise of talent management technology is ever to be realized. Now that’s a topic worthy of its own blog post.