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Workforce management software vendor Kronos released its financial results at its 15th annual KronosWorks conference (#KronosWorks12) this week. As a private company Kronos had $870 million in revenue for its 2012 fiscal year ending in September, making Kronos one of the largest software and technology companies in the world. Our benchmark research into next-generation workforce management finds the most important technology priorities are collaboration (70%), analytics (68%) and mobility (43%). Kronos addresses these trends with its portfolio of workforce management applications.

Building on its introduction of Kronos InTouch at last year’s conference, Kronos meets a new generation of managers’ needs for overseeing and analyzing the contribution of workers. Its new Workforce Tablet application provides analytics, geosensing, scheduling, staffing and time card approvals via a native iPad application available from the Apple App Store. I tried the demonstration and found the application easy to use. It’s designed for a range of competencies and skills across industries. Our research finds 28% of organizations use tablets today, and another third (34%) plan to use them in the next year. Since the iPad is the preferred device in almost two-thirds (63%) of organizations, Kronos has made a smart bet on Apple. Android devices are a logical next step and beginning to show up in business; currently Microsoft has little to no mindshare and it just introduced its Microsoft Slate that it hopes will gain adoption in organizations.

This has been a big year for Kronos. The latest release of Kronos Workforce Analytics, as I assessed, was a significant point of expansion. This week’s released of workforce analytics that operate on a tablet should help managers get better insight into labor and high-level worker performance metrics. Kronos’ labor analytics capabilities, accessible now via tablets, can help with overage and compliance metrics. Our latest research found that almost two-thirds (61%) of organizations plan to improve workforce analytics; most currently use spreadsheets. Kronos provides prebuilt content for specific industries but can also provide its analytics technology for any organization that wants more sophisticated analytics.

Kronos’ InTouch device can be used as a time clock and for a range of worker interactions, from notifications and access to service and applications. I would expect to see even more options from Kronos to support capabilities like WiFi and playing learning vignettes through video streaming which are natural expansions for its technology. Kronos has new partner applications for InTouch, such as Wayfinder, to help guide employees to work locations; EnrollMe, to help with benefit enrollment; and Employee Survey, to provide employee surveys at point of check-in. These applications help demonstrate the viability and extensibility of the InTouch platform. I hope that Kronos can demonstrate its own expansion of applications and services that could extend to what workers might need after punching out from ordering food for home delivery or pickup to providing reminders on life events or what might be coming up at work on the following day.

Kronos also has released Kronos Workforce Task Management to give managers and workers in the retail and hospitality industries better management of tasks that need to be completed. Our research finds that Kronos is addressing organizations’ top three workforce management priorities: aligning workforce to business goals and objectives (29%), increasing productivity (14%) and improving the efficiency of workforce processes (11%). Kronos software helps guide workers and goes beyond just depending on communications to ensure tasks get completed. I hope to see Kronos take the next step and integrate recognition and rewards to provide further acknowledgement for those who complete tasks satisfactorily and use social collaboration techniques to engage managers and workers.

Kronos makes its applications accessible through software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing efforts, which our benchmark research finds is a priority in 19 percent of organizations, versus a preference for on-premises in 42 percent. Kronos announced it now has more than 6,000 customers in the cloud, where it provides a new core HR and payroll offering called Workforce Ready. Its expansion into cloud computing and even providing a hosted service that sometimes is called a private cloud are smart moves to ensure it provides its customers the choices it wants in using its technology. Kronos had no lack of customers at the conference vocalizing support for its cloud computing efforts.

Kronos’ largest challenge is less about technology than about educating existing and potential new customers on the productivity and performance improvements they can gain. Our search found the demand for productivity improvement was the number one motivation for new investments in workforce management (63%). Kronos will have to provide more examples and measurements of time to perform tasks, as competitive technology providers are quickly moving to communicate what they do to address a new generation of worker applications. Vendors are not sitting still: Oracle offered some recent demonstrations of its future directions with its Fusion applications, SAP is partnering with Workforce Software, Workday announcing they are supporting workforce management, Ceridian has expanded with Dayforce HCM and SumTotal is reenergizing its efforts; meanwhile, Red Prairie could be distracted given its recent merger announcement with JDA. Kronos will also need to examine methods to expand collaboration methods so workers and managers can interact more through a range of channels, from forums to new broadcast and activity streaming, which our research has found to be growing in importance. Kronos is also making it easier for customers to use its latest mobile and analytics advancements on older versions of its Workforce Central platform and not requiring an upgrade.

Kronos has made significant technology advancements to help make workforce management simpler. It has addressed usability, which our research found to be most important consideration in 81 percent of organizations. Kronos is focused on increasing productivity; now it just needs to promote its advancements better to ensure it can take credit for the inclusion of innovative technology in its applications. The move to embrace mobile technology like tablets and supporting tasks and direct support of daily tasks are critical steps to be a leader in the workforce management technology market. If you have not seen what Kronos is doing, just download and run the demo yourself to see what they are doing to advance applications and usability for their customers.

Regards,

Mark Smith

I attended the annual SAP Influencer Summit (Twitter #SAPSummit), at which executives from SAP meet with analysts and customers from around the world to discuss the company’s direction. Pointing out that in 2012 SAP will reach its 40th anniversary of operations, chief communications officer Hubertus Kulpus and chief marketing officer Jonathan Becher kicked off the summit, then passed the microphones to co-CEO Jim Hagemann-Snabe and CTO Vishal Sikka for overviews of the business and technology strategies. They presented a well-rehearsed dialogue on SAP’s definition of its software business as being in two areas, the “system of record” and “system of engagement”; the first term describes its transactional applications and the second its portfolio of business analytics.

SAP has invested significant resources in expanding from its core of ERP applications. The latest investment is into cloud computing and human capital management with the costly acquisition of SuccessFactors. Its earlier acquisition of Sybase is now showing progress in mobile technology, which I have assessed, and it is progressing also in in-memory computing with SAP HANA, which it launched earlier in 2011 at its SAPPHIRE conference. All of these are important areas for the company’s present and future directions. CTO Vishal used an interesting approach in comparing the company’s technology advancements to events in Greek mythology, but I have to question the effectiveness of describing what SAP is trying to accomplish in the future in terms of the ancient past.

Nevertheless Vishal said SAP aims to help customers advance technologically with no or little disruption to their existing deployments of SAP. It is trying to achieve this by adapting SAP HANA to operate under its current analytic and transactional systems; if that effort succeeds, it could displace what SAP calls 20th century disk-based databases (particularly Oracle’s) with today’s memory-based ones. In addition SAP is integrating other technologies such as cloud and mobile with existing software deployments. Later in the discussion SAP presenters provided statistics and a roadmap of advancing its Sybase-based database technologies ASE and IQ to harmonize with SAP HANA.

Presenters also insisted that SAP is focused on the cloud, devoting the second day of the gathering exclusively to cloud computing and its strategies for the future. This is an important step forward as SAP works to convince influencers and customers that it provides not just applications in the cloud but also a platform and technologies to support them. The company has significant deployments of a variety of applications in the cloud today, and now it’s time to focus on perfecting a cloud platform that can support any type of application. For example, I recently assessed its Sales OnDemand offering, which shows potential if the organization can effectively engage sales organizations with direct marketing and sales. SAP also communicated the steady growth of its SAP Business ByDesign cloud computing application suite that is commonly compared to Oracle Fusion applications but not everyone is looking to rent an entire application suite in the cloud which is why its discrete efforts are so important. I believe that SAP has set expectations unnecessarily high for the role of SuccessFactors in its future cloud computing efforts. SAP definitely is committed to cloud computing, but the question is whether it can fend off major competitors, especially Salesforce.com and even Oracle, and the many smaller vendors that use the cloud to deliver applications to specific lines of business (LOB). In addition SAP has not addressed the customer challenges of integrating processes, applications and data that must interoperate whether they are in cloud computing environments from SAP or other providers and in on-premises applications from SAP. We recently found in our business data in the cloud benchmark research that organizations are just beginning to realize their challenges of just renting applications in the cloud with no information strategy or method to automate the interchange of data across them and the enterprise. Over the years SAP handled the challenges of application and data integration inside the enterprise with its SAP EIM and SAP NetWeaver; now it needs to do likewise with its cloud computing efforts. To do this might take acquiring a software vendor or licensing software from providers such as Dell Boomi, IBM, Informatica, iWay Software, Pervasive or SnapLogic to shorten time to market and ensure it can be as dominant in the cloud as it has become inside of enterprises today.

I see simplicity and accessibility of its applications as critical issues for SAP to address so that more organizations can experience its advances, and the company seems to be working on both. On the simplicity side, SAP has been working to improve the usability of its applications and showed the audience examples of new user interfaces for its upcoming releases. Presenters spoke of providing a “consumer-grade user experience” and demonstrated some examples, but I suspect SAP will have to invest plenty in marketing to prove this point. My own experience of what it’s delivering for mobility shows a need for more human factors in the design. I personally have seen improvement in my recent analysis of the new SAP Strategy Management applications available on the Apple iPad and how applications like this on a tablet are the right approach for the next generation of business computing. I found it odd that this application was not mentioned in the event at all as it is clearly a high-value business application. Regarding accessibility, SAP is making more applications available for trial and purchase through its online stores. Currently an Internet search will reveal many online outlets for SAP products, from business analytics to mobility, but none interlink smoothly to the others; I assume SAP is working on its own software superstore.

As for business analytics, SAP president Sanjay Poonen provided an overview that showed it is investing in all key aspects, from its platform and tools for BI and information management that I assessed earlier this year to applications for finance and operations using its EPM and GRC suites. SAP is making a case for an integrated approach to these “systems of engagement.” Its plan for unifying of them with cloud, mobile and to some extent collaborative platforms is more coherent than Oracle’s or IBM’s, although the latter is beginning to understand the importance of bringing its own software divisions together in a direct approach to the market. Now the challenge for SAP is to convince the lines of business of the value of its business analytics as it focuses on evolving its LOB applications to address real departmental needs better than the generic approaches of CRM, ERP and SCM.

At the summit I spent some time evaluating SAP in the LOB areas including marketing, sales and customer services as well as product- and service-centric industries and operational areas. While SAP has offerings of potential value in each of the lines of business, presenters emphasized its cloud and mobility technology advancements for business in general but did not explain the value of its business analytics offerings to the line of business areas. I wonder whether SAP is struggling to develop messages about why its products would be the best for each line of business. However, speakers did discuss the role of new mobile applications for travel and expenses tracking and order and customer information, and provided insight into its customer and human capital management areas. SAP realizes that application buyers now have a business orientation and leadership and responsibility to invest, but it will require more marketing to persuade them that it is not a vendor that requires more IT resources than others which is why cloud and mobile is so important for them.

SAP is leading the market in terms of the quantity of new applications that operate on smartphones and tablets. IBM, Infor, Oracle and others are not as far along, and you can find SAP’s breadth today in application stores including its SAP EcoHub and Apple’s AppStore. But SAP has to balance this with a mobile technology infrastructure to ensure it does not under invest in the unique design requirements of mobile applications such as collaboration and visualization elements to be competitive in the market. It is too early to tell how this will play out, but a point of concern is SAP’s emphasis on HTML5, for which it has been developing an application container in its Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP). It is risky to believe that developing to a lowest common denominator like HTML5 will help popularize applications across mobile platforms like Apple, Android, RIM and even Microsoft, each of which have unique design aspects in their native operating environments. So far my assessment is that the majority of SAP’s mobile applications are oriented more to tasks than to roles or applications. The company has not articulated a vision of how elements like voice interaction can advance mobility; this is already available on the Apple iPhone 4 and Siri, along with Google’s voice technologies. SAP also will have to deal with smaller competitors providing specific LOB applications such Peoplefluent in HCM or Roambi and MicroStrategy in business intelligence; these are accelerating their growth in mobility with advancements in the user experience and interactivity.

SAP has come a long way in the year since its last influencer summit in late 2010, which I assessed. It has been a busy year with advances from its new blend of management tools to new applications. SAP has shifted its priorities to the cloud and mobility at the right time to attract more customer commitment and market acceptance while still being an innovative supplier of enterprise software. While the technology is advancing quickly, SAP’s communications are lagging in explaining why it provides the best user experience and for line of business  and why they can collaborate better; that is at least as important as investing in the cloud and mobile infrastructures. If it can sharpen a more business-centered focus, SAP will remain relevant to business and IT buyers around the world for some time to come.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

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