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Micah Fairchild Kronos and Microsoft Conferences Shed Light on Industry Trends

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 By Micah Fairchild

KronosWorks 2012 & Microsoft SharePoint User Conference Highlights

Try as we may, it’s simply not possible to cover every single event that happens in the HR industry during what we affectionately refer to as “conference season”. Seriously, every month multiple events are taking place and we don’t have the manpower or the stamina to be present at each one. Unfortunately what that winds up meaning is that for every user conference that we cover like Workday Rising or Oracle Open World, there are countless others that go by without the fanfare they deserve.

And that same principle applies to industry events as well. Sure, we can cover the HR Technology Conference or the annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) soiree, but other commitments have sadly kept us away from equally important meet-ups such as HR Tech Europe, CIPD’s annual conference, and many others. As the 2012 conference season slowly comes to a close this year though, there are two final ones that made a big enough impression on us that they had to be mentioned—the 15th annual KronosWorks conference and Microsoft’s SharePoint user event. Here were the highlights of each.

KronosWorks 2012 User Conference Recap

This past year we had a chance to take an in-depth look at this company when we conducted a review of Kronos’ Workforce Central Suite. And while our analysis of that software offering was a comprehensive evaluation at the time, a lot has happened since then—developments that the company was all too happy to keep the industry abreast of at their annual gala. First off, Kronos billed the event as “the world’s largest workforce management event ever”; and while it’s always difficult to substantiate claims of this nature the fact of the matter is that this conference was explicitly designed to give practical, hands-on advice to practitioners that function in the workforce management space. For instance, the event’s 300+ hours of educational offerings included attendee sessions like the American Payroll Association’s (APA) presentation on “Best Practices in Managing Payroll”; GRCDE’s (Governing Research and Center for Digital Education) meet-up for “Managing Absenteeism in Government and Education”; and the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) contribution to the latest technologies with its “The Social Media Show (& Tell)”.

Still, after only a few minutes at the conference any attendee would likely have agreed with us that analytics was the clear focus here. Whether that came in the form of keynote speaker Billy Beane (made famous for his decidedly analytical approach to baseball that was the subject of the Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball”) or in the company’s announcements about product enhancements, analyzing customer “big data” was the strategic capability that Kronos wanted to convey they could handle; and for the most part they did just that.

For instance, the company announced new analytics functionality via their Workforce Tablet application—technology that enables a new, impressive (and interactive) dashboard visual display and drill-down reporting capabilities designed with the iPad UX (user experience) in mind. Further, in true Kronos fashion (given the company’s penchant for industry-specific solutions), out-of-the-box functionalities were also announced for cross-vertical and retail business insights in the same vein that Kronos had already captured for healthcare and manufacturing. Still, perhaps the biggest item that Kronos was able to successfully address via this year’s KronosWorks conference was that it’s slowly and steadily chipping away at any and all of the reasons that prospective workforce management buyers might have to not short-list their offering. Productivity has always been front and center, but now with usability and business intelligence being addressed as well, Kronos has removed barriers to being named on more software selection short lists.

Microsoft SharePoint User Conference Recap

Although Microsoft is easily one of the largest technology companies in the world, it has to be said that normally a user conference for one application wouldn’t be the sort of thing that garners enough industry attention to warrant coverage. Be that as it may, following up the company’s acquisition of Yammer this past year, this particular event held some news that simply had to be shared. Specifically, at this particular user event, Microsoft laid out its strategy going forward for what it plans to do with Yammer, as well as what the future holds for SharePoint itself. As such, eschewing any analysis of the actual speakers, we thought we’d use this venue instead to detail what exactly it is that we know so far about these announcements.

  • MS SharePoint Point #1: Focus is On “Unified Identity”
    One of the more salient points that Microsoft executives made during this conference was about their push towards a “unified identity”. In short, the idea here is to make Yammer, Sharepoint, Skype, and a host of other Microsoft tools accessible via a single identity. And although, some of this news has already been released at their company’s Build conference, what was new to us at this year’s MS SharePoint conference was what that unified strategy truly entailed. For instance, Microsoft envisions Yammer as the piece that enables user to take part in an activity stream; with social elements such as real-time conversation threads eventually being integrated directly into messaging (via Lync), Outlook, Office 365 document management, and ultimately BI (business intelligence). Granted, some of this seems a bit far-fetched given Microsoft’s current set-up, but plans are being made to shortly roll-out these capabilities to SharePoint’s developer ecosystem (which currently sits at around 700K) via the launch of a SharePoint app store for 2013; which could be the industry signal MS needs to show they’re serious about these changes.

  • MS SharePoint Point #2: Yammer Pricing Changes
    Also announced alongside the roadmap we just mentioned was the company’s surprising news of a significant change in Yammer pricing options. Specifically, it would seem that even though 4 options had been the norm for the now-Microsoft offering, the sweet spot for pricing going forward has been culled down to just 2 options; a free version (called Yammer Basic) and a paid version (deemed Yammer Enterprise). Not only that though, but the $15 per user premium that was being charged for Yammer Enterprise is now set to only cost $3 per user. Yammer Enterprise will still be offered as a standalone application, but will now have a featured place with the Office 365 Enterprise and the 2013 release of SharePoint Online.

  • MS SharePoint Point #3: Yammer Influences Updates and More
    Somewhat surprisingly, amid the constant shouts of “social” and “collaboration” at this year’s conference, Microsoft indicated that, moving forward, their update schedule would follow how Yammer was doing things back in the day. More specifically, rather than approaching updates once every few years (which had been MS’s modus operandi), plans moving forward involve continuous improvement; with small updates provided on a 90-day cycle (focused on analyzing which system tweaks are actually helping customers). Still, although this is an impressive departure from their past upgrading behaviors, what’s truly interesting is how Yammer’s influence has also pushed Microsoft officials to indicate that SharePoint’s future is not on-premise but rather in the company’s cloud-hosted version (SharePoint Online).

Some Final Thoughts on the KronosWorks’ and MS SharePoint’s Conferences

With only roughly 2000 attendees, clearly the KronosWorks conference pales in comparison to the larger audiences that Oracle, SAP, and Workday cater to. Nevertheless KronosWorks2012 was a success by nearly all measures. Clearly, while industry attention has been on Oracle, SAP, and Workday over the past several months, Kronos has been quietly and simply developing their applications in concert with what their sizeable workforce management customer base has been asking for. And aside from the customer satisfaction ratings and analyst accolades that this strategy has garnered, the fact of the matter is that the company has ridden these new-found focus areas to the tune of $870M in revenue for the 2012 fiscal year and has even increased their global market share more than any other workforce management company in 2012 (according to IMS Research). Now their task switches over to keeping prospective customers informed about these latest developments. After all, being the “best kept secret” in the enterprise application business is not a moniker you want to keep for long.

As for the Microsoft SharePoint user conference, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s been less than a year since the company acquired Yammer. So to see this level of dedication (and quite frankly almost a priority 1 status) being given to social is telling. As we indicated in our initial coverage of this acquisition, the ever-increasing popularity of social applications for business purposes made this a solid buy for Microsoft at the time, but now it would seem that the company is starting to leverage some serious cash and cache to get social to the forefront of their portfolio. What we don’t know is what the actual specifications of this newly-minted social focus will mean for integration concerns with Skype or standard versions of MS SharePoint. However, what we will go on record as saying is that 2013 should be a rather interesting year for Microsoft—replete with some big changes, more announcements, and a developing storyline about why companies should choose MS for their social needs. End

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As the 2012 conference season slowly comes to a close this year though, there are two final ones that made a big enough impression on us that they had to be mentioned—the 15th annual KronosWorks conference and Microsoft’s SharePoint user event.


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