Using ATS and Assessments for an Automated, Uniform Recruitment Process

Whether a business is large or small, identifying, qualifying and hiring the right employees is critical to innovation and growth. But, as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are hiring, and competitionespecially for top talent is intensifying. This makes it more difficult for many companies to find, track and hire the talent they need to thrive.

As a result, many businesses are reassessing and refreshing their existing recruiting practices and solutions. They are looking for knowledge and tools to give them the agility they need to compete more successfully throughout the recruitment process.

In this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

Behind the Scenes at A Leading Hospitality Company 


kids
Almost everyone that has ever had children has been to venues that combine a restaurant with arcade games, amusement rides, climbing equipment, entertainment and other activities, including climbing equipment, tubes, and slides.

But it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes talent to pull all of this off. According to the Senior Recruiting Administrator at one of the largest hospitality companies of this kind, the Kenexa Recruiter Enterprise ATS that they had implemented years ago “was very basic, it served as a database for resumes. When managers read the resumes and selected top candidates for management and technical positions, they would have to manually overnight applications to them, and the candidates would have to complete and overnight them back. We had HR statuses, but they didn’t trigger anything. We couldn’t automate or control the process, or assign different levels of access to different types of users.” In addition, although the hospitality company had created two custom assessment tests for management and technical positions, hiring managers had to administer the 35 to 40 question tests to applicants over the phone.

By 2011, the manual processing required to support these workflows had become overwhelming, and says the senior recruiting administrator, “the company decided we were well overdue, and it was time to upgrade both its ATS and revamp its assessment tools to keep up with our evolving recruitment requirements.”

Although the company was familiar with Kenexa, the company wanted to check out competitive offerings to make sure that there wasn’t a better fit out there. They were looking for a cloud solution that would provide them with the automated ATS workflows they needed, and at an affordable price. In addition, the company also wanted to move its custom assessments into an online assessment system.

As the administrator observes, “We looked at 6 or 7 systems, and most offer fairly similar functionality in terms of ATS. But price was a key consideration for us. Some of the competitive solutions had lots of bells and whistles that we knew we wouldn’t use—along with more expensive price tags. So we’d be wasting our money.”

In addition, competitive ATS vendors that the company evaluated didn’t have the assessment piece. “They would have handed us off to a third-party, and we’d have to negotiate two deals, and manage two maintenance contracts and vendors,” notes the recruitment administrator. Kenexa’s ability to provide both ATS and assessments at “the right price” was also a key factor.

In addition, since the company had decided to deploy cloud-based offerings, it didn’t need to involve its 25-person IT staff. “Our bread and butter is the stores, so our IT staff is pretty lean.” Ultimately, the Senior VP and Director of HR at the company made the final decision to go with Kenexa for both ATS and custom assessments.

Moving to an Automated Approach for ATS and Assessments

Once they decided to go with Kenexa BrassRing ATS and assessments, Kenexa assigned a project manager, to help keep project milestones on track, and the team planned the rollout. They started with an initial group that included herself and four field recruiters, because recruiters would be using the solution in the most depth. Says the administrator, “I learned fairly quickly that you need to go beyond the project manager that’s assigned, and ask a lot of questions to a lot of people, including the technical people who configure everything. Once I got more resources on the Kenexa team in the loop, it was easier to figure out what approach to take and get it done more quickly.”

Kenexa also provided this initial small team with a day of training the week before it went live. After about one month using the system, the recruiters “had a good grasp of the solution. It’s pretty simple to use. But don’t get me wrong, we stumbled. We could have done more…like have more people testing it. It was a learning process, but one of the guys on Kenexa’s technical support team helped us and in the end it was a smooth rollout,” she added.

After the initial group was up to speed, they rolled it out to 45 district managers through an initial meeting, and then the company’s four recruiters worked with the district managers individually. Now, in addition to field recruiters and district managers, Internet recruiters, hiring managers, HR managers and regional managers are all using the system.

Observes the administrator, “The biggest challenge we probably had was getting people used to it, to the change. We sent emails saying you need to create a new profile, get a new password. So notifying people in each store caused us a little bit of trouble. And doing assessments online was also a big change for them. So in general, it took about 2 weeks for them to get comfortable with it.”

IBM now provides ongoing support via its Global Support Center staff, and the hospitality company’s IT staff hasn’t needed to get involved in supporting these solutions. If the internal team gets a call or email, they send it to IBM. However, when the business is ready to integrate Brassring with its Workday HRIS, its IT staff will play a role in the integration.

Getting Results

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????According to the recruitment administrator, “Gaining the ability to pull a lot of reports, much more easily, and on our own is very helpful. We used to have to request reports—and then wait for someone to pull them. It definitely also helps us control the workflow.”

She continues, “Triggers, forms and having things go at specific times ensure a more uniform recruitment process. The best part is that it reinforces the workflow, and helps us limit exceptions. Because there’s a single platform, everyone has to do it right, its set up the same way for everyone.”

This provides peace of mind, especially in the assessment area. The business has had two successful validations of its assessment process since automating it. As she observes, “It’s great, we’re not open to any legal issues here.”

Although the company hasn’t done a formal ROI, the cost and time savings benefits are clear. “Recruiters used to sit on the phone getting 35 to 40 questions answered, now this is online, saving time and eliminating expenses for overnight shipping,” notes the senior recruiter.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. Many cloud-based ATS and assessment solutions are available, but as this story highlights, there are some of fundamental considerations that need to be factored in regardless of which solution you choose to ensure a smooth transition, including:

  1. Distinguish must-have requirements from nice-to-have features. Affordability and getting both ATS and assessments from one vendor were top priorities in this case. Setting these priorities helped stop them from getting distracted by solutions with nice to have, but expensive and unnecessary features.
  2. Ask questions early, often and from multiple people on the vendor side. Implementing or upgrading an ATS system is a big project, and its unlikely any one person will have all the answers or the depth of information you need to make the best and most expedient decisions during the implementation process. Learn who the best resources are for different questions and guidance, and use them.
  3. Get more people involved in the testing process. It can be tempting to limit initial testing to a very small group of users to make the process more manageable—over the short-term. But, things usually go more smoothly over the long-term when you involve a few more people upfront to work out more of the kinks earlier in the process.

When it comes to ATS and assessments, each company has unique requirements, workflows and considerations that come into play. However, across the board, strong communication and collaboration, both internally and with the vendor, will help ensure a successful outcome in the short-term, and set the stage for your organization to adapt to new requirements.

This is the third post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

What Is Workforce Science, and How Can It Help Your Business?

 

Smarter workforceEngaged, motivated employees can be an organization’s greatest asset. When employees are fully involved in, committed to, and passionate about their work, productivity rises, and more employees are likely to become brand advocates who can help you grow the business.

But many factors come into play when it comes to developing a more engaged workforce. While talent management tools are important to helping you attract, energize and retain the best employees, it’s only part of the picture.

In the last post in this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

Why Should Companies Care About Workforce Science?

Intuitively, we all know that employees can make or break a company. When employees are productive and dedicated, they can propel business growth. Conversely, disgruntled or even apathetic employees can grind business growth to a halt.

Research confirms this intuition is spot on. IBM has found a strong correlation between employee engagement at the business unit level and key performance indicators, including customer metrics such as higher profitability, productivity, and quality, as well as lower employee turnover, absenteeism, theft and safety incidents.

But how much do most businesses really know about their employees? While many organizations are going to great lengths to understand and analyze customer and prospect expectations, most don’t really know much about what makes their employees tick. For instance, how does a person prefer to learn? What are their talents? How much do they care about their jobs?

The truth is that most companies still use subjective criteria to make many decisions in this area. For instance:

  • Only 56% of companies use an assessment as part of the hiring process. (Aberdeen)
  • 77% of HR professionals worldwide do not know how its workforce potential is affecting the company’s bottom line1 and less than half of organizations surveyed use objective talent data to drive business decisions.(SHL)
  • 86 percent of companies say they have no analytics capabilities in the HR function. Moreover, 67 percent rate themselves as “weak” at using HR data to predict workforce performance and improvement.(Bersin by Deloitte)

When you consider that businesses and their employees basically share a two-way profit relationship, it’s hard to understand why companies have been so slow to focus on this problem.

How Workforce Science Improves Talent ROI

talent lifeccyleWorkforce science helps businesses solve for this by combing behavioral science with normative data, analytics, consulting, and processes to determine what it takes to build an engaged workforce, and create the “systems of engagement” to execute on it.

Particularly as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are starting to get interested in improving their effectiveness through workforce science. With the competition for top talent intensifying, organizations are looking to use the predictive powers of workforce science to help ensure that their investments will pay off throughout the talent management life cycle.

For instance:

  • Predictive hiring. By looking for patterns across organizational, unit, HR, and external data, companies can hire more top performers by identifying the talents and skills that are critical to high performance in different areas, and creating a process to hire candidates that most closely align with these characteristics. In addition, analytics are also used to determine what characteristics are a better cultural fit with the company, so you can more readily identify candidates who will fit, be more productive, and who are more likely to stay with the company for a longer time period.
  • Predictive workforce readiness.To close talent gaps today, and develop the talent you need for tomorrow, you need to be able to accurately identify the talent you have, and take steps to fill the gaps. This starts with mapping talent requirements to key strategic objectives, identifying linkages between organizational roles and key competencies, assessing employee competencies, and determining what hiring, training, or actions you need to take to close the gaps. For example, a company may determine that the existing workforce supplies the electrical engineering competencies they need today, but much of the talent is concentrated in the baby boomer age group, and they will face a deficit in 5 years as these boomers retire. With data-based analysis, the company can take proactive steps well in advance to fill the gap.
  • Predictive retention. All companies want to reduce employee turnover costs. Being able to anticipate why top performers might leave, and taking action to stop it can help you reduce these costs. But how well do you really understand what’s causing employee attrition? For instance, a media company believed that long commutes were the key reason for high turnover in its administrative ranks. However, analysis showed that employee family obligations, such as caring for children or aging parents, was a much more important reason. By determining the real case instead of relying on a hunch, the company could take the right corrective actions to reduce turnover.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. The truth is, however, that most companies are just starting to think about putting science, solutions and processes in place in this area.

Because taking this type of analytical, data-driven approach to talent management is so new, most companies will want to keep the following in mind:

  • Start with the basics. It is probably overwhelming to even think about standardizing your existing human resources data, bringing in normative data and applying new tools and processes on a corporate basis. Start by focusing on a few key problems, such as a skills gap you know exists but can’t quantify, or figuring out why turnover in a key function is too high.
  • Bring real people into the process. Don’t get so carried away with the science that you forget to talk to people in the trenches upfront in the process. This will help ensure that you are not overlooking any possibilities, and are testing the right hypotheses when you do apply analytical tools.
  • Keep the big picture in focus. Although it’s often necessaryand even advantageousto start small, continually reassess how more accurate insights into your human resources and talent information can help you improve business performance.
  • Find a vendor you trust to help guide you. Although this is still a relatively new area, best practices are emerging. Vendors with deep expertise and experience can help you avoid pitfalls and accomplish your goals more quickly and effectively.

IBM’s workforce science solutions combine 25 years of behavioral expertise, analytics and talent management solutions with the largest content library and normative database in the human capital industry. To learn more, visit http://www.ibm.com/smarterworkforce.

This is the third and final post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

 

International Game Technology: Winning At The Talent Recruitment Game

Smarter workforceWhether a business is large or small, identifying, qualifying and hiring the right employees is critical to innovation and growth. But, as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are hiring, and competitionespecially for top talentis intensifying. This makes it more difficult for many companies to find the talent they need to thrive.

At the same time, options to help identify and hire candidates are expanding. For instance, employee referrals, advocacy programs, social media and mobile apps are becoming more important recruitment tools, while the role of external recruiting vendors is diminishing. While these new recruitment channels can help companies access a broader applicant pool, it’s not easy to use, integrate and optimize across them.

As a result, many businesses are reassessing and refreshing their existing recruiting practices and solutions. They are looking for knowledge and tools to give them the agility they need to compete more successfully throughout the recruitment process. .

In this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

International Game Technology: Fueling Growth With Talent

HomepageHeroBanner_JurassicParkHeadquartered in Las Vegas, 34-year old International Game Technology (IGT) is the leading manufacturer of gaming machines. From Las Vegas to Monte Carlo, from Wheel of Fortune to James Cameron’s AVATAR, chances are you’ve played a video slots game on an IGT machine.

While IGT has been the long-time market leader, it does not rest on its laurels. In 2011, the company introduced IGT Cloud, an industry-first which lets casino operators dynamically deploy game content across multiple properties to optimize floor efficiencies, and also offer a seamless gaming experience across land-based, mobile and online devices. In 2012 IGT acquired Double Down Interactive LLC, a social gaming company and developer of DoubleDown Casino on Facebook, to fuel IGT’s expansion through new media. In 2013, IGT partnered with Casino Del Sol in Arizona to hold the AZ, to hold the Game King Championship, the first cross-platform video poker tournamentand the largest in the world, with more than 360,000 players.

To sustain this pace of growth and innovation, IGT must be able to identify and attract top talent.

Keeping Up With IGT Talent Requirements

Talent management solutions are still relatively new. Up until 2000, IGT had—like most companiesrelied on newspaper ads and human resources business partners for candidate recruitment. People would stop in to drop off hard copy applications, and everything was stored in physical file cabinets.

In 2000, IGT started using BrassRing’s cloud-based applicant tracking system. While the solution worked well, as the company grew, they needed more capabilities in the talent management area. When Laura Callender joined IGT six years ago as HRIS Staff Analyst, her job was to refresh and revamp talent management systems at the company to ensure IGT would be able to attract and retain top talent.

IGT’s first priority was to revamp the BrassRing ATS (which is now part of the IBM Kenexa Talent Suite) to keep pace with the company’s expanding global operations and hiring requirements. According to Callender, “It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day, and neglect new features. But it’s important to keep re-evaluating business needs and figure out what will really help improve the process.”

Callender took a fresh look at things, and extended the system to support IGT’s growing geographical footprint, and provide Chinese and Spanish language capabilities. She also added other capabilities, such as mobile functionality. “So many things that are cutting edge, like enabling mobile job applicants…five years ago, people wouldn’t have dreamed of job hunting and applying on a mobile phone. But now applicants might be at the dentist’s office and want to apply. We need to enable these new capabilities that will make a difference to our business,” says Callender.

Community and Support Are Key to Success

men with puzzle piecesIGT has found IBM’s “Kenexans” and the community of Smarter Workforce users invaluable in helping her figure out what changes will provide the most value to IGT. “IBM’s Kenexans help us stay ahead of these trends…they focus on helping us improve the way we do things and help us figure out what options will give us the biggest bang for the buck. Should we turn features on or off? What should we do differently? And how can we make things seamless for our users? So many things are cool, but what will we get the most value from?” observes Callender.

IBM’s Smarter Workforce Global Support Center helps IGT prioritize enhancements via an annual review. As important, IGT can call on their services as needed, not only for break/fix issues, but for new project tickets, and to get the “hand-holding” required to implement new functionality. “We’re in the middle in terms of what we need to implement, and they are there when we need them to help with the next step. It’s a closer degree of support than we get from other vendors,” notes Callender. “Out of all the vendors, in terms of support, I would choose IBM Kenexa any day.”

Callender is very active in user groups as well, which helps her learn from what others are doing, and what’s worked and what hasn’t for them. She’s attended six global conferences, and participated in user groups at all of them. As Callender puts it, “The user groups have really grown, from 30 to 40 attendees to over 100 at the last one. We don’t have an army of HR and IT people, but I can talk to users that do, like Pepsico, Time Warner and Disney, that we can really learn from. At the same time, there are companies smaller than uswith just 100 or 200 employeesthat we can help. It’s a really good way to exchange knowledge.”

The user groups also help facilitate conversations between the IBM Kenexa team and users. “We talk, and they listen. We sit in a roundtable, it’s very interactive, with experts and R&D engineers at each table to discuss topics such as referrals, triggers, etc. It’s very helpful and they act on our input.”

Getting Results

Since IBM Kenexa BrassRing is cloud based, upgrades are “very easy,” says Callender. “IBM rolls them out and turns them on. Some things you have a choice to upgrade or not. But they never break anything with an upgrade, which has happened with some of the other cloud solutions we use.”

Today, IGT hiring managers, external recruiters and applicants are all using the system. Last year, IGT used BrassRing to hire about 600 employees for mostly technical positions, with an average of about 50 applicants for each position. IGT has integrated BrassRing ATS with its SAP ERP system, so that when someone is hired, they are automatically moved from BrassRing to SAP. “Instead of having a person digging through emails to find candidates, ATS can do this for us much faster and more effectively with Boolean searches, and tagging,” states Callender.

IBM Kenexa’s BrassRing ATS also helps IGT answer important questions that impact recruitment strategy, such as:

  • What is the tipping point for the number of applicants for a certain position?
  • How can we do a fill requisitions more quickly?
  • What’s the best way to deal with counteroffers, or higher rejection rates?
  • How can we recruit people that aren’t currently looking for a job?

“We get our money’s worth from BrassRing ATS. We don’t have a formal measurement system, but we know we are saving a lot of time, which saves us money. There is no way we could function without it.” In addition, BrassRing pricing is based on the number of requisitions and applicants, so “what we pay for it aligns with our actual use, which we appreciate,” explains Callender.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. Many cloud-based ATS solutions available, but as the IGT story illustrates, it’s not just the nuts and bolts of the software that matter. Being part of an active, engaged vendor support and user community can help you to:

  1. Map out a more effective strategy. Look for vendors and user communities that are collaborative, and can help you assess your requirements and how they are likely to evolve, and provide you with scalable solutions that you can deploy in an incremental manner.
  2. Get things right the first time. Your company benefits when the vendor facilitates knowledge sharing of best practices for things such as reporting considerations, workflow and underlying database structure that will take the most time and pain out of different processes. For instance, how do you set things up so applicants don’t need to fill out a new affirmative action form every time they apply for a new job, but can just edit information they’ve previously entered?
  3. Prioritize next steps. Your business is constantly evolving, and so is the hiring environment. But few organizations can do everything. Strategic prioritization is essential to figure out what new functionality will provide the most value.

The world of recruitment and talent management is changing quickly. This sets the stage for not only selecting the company and solution that best fits your immediate needs, but one that will provide a strong support experience to help you gain the best outcomes as your business and the recruitment landscape evolve.

This is the first post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

How The Cloud Can Help SMBs: A Conversation

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 12.27.13 PMLast week, I had the opportunity to be a panelist on IBM’s first virtual influencer event on Spreecast, (a great new platform that connects you with people through video conversation) about how the cloud can help small and medium businesses (SMBs) to build their businesses from the ground up, compete more effectively with big businesses, and grow.

Paul Gillin, veteran tech journalist and social media expert at Profitecture (@pgillin) moderated the panel, which included me, IBM General Manager, IBM Midmarket John Mason (@jcmason), and Subbu Balakrishnan, CTO and co-Founder of Good.co (@backslash0), a career platform built on SoftLayer that helps people find best-fit workplaces and jobs. 15-20 other SMB thought leaders also joined us via Spreecast’s chat function.

You can watch and listen here for the full conversation, but here are a few of the key perspectives I took away from this lively and interesting discussion:

  • All panelists agreed that the momentum for SMB adoption of cloud services is rising rapidly. SMBs increasingly see that by using cloud solutions, they can focus more of their resources and money on their core business, and leapfrog slower-moving competitors.
  • With the help of SoftLayer, Good.com went from idea to over 100,000 users in a year and a half using a credit card to pay for cloud infrastructure. According to Subbu, this is something the 15-20 employee company would not have been able to accomplish if they had to build out their own cloud infrastructure.
  • Many startups are forgoing on premises software entirely, opting to do as much as possible in the cloud. The cloud removes technology and capital barriers to get up and running. They can skip a whole generation of software to get their companies off the ground more quickly. The cloud is quickly becoming the preferred way for startups to go.
  • Once you’re up and running, the cloud gives you a flexible infrastructure to scale and grow the business.
  • The rate and pace of technology change continues to increase. The cloud not only provides SMBs with the benefits of infrastructure scale, but with access to the increasingly specialized technology skills and expertise that are necessary today.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the cloud. Public, private, hybrid, shared, or dedicated—each company will have different requirements for different solutions.
  • Business partners play a critical role in helping many SMBs take full advantage of cloud services by fully understanding the SMB’s business requirements. Skilled and trusted partners can translate SMB business requirements into the best-fit cloud solution so the SMB doesn’t have to parse through all of the cloud variants on their own.

New Patterns Emerge: IBM PureApplication Service Takes to the Cloud

ibmpulseEarlier this week, I attended IBM Pulse along with a crowd of about 11,000 other customer, partner, press, influencer and analyst attendees. Historically, Pulse has been the IBM event that focuses on service management and infrastructure. This year, the vendor positioned Pulse as “the premier cloud computing conference.”

Pulse followed closely on the heels of IBM’s acquisition of SoftLayer last year, and on its decision to put SoftLayer technology at the center of its cloud strategy. So it’s not surprising that many industry observers viewed the event as a great opportunity to reassess IBM’s cloud strategy at a time when customers are accelerating towards the cloud. How ready is 104 year-old Big Blue to compete in the cloud infrastructure and platform as-a-service (IaaS and PaaS) space against players such as Amazon, Google and Salesforce.com’s Heroku as technology transforms at a dizzying rate?

The sweeping range of announcements that IBM unleashed signal that it is now all in on cloud computing. IBM launched Bluemix, an open-standards, cloud-based platform to build, manage and run applications; announced its acquisition of Cloudant, a cloud-only database as a service (DBaaS) for building mobile and web apps; introduced Service Engage, which provides cloud-based subscriptions for systems management; and cited plans to bring Power Systems into SoftLayer’s cloud to support Watson-based analytics solutions.

In addition, IBM announced that it is bringing the power of its PureSystems patterns approach to the cloud. Extending PureSystem’s cloud capabilities gives customers and business partners tools to simplify and speed delivery of cloud services across both public and private clouds.

PureApplication Service on SoftLayer

First, IBM announced the beta of PureApplication Service on SoftLayer.  As background, PureApplication Service uses best practice “patterns” to rapidly deploy specific applications. In a nutshell, patterns are like tried and true recipes to set up, deliver and manage the infrastructure plumbing for a given application. Instead of having to piece together all of the ingredients, customers get pre-formulated virtualization, operating system, middleware, wiring, and installation patterns that dramatically slash the time it takes to stand up an application. Putting PureApplication Service on SoftLayer brings these portable, reusable patterns to the cloud, and opens up new opportunities for new use cases. As important, it makes it easier for businesses (and partners) to support a hybrid IT environment that’s consistent regardless of where the app resides.

This will make it easier for some tech-savvy SMBs to take a do-it-yourself approach. But by far, the bigger SMB opportunity is via business partners. For instance, with PureApplication Service on SoftLayer, partners can more quickly move SMB on-premise apps to a public or private cloud, and spend more time on higher value-added business process services.  It also provides the opportunity to quickly provision new services, with the ability to rapidly access a development and test environment, implement disaster recovery, or provide added capacity for peak use periods.

To provide the best experience during the beta, IBM has selected 8 key patterns that deliver mobile, web, database, analytics, BPM and Java capabilities to help clients create new applications on PureApplication Service on SoftLayer. IBM also has several partner patterns available for beta, targeting the financial services industry.  The goal is that all 200+ patterns on PureApplication System will become available as a service on SoftLayer by the time the offering is officially launched.

DevOps on PureSystems

Second, IBM announced a soft-bundle to help clients jump-start DevOps with PureSystems. IBM’s PureSystems integrate networking, storage, scalability, virtualized environments, middleware, license management and monitoring into one solution for cloud solution development and delivery. DevOps on PureSystems pulls together key components of IBM’s Rational tool set to make it easier for developers to plan, develop and test cloud solutions, and then to monitor and iterate to meet changing requirements or correct problems.

This means that programmers can access a development environment much more quickly and thus dedicate to actually building apps, iterating on the code, and  incorporating timely feedback from customers to deliver a stronger solution.

Today, DevOps on PureSystems is only available in an on-premise model, but I have little doubt that this too will become available via SoftLayer in the very near future.  Again, while few SMBs have internal development teams, this offering—especially once its available in the cloud—should help IBM woo more next-generation developers to its fold. For more on DevOps on PureSystems, see an IBM blog discussing DevOps at Pulse.

Perspective

IBM is betting big on software development for the cloud, with a $1 billion investment in cloud software development on tap through 2015, representing a double-digit percentage increase over the past two years.

The PureSystems announcements—in combination with those for BlueMix, Cloudant and Service Engage—underscore that IBM also intends to get out in front of the next generation of cloud development and delivery. More automated, integrated and accessible cloud delivery and development solutions will fuel new development and delivery options for IBM partners, and help more customers—including more SMBs—to benefit and get more value from the cloud.

For additional perspectives on IBM’s PureSystems announcements, watch my interview with Pete McCaffrey, Director of PureSystems Marketing, recorded at Pulse.

Disclaimer: I attended Pulse as an invited media guest.

 

Can IBM Make the Collaboration Connection With SMBs?

ibmconnectLast week, I made my annual pilgrimage to IBM Connect to learn about the latest and greatest developments in the company’s collaboration and talent solutions. Over the years, IBM has transformed its former Lotusphere conference to Connect, grown a portfolio of cloud-based messaging and collaboration solutions, and added talent and workforce management solutions into the mix.

This year’s Connect theme was “Energizing Life’s Work,” which plays across IBM’s collaboration and mail solutions, as well as Kenexa, IBM’s talent suite (IBM acquired Kenexa in 2012).  Here, I’ll focus on news in the cloud-based collaboration space, which is arguably IBM’s best possible route to the small and medium business (SMB) market.

What’s New?

IBM’s big news in this arena focused on:

  • The unveiling of Mail Next, IBM’s web-based, enterprise-focused email service: It combines mail, meetings, chat and content management systems, creating unified hubs for in which users can interact via email and create groups based on shared interests or projects, and track projects. For instance, users can mute email that doesn’t need immediate attention to view later. IBM intends to make the solution available in 2014, both on-premises and via the cloud.
  • A new name and enhanced user capabilities for IBM’s cloud-based collaboration suite: In 2014, IBM will rebrand IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business (which includes business-grade file sharing, communities, Web meetings, instant messaging, mail, calendars, etc.) to “IBM Connections for Cloud”. (In 2012, IBM renamed LotusLive Engage cloud suite to SmartCloud for Social Business.) IBM also announced several enhancements for the suite, including the new Mail Next web mail discussed above, as well as improved audio/video for meetings and chat, a better guest model experience, and “mobile everywhere” capabilities.
  • Automated, dynamic infrastructure capabilities enabled by SoftLayer: On the backend, the company is now running IBM Connections for Cloud in its recently acquired SoftLayer data centers. SoftLayer not only expands IBM’s data center footprint (an increasingly important capability as more countries legislate that cloud providers operate in-country) but also provides enhanced automation capabilities to get infrastructure and applications up and running much more quickly, allowing new images to be set-up in 15 to 20 minutes. This enables IBM to stand up a small footprint first, and expand dynamically as new customers sign on.
  • Added sales and distribution capabilities: IBM has done several things to fuel sales of its SaaS solutions, including its Connections for Cloud portfolio. First, the company has changed the SaaS compensation model for direct sales. In the past reps got bonus for selling SaaS; now SaaS sales are part of their quota. Second, the application programming interface (API) is now the same for both IBM’s on-premises and SaaS collaboration apps, so that older on-premises apps can now be certified to run in the cloud. IBM hopes that this will help ease the path for traditional Lotus ISVs and resellers to join the Connections for Cloud partner ranks (which currently have about 60 reseller and 100 ISV partners). Finally, IBM is working with Parallels to create an automated platform for telco partners to easily rebrand, provision, sell and bill IBM Connections for Cloud and other SaaS offerings in an integrated, streamlined manner.

IBM said that 2013 was a tipping point for adoption of its Connections for Cloud, touting triple digit growth in new customers and quadruple digit growth in new signings. Although IBM doesn’t release information about the number of active accounts using Connections for Cloud, it claims to have millions of users, and a 50/50 split between large businesses and midmarket accounts. In a breakout session, executives noted that some midmarket customers have replaced Office 365 or Google Apps with IBM Connections for Cloud. They cited IBM’s strong security and governance capabilities, and the fact that the company doesn’t sell ads or mine customer data as key competitive differentiators.

Missing the B2Me Connection

Judging from the demos, IBM Connections for Cloud is making headway in terms of creating a more user-friendly and SMB-friendly collaboration experience and developing lightweight, lower priced bundles. In fact, I have spoken with several smaller organizations such as Apex Supply Chain and Colleagues In Care that are very satisfied with IBM’s collaboration solutions (more customer stories can be read here. IBM’s growth metrics are also impressive.

In addition, IBM’s new design thinking philosophy puts the user experience at the center of its development and roadmap planning, indicating IBM’s recognition that  consumer-oriented applications have a big influence on user expectations. The vendor’s design thinking philosophy incorporates best practices from popular social apps, brings features such as activity streams, social feedback and network updates to the forefront, and use analytics to flag high-priority items for users. IBM is also putting mobile-inspired design first. For instance, event demos showcased tablet-optimized design principles for Mail Next even when accessed through a traditional web browser.

But IBM remains a distant third to Microsoft and Google in the SMB email and collaboration market. Given the company’s current position, its traditional B2B sales model, and the ongoing consumerization of IT, the odds look slim that IBM can dramatically grow SMB share.

Slide1Across the technology spectrum, and especially in the collaboration space, decisions are increasingly being made in a bottom-up instead of top-down manner. User preferences forced a massive corporate shift from BlackBerry to iPhone, and business users are signing up on Dropbox and Google Drive by the millions without IT’s blessing. I’ve dubbed this trend “B2Me.” As consumer technology gets friendlier and friendlier, people are increasingly likely to seek the same type of technology access and experience in their business lives as in their personal ones.

Therein lies the rub for IBM. Although it offers a self-service model, including a free trial, onboarding services and credit card purchase options for IBM Connections for Cloud, it lacks any presence in the consumer or prosumer space—a growing onramp for SMB technology adoption. In addition, IBM’s service and support model is geared towards making large corporate accounts happy. Shifting gears to serve far-flung issues and requirements from the masses presents another big hurdle for Big Blue and other enterprise-facing vendors.

Without the ability to create and a support a viral, bottoms-up business model, its hard to see how, no matter how good the solution is, IBM Connections for Cloud can make serious headway in the SMB Market.

Does It Really Matter Whether IBM Connects With SMBs?

IBM has an impressive stronghold in the large enterprise collaboration space. In fact, the company has augmented, reshaped and restyled the Lotus portfolio—which was once declared dead—into its now thriving Social Business division.

So why should IBM divert attention and resources to SMBs? Especially as Google, Dropbox and others drive pricing downward, many IBMers likely view this as a profitless tail-chasing game.

However, I believe that if IBM chooses to put SMBs and the B2Me phenomena on the back-burner, it does so at its own peril.  IBM needs to grow its SMB market footprint to fuel growth, especially after missing revenue targets during 2013. Furthermore, there’s the pesky fact that small companies grow and large ones go out of business. Consider that 238 of the companies that made the 1999 Fortune 500 list had slipped off the 2009 Fortune 500 rankings. Technology, generational and cultural shifts will only intensify this turnover. IBM needs to get a foothold in fast-growth companies while they are young.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, IT consumerization is not a passing fad. As evidenced by Apple displacing (crueler people might say killing off) Blackberry, consumer and B2Me can’t be ignored. Collaboration is the one activity that every person engages in every day, both in business and at home. Perhaps more than any other area, collaboration solutions will be adopted from the bottom up instead of top down. In fact, one of the IBM Connect keynote presenters noted that some employees are willing to pay for rogue collaboration tools out of their own pockets if those solutions make their lives easier. That makes collaboration the natural—and possibly the only—starting point for IBM to get in touch with its inner consumer.

SMB Spotlight: IBM’s New Midmarket GM Talks About the SoftLayer Acquisition

ibmsmarterplante-150x150Laurie: Hi, this Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s new General Manager and VP for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me on this two-part discussion about developments at IBM in the midmarket and SMB space. In our first discussion, I’d like to focus on the IBM acquisition of SoftLayer, which I understand provides dedicated hosting, cloud computing and cloud services offerings.

Before that though, I’d like to learn more about you and your background. I understand you’re relatively new to IBM. Can you tell us a little bit about where you’ve been and what kind of experience you bring to your role?

John: Thanks Laurie. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I joined IBM three months ago. I started my career at Compaq in the 80s. I spent thirteen years there and moved to Cisco, and ran the SME and midmarket business with Cisco in Europe, Middle East, Africa.

Then, I ran global channels for Nokia’s Enterprise business. I also ran a mobile cloud service in eReading and News for a couple of years, and a white label mobile messaging service provider that had been acquired during my time there.

So, when the discussion started with IBM, it was an interesting combination of different hardware, software and services businesses in small and midsize enterprise and across mobile and social. It was the opportunity to combine that with IBM’s amazing global reach in over 170 countries and find ways to get that to the millions of small and midsized companies. Many are possibly not even doing any business with IBM today but can benefit from those solutions.

Laurie: What will you be focusing on in your new role as GM, John?

John: Finding new opportunities to grow the business and bring mobile and social and analytics, and particularly cloud solutions to small or midsized businesses. This means working very closely with our partner organization and focusing on MSPs as the key route market.

Laurie: Thanks for that background. So help me understand a little bit about the SoftLayer acquisition and why it’s so important. IBM makes a lot of acquisitions in general, and I think probably at least a dozen in the cloud area. What makes SoftLayer stand out for IBM?

ibmsoftlayerimage-150x110John: This is one of those few times in our industry where there’s an absolutely fundamental shift that changes everything. When client-server computing started taking off was one, and when mobile really went to a whole new level was another. Now, with cloud, we’re seeing a major shift, which is very beneficial to smaller and midsized companies. They may not have the IT expertise in-house to take advantage of some of the technologies that larger companies are able to use, but now through cloud, they can use more advanced solutions without having to deal with the complexities.

Laurie: Tell us about what SoftLayer does and how that will help IBM help SMBs? What does it give IBM you that it didn’t have in the cloud area?

John: The SoftLayer acquisition was driven by a change in the way that customers are looking to buy. I would say it’s as simple as answering these questions. Is this technology solution is going to be hosted at your place or mine? Is this something that I have to build and manage on my premises, or is it something that I can tap into through a web browser to connect to infrastructure that’s sitting somewhere else outside of my physical office buildings? Then, is that going to be dedicated to me or is it something that I share with somebody else? So, it’s really your place or mine, shared or dedicated, and what software brings is the ability to offer the full range of different deployment options.

That’s whether it’s a complete public cloud solution or it’s a private cloud or it’s some mix of some parts public, some parts private in a hybrid deployment. SoftLayer lets us accelerate our ability to deliver those pieces across a broad range of different businesses and different services.

Laurie: What about purchasing and pricing mechanisms for customers?

John: Yes, that’s really key. It’s really important to make it easy and simple to understand what the offering is, and how can I choose the combination that is right for me. Then make it really easy for them to purchase and deploy that solution.

The beauty of SoftLayer is they have a very simple credit card purchase capability. You can be up and running literally within the hour and choose whether you want to be billed monthly or hourly. It’s simple and flexible, and that’s as important as the underlying technology.

Laurie: One of the other things that I’m curious about is that it seems like managed services is another big part of the SoftLayer business. IBM has been heavily courting managed service providers (MSPs) for quite some time. Does this create a conflict with them?

John: SoftLayer is really complementary to what we’re doing with MSPs. In fact, we’ve had a number of key wins with MSPs for SoftLayer with service providers who have said, “I really don’t want to have to manage this infrastructure myself. It’s not my core business. My focus is on security services or hosted exchange services. So, rather than me scarce resources building and managing an infrastructure layer, I’d rather focus on the higher value services on top of that, and I’ll use SoftLayer as infrastructure.”

Laurie: Will they be able to resell SoftLayer?

John: Yes, there’s that too. MSPs can use SoftLayer themselves as part of their own infrastructure, or they can resell it to customers together with other value-add services that they bring to the mix.

Laurie: Where does SoftLayer sit in terms of IBM’s SmartCloud services?

John: SoftLayer gives us the ability to accelerate our own leadership position, scale out the smaller cloud service portfolio, add additional higher value services and solutions across mobile and data analytics, social–together with partners. It’s the combination of all of that into a solution that adds value for customers.

Laurie: What kind of experience in SMB and midmarket does SoftLayer bring that IBM can leverage, and how will you do that?

John: I mentioned this earlier in our conversation when we talked about what attracted me to the role at IBM. Frankly, the SoftLayer acquisition hadn’t closed but had been publicly announced. That was a real additional level of credibility that we could use to address the SMB market because SoftLayer had over 20,000 SMB customers already. They clearly have a very strong focus on that market and a solution that is very simple, easy for the smaller customer to understand, choose, purchase, deploy and operate.

So, to me that said IBM’s not just talking about the midmarket, but actually putting a significant investment in technologies, ease of purchase and deployment to enable this. SoftLayer convinced me that we very serious about this and that was a decider for me.

Laurie: What does the bigger go to market plan look like? Many SMBs still think IBM doesn’t have solutions that are relevant for them. How are you going to change that?

John: First, we need to be careful that we don’t hug SoftLayer to death. We need to give them space to continue to operate their own very successful go to market model. There’s always a risk when a big company acquires a smaller company that sometimes the big company process can slow down the smaller company. We will be very diligent about ensuring that doesn’t happen and that SoftLayer continues to operate somewhat independently with their existing go to market model.

At the same time, we need to take advantage of what they bring and combine that with IBM’s traditional business partners, managed service provider partners, and some of the ISVs that we work with. Really, this is more about connecting the ecosystem that needs to work together to deliver solutions to small and midsized companies. SoftLayer helps us accelerate that with a full range of all types of different deployment options–everything from bare metal dedicated servers, virtualized shared servers, managed private and public cloud through to a full range of storage and networking and managed services.

Laurie: So, what does success look like here if this all goes according to plan?

John: I think we’ll see continued acceleration of cloud adoption within small and midsized companies and SoftLayer will help to significantly accelerate the deployment of both hybrid private and public cloud solutions for small and midsized companies. I certainly expect the 20,000 existing SoftLayer customers will increase significantly without putting a specific number on it. Beyond that, it’s about helping MSPs to accelerate their offerings with more value-add services above and beyond the infrastructure layer. That way we really bring complete solutions for small and midsized companies that are simple to deploy and use.

Laurie: John, thank you for joining me, and I look forward to our next discussion, when we will talk about IBM’s other new plans for SMB and mid-market customers.

John: Thank you Laurie. I appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion and certainly look forward to future discussions we’ll have.

This is the first of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager and VP for Midmarket, sponsored by IBM. In the second post, I’ll ask John about other new IBM strategies and developments for SMB and midmarket companies and channel partners.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,112 other followers