Salesforce Bets (Again) on the HR Market

By Mike Prokopeak

Apr. 23, 2015

Marc Benioff is chairman and CEO of File photo.

This is a guest blog from Workforce Editor-in-Chief Mike Prokopeak.

After an extended quiet period, has raised the stakes on its participation in the HR market.

The San Francisco-based technology company widely known for its namesake customer relationship management, or CRM, system is putting its chips on the table alongside workplace tech giants such as Oracle, SAP and Workday with the goal of becoming the enterprise software tool of choice. And the company is placing one of its bets on HR technology.

At the Chicago stop of the company’s Salesforce World Tour on April 23, CEO Marc Benioff announced the launch of Salesforce for HR, a suite of applications and tools aimed at making the employee experience more consumerlike.

The overall goal, he said, is to use cloud technology to help customers be as successful with HR as they’ve been with sales and marketing. It’s hard to argue with Salesforce’s CRM record. Since its founding in 1999, the company has grown to 16,000 employees, 150,000 customer companies and projected revenue of $6.5 billion.

The rise of mobile devices and the app economy puts Salesforce, with its relative youth, into an enviable position. For many workers, steeped in Facebook and Twitter and used to zippy mobile apps, using older technology at the office is like “going back in time,” said Jim Sinai, Salesforce senior director, app exchange and platform marketing.

Social networking apps like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have created the expectation for a continuous stream of updates and news delivered directly to the end user wherever they are, not locked away behind the login screen of an enterprise system or buried deep in an email inbox.

Consumers also expect that they’ll have opportunities to jump into that stream, posting comments and asking questions. With Salesforce for HR, the company aims to give employees a similarly engaging app and software experience to the one that they have outside of work.

The product suite includes five basic components:

  • Employee Journeys: a personalized feed that guides employees through onboarding and development.
  • Employee Communities: a networking and collaboration application that connects employees with colleagues and subject-matter experts across the organization.
  • HR Help Desk: access to a self-help HR service portal that also gives managers a view into employee and team milestones and progress. Plug-ins to HCM and HRMS systems are available.
  • Salesforce HR Analytics: access to performance and productivity data.
  • Engagement Apps: the ability to build and integrate custom mobile apps using Salesforce1, the company’s app development platform, and access pre-built apps from talent management software providers such as Cornerstone OnDemand, Lumesse and Fairsail.

While HR tech is small potatoes compared with Salesforce’s core sales and marketing market, the move is part of a broader play to become the technology of choice across the enterprise. Faced with rapid innovation and competition, workplace tech companies are looking to build a fortresslike integrated suite of workplace applications and data similar to the one Apple built in the consumer world with iTunes and its App Store.

As a tech company that was born native to the cloud, Sinai said Salesforce has a leg up on older workplace tech companies that are more recent — and in some cases — reluctant immigrants. After a slow start, two of those tech companies — Oracle and SAP — have gone in big on cloud technology in the past few years and invested heavily in making human capital management and broader business applications cloud-friendly. Here’s some analysis from Workforce sister publication, Talent Management, of past moves.

This move is not Salesforce’s first foray into the HR market. The company bought Rypple, a social performance management application, in 2011 and the following year used that platform to launch, an app for goal setting, performance reviews and employee feedback.

Salesforce has been a dark horse in the human capital management race, making spot acquisitions over the past few years and using Chatter, the company’s enterprise networking application, to broaden its corporate user base and use case in companies. But with Salesforce for HR, the company aims to take advantage of its prominent cloud and app position to help employers be “mobile out of the box,” Sinai said. “Legacy products just can’t do that.”

While Sinai declined to share how many companies are currently using the application, he said the company works with Salesforce customers like St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, a Phoenix-based network of 16 hospitals with 24,000 employees to develop and deploy it. Like other Salesforce products, the HR product will be offered as a subscription for the enterprise or individual.

Mike Prokopeak is Workforce’s editor in chief.

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