Insights from Ceridian Insights 2017

The timing of Ceridian Insights 2017 was interesting. I had recently been interviewed by Canada’s The Globe & Mail re: Ceridian.  The focus of that interview followed the history of Ceridian. The reporter and I discussed the transformation that Ceridian has undergone since David Ossip took the helm several years ago.

Ossip replayed much of that history to the conference attendees. The main themes in this narrative were that Ceridian:

  • Acquired Dayforce, a new multi-tenant cloud HR solution, as a way to modernize the technology used by Ceridian customers
  • Sold off several product lines to avoid R&D dilution, to lighten their debt service load and to focus on products with a long market runway
  • Created a new culture that focused heavily on customer satisfaction
  • Would rapidly transition existing customers from service bureau offerings to new Dayforce and PowerPay cloud offerings while also taking away customers from other payroll service bureau and HRMS software providers

Most software companies are “one and done” phenomena.  They create some interesting product(s), enjoy some market success and then are finished. Sure, they may get bought and sold a time or two and the management might get switched out with increasing frequency but it’s rare for these firms to ever surpass their prior glory days. It’s precisely this phenomenon that makes Ceridian interesting as it’s breaking the pattern. The new Ceridian is not only dissimilar from the old Ceridian/Control Data, it may become bigger and more successful than its prior incarnation.

But, let’s temper that thought for now.  ADP, a Ceridian competitor, is trying to match some of Ceridian’s new product and service developments. Workday, SAP and Oracle all offer more than just HCM solutions with major product line extensions in Finance, Supply Chain, etc. to cross-sell. It’s a competitive HCM space, for sure, and Ceridian will have to earn its way into deals, one prospect at a time.

Prospects? What were they thinking?

I love shows where the vendor allows industry analysts a free rein. I learn a lot by speaking to customers and prospects. Ceridian makes it easy to do this by ecolor-coding the name badges for us.

I shamelessly buttonholed about two dozen or so customers and prospects. I asked them questions like:

  • How they liked Ceridian
  • What products they were running away from
  • What other products they were considering

Not one customer or prospect really had anything negative to report.

Five years ago, Dayforce was missing a lot of critical functionality. Today, the product line holes are considerably smaller in nature. One customer is still waiting for Dayforce software to produce a (U.S.) EEO-4 report and another indicated that their Dayforce implementation took a bit longer than Ceridian estimated but that was, according to the customer, the customer’s own organization and political fault.  Otherwise, I just couldn’t get anyone to really dish out some big dirt.

Many prospects included firms that had outgrown their current solutions. Some were looking for an all-in-one HCM/Payroll suite.  I sensed many of these wanted solutions that were always current technically and from a compliance/regulatory perspective.

What apparently sold/sells these prospects is Ceridian XOXOX program and related implementation/ support activities. Software buyers like vendors that don’t start billing the subscription service until AFTER the customer goes live. This is something most Ceridian competitors don’t offer.

Prospects also like dealing with ONE firm for both the software and implementation. Customers have been burned too many times by vendors that turn over implementation activities to third parties whose interests may not necessarily be aligned with those of the customer or the vendor. Ossip also referenced an analyst report showing that Dayforce implementations averaged a return on investment in 8 months with competitor products taking something closer to 27 months.

Ceridian Insights 2017
Ceridian implementation – designed to achieve fast time to value

The prospects I met this year included a lot more net-new potential customers than firms considering a move from the legacy service bureau solutions to Dayforce.  Ossip pointed out that the majority of the company’s revenues are now cloud based with 2,700+ customers live on Dayforce.  This shift in prospective customers may be indicative of just how many older customers have already made the transition to Dayforce.

Integration & configuration

HR systems in larger firms can have 100 or so integration points. They must connect to financial systems, benefits providers, 401K plans, insurance firms, operational systems, time tracking technology, one-off HR software products and many, many more solutions.

The creation and maintenance of these integrations is time-consuming and expensive for HR and IT departments. Worse, these integrations frequently change and require a lot of maintenance.

Dayforce Link got some conference love. It’s a tool that’s designed to take a lot of integration headaches away especially for more common integrations.

Another headache cure Ceridian touted was it Validation Dashboard. Dayforce customers see the results of over 400 automatic configuration audits. These audits detect configuration errors during implementations.

Microsoft at a Ceridian event

A Microsoft executive was on-hand to take the big stage with Ossip to announce Ceridian’s global payroll alliance with Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 product line. This deal enables Microsoft Dynamics partners an opportunity to use a single payroll interface for their customers. Dynamics 365 users (or channel partners) don’t need to know all of the country-specific fields needed to calculate payroll in many of the most populous countries globally. Ceridian will take the interface outputs that it needs for a specific country and either complete the payroll calculations itself or utilize its network of payroll providers.  Readers should note that the UK Payroll sub-name with Global Payroll refers to Ceridian’s new native UK payroll capability.

Microsoft Azure will also play a role in this international expansion.

Other product news

Ceridian announced several new product launches and related events. In the learning area, Ceridian is partnering with LMS vendor Docebo. I’ve covered Docebo previously and their approach to learning is intriguing. This relationship should be beneficial to both parties and quickly accretive to users.

A Compensation Management module was also launched. Given the variety of compensation planning methods in-use today by corporations, I’d expect to see this tool continue to morph over time to accommodate more and more nuances. Compensation management is always tough as HR is trying to control costs while retaining best talent. These tools need to consider the compensation that competitors are offering in all of the labor markets and geographies where they have staff. Oh, and let’s make it even tougher by expecting a tool will be able to handle:

  • all of those nuances where your job descriptions are different than competitors
  • situations where some people need their payrate to catch up to missed raises in down years
  • relocation/ cost of living adjustments and other factors.

Predictive analytics and AI were also showcased.

In my opinion, Ceridian, like most of its competitors, is still a ways from being a provider of killer predictive analytics. The enterprise software industry is choking on over-promised but under-delivered predictive analytic capabilities. Most software firms are lucky to field a dozen analytic applications/applets as they’ve learned these take time to develop, often take a lot of personalization for the customer and don’t scale well.  So, I’d put Ceridian right there with its competitors in being in the early stage of this capability.

Likewise, when Ceridian offered up their (obligatory) Alexa demo, it was all question/response mode. While I’ll give Ceridian credit for offering up a teaser demo that was lengthy, entertaining and far-ranging in the kinds of content served up, it wasn’t all that anticipatory in its answers and guidance like I’ve seen from firms like Aera Technology.  This will likely take years for them (and all of their competitors) to develop fully (see the Alexa commentary in this piece I penned for HR Technology Conference this month).

My take

Growing up, we had a dog that always knew when our car or pickup turned off the highway and got on the gravel road to the ranch. Like that dog, I can always spot when a vendor or a product line hits a major maturation point.

Ceridian’s approaching one of these now. The Dayforce product line is a very mature and complete HCM suite with more goodies coming. The company’s customers are converting over to the cloud-based Dayforce solution in volumes that many old-school ERP vendors will envy. Ceridian management has been executing on a strict timetable to remake the company, its solution set, its culture, its development team and more. And, just as important, Ceridian’s owners, a private equity firm are seeing a realistic opportunity for a liquidity event.

When I spoke with The Globe and Mail reporter weeks ago, I said that I expected some kind of material change of control to occur in 2018 for Ceridian.  It’s the highway to gravel road sensation I’m sensing.

Think about it. After all of this change, what would be the next chapter for Ceridian? Another firm would consider building out other back office applications. Or, will they build out more local in-country payroll solutions for other parts of the world? That makes sense if they intend to dramatically grow their non-U.S./non-Canada sales efforts. Whatever the answer, the company will need to pivot to a new long-term vision. What that vision is, I don’t know. Management is either keeping this close to the vest or isn’t thinking that far out. I know if I were Ossip, I’d be thinking about monetizing my success with this turnaround and taking a nice long vacation.

While all that’s interesting to ponder, it takes away from the following reality: Ceridian has moved heaven and earth to make Dayforce a successful, robust solution and has done so in record time.

One final thought: Ceridian’s Insight conference occurred immediately after the worst mass-shooting in American history. Being in Las Vegas was surreal and somber. It’s not the mood one associates with a user conference where parties, after-parties and bombastic showmanship are the usual order of the day.  When I arrived at the conference hotel, you could hear birds, the wind blowing, etc. outside. The Vegas Strip was eerily quiet, almost respectful.

The Ceridian Insights 2017 user conference opened, interestingly enough, with the CEO of MGM Resorts. He thanked everyone for attending and not cancelling. And, he was correct. To have done otherwise would have been to submit to the terror caused by that shooter. Only 23 of the several thousand attendees cancelled.  Since that shooting, Las Vegas tourism has changed – my heart still goes out for the dozens killed and hundreds wounded there.

[“Source-diginomica”]