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Ultimate Software is one of the larger players in the market for human capital management (HCM) software, with roots in providing human resources and payroll management products. Recently I attended its annual Connections conference. Last year the company focused attention on expansion of its global capabilities, which I analyzed, while this year it highlighted broadening and modernizing of the product suite.
A major effort in modernizing the suite was to improve the user experience for UltiPro, its HCM suite. This update reduces the number of clicks it takes to execute any task in and makes the applications visually more intuitive. In addition, the home portal design elements now resemble some that other vendors have introduced which provides pictures of a user’s team members. The user interface team, led by Patañjali Chary, VP of user experience, used advanced application design approaches such as eye-tracking models to provide information on the screen in places users expect to find it. The result feels lighter and provides visual cues to guide the user through the product’s features.
Also as part of the redesign of their user experience, Ultimate used HTML 5 to enable mobile access to UltiPro. During the event company representatives described its approach to mobility as “responsive design.” Essentially that means the application can automatically detect the device being used and deliver a user experience designed for that device. This is an evolving capability we are seeing as more vendors strive to provide compelling user interfaces. However, using responsive design and HTML5 to develop for mobile devices still produces some application screens that do not render cleanly for all mobile devices. I find developing native mobile applications to be a better approach, at least for the present. However, this capability should improve over time.
Ultimate’s speakers showcased three new products which expand the breadth of the suite, two of them in talent management. There is a new compensation module called UltiPro Compensation Management. This is a necessary addition for Ultimate. Our recent benchmark research in payroll management optimization shows that compensation management is a very important application to integrate with payroll management for nearly half (45%) of organizations. Ultimate’s product enters a segment in which many mature products are available; it is likely to find most use for midsize companies that already use UltiPro and have basic compensation planning needs. This addition enhances Ultimate’s expansion from a payroll and HR management vendor to providing a more complete human capital management suite.
The second major module recently released is UltiPro Recruiting, which provides applicant tracking capabilities to current UltiPro customers and follows other HCM platform vendors that have released a recruiting product in the last 12 months. I recently wrote about growth in the recruiting market.
The third new announcement expands the functionality of the core product through a time-capture device, UltiPro Touchbase. Based on technology from the company’s acquisition of EmployTouch in 2013, it is a hybrid device that users can unplug and use like a tablet as well as meeting all the needs of a standard time clock with employee punch-in and -out methods. It also adds features designed to avoid “buddy punching,” such as photo verification. This addition should help Ultimate stay competitive in the workforce management and payroll management markets where others vendors also have introduced their own time-capture devices.
Following last year’s emphasis at Connections, Ultimate has continued to expand UltiPro’s global capabilities. It released the product in three additional languages and continues a partnership with Celergo to provide international payroll capabilities. As Ultimate tries to compete in more deals for organizations that have an international presence, I believe it must invest more rapidly in this area to catch up with other vendors that have strong international capabilities, such as Oracle and SAP.
It is clear that Ultimate Software is making significant investments in its products. In 2014 the company plans to invest more than US$100 million in product development, which represents approximately one-quarter of its total revenue for 2013. This effort should benefit its customers and perhaps win new ones. Our research in payroll management optimization finds that companies that invest in integrating their payroll and talent management functions end up with more effective core payroll processes than those that keep them separate.
Ultimate Software’s strategy is further evidence of the continuing trend of vendors of HR and payroll management software broadening their product offerings toward complete suites of human capital management applications. In recent years ADP and Ceridian have invested in this strategy, as Oracle and SAP did earlier by acquiring Taleo and SuccessFactors, respectively. While specialized stand-alone products will continue to drive innovation in segments of HCM, the move toward integrated suites is coming to dominate. This is happening for reasons on each side of the relationship. As organizations struggle to make their array of human capital management applications work together, having fewer vendors to support and more consistent product release cycles to manage can provide hard cost benefits and softer benefits of better communications between customer and vendor. From the vendor perspective it is much less expensive to cross-sell to an existing customer than it is to find and sell to new ones.
Ultimate’s investments in expanding and modernizing its products make sense, and the company is proceeding in a logical fashion. The new individual products provide expanded coverage, and the improved user experience should please customers. For organizations, especially midsize ones, that are evaluating HCM platforms and have not looked recently at Ultimate’s I recommend including them in the evaluation process.
VP and Research Director