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HRExaminer Radio

HRExaminer Radio is a weekly show devoted to Recruiting and Recruiting Technology airing live on Friday’s at 11AM Pacific

HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Allen “AJ” Johnson
Episode: 93
Air Date: May 4, 2015

 

Audio MP3

Allen Johnson is Head of Marketing for Talent Objects. His 30 year career includes management and executive roles with Hewlett Packard, business process software provider IDS Scheer, and Kalido, a data warehouse and analytics firm.

As a Research Director with AMR Research and Gartner he published numerous reports and articles on Digital Consumerism, the transformation from old models to digital and social consumer processes and led research on Talent Development Models for supply chain professionals.

AJ and his wife Candice are native Texans and share their home in Friendswood Texas with Indiana, their Labrador Retriever.

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Transcript

Begin transcript

 

John Sumser:

Good afternoon and welcome to the HR Examiner radio show. I’m your host, John Sumser and we’re coming to you today from sunny Occidental California which is where innovation first got its legs in California and the roses are in bloom. One of the things you wouldn’t know about Occidental is that Luther Burbank did much of his rose cross-breeding experiments here. The trees and bushes are full of rose. Anyhow, today, we’re [inaudible 00:01:49] to have AJ Johnson with us. Oh, that’s interesting. Can you hear that echo AJ?

AJ Johnson:

I did, and I actually think it was something on my side, which I think is fixed, so you can go right ahead.

John Sumser:

Oh great, great, great. It’s not the innovation in Occidental California, it’s the realities of 21st century digital age systems. Anyhow, AJ is the head of marketing at Lumesse’s project called Talent Objects. He’s a long term player in the software industry, and we’re going to talk today about the new entry in the recruiting marketplace from Lumesse. The company’s relationship with Salesforce.com, and perhaps whether or not he’s going into personal buy Salesforce. com. How you are AJ?

AJ Johnson:

Hi, how are you doing John. Thank you, it’s really good to be here with you today.

John Sumser:

Yeah, yeah, so tell me about yourself, and how you got here, that’s the first bit.

AJ Johnson:

Yes, so well let’s see. Actually, so today we’re chatting. I’m a native Texan, you know that from some of our past conversations. We occasionally get to leave the state, they let us out of the state and today I’m in San Diego. I was actually out here for the recruiting talks this week, kind of some interesting stuff going on there, and the first product we released is around recruiting. I’ve been ensconced in a hotel out here for the past few days and I’ve got to tell you a funny story.

I came in from a dinner last night, and as I came in the room, and shut the door at 10 o’clock or whatever time it was. Something came, just went buzzing by my head and instincts being what they are. I hit the floor not knowing what it was and belly crawled over to where I could get to the lamp. I flipped on the light and apparently I’d left the door open yesterday and a little bird got in, a little sparrow got in. I was thinking it was a bat or something, but finally last night, after about three or four attempts, I managed to herd the little sparrow back out the door.

I guess my biggest hope is that none of my Texas ranching buddies find out that I actually did that, because I’m not going to hear the end of being a sparrow wrangler when I get home. Yes, I’m in San Diego, and it was a great conference, and a good conference for us, and a lot of good people down here, and looking forward to talking a bit about what we’re up to with you, so we can certainly do that.

John Sumser:

Great, that’s fantastic, so that’s [ERE 00:04:29], ERE is in San Diego this week?

AJ Johnson:

Yeah. Their Spring recruiting conference and a lot of good speakers and good topics that we’re floating around, interesting. An interesting place to be for a few days.

John Sumser:

That’s great. We probably should have a conversation sometime about how that operation has changed over the years, it’s very … It used to be the hub for the recruiting industry and it’s not that so much anymore. It’s been an interesting change for everybody in the business. Anyhow, how did you get involved in this? I mean, and tell me what you’re learning about, HR technology and recruiting explicitly.

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, so how did I get involved in it? It’s interesting, you and I have talked before about some of my military aspirations when I was younger. I took the less traveled path to get into this business I guess, I started out to be a military pilot ended up not being able to hear. Ended up getting the job, got into sales, migrated into the software industry, did a stint with AMR Research and Gartner as a research analyst actually. Then crossed back over into the software business, so a few years ago and actually data warehousing and analytics. Then migrated into the HR space as part of this, the new initiative that we’re doing at Lumesse.

It’s been that I’m more of a software specialist, and a solutions specialist and an analytics person. Which are actually, when you think about it, are things that play really well in the recruiting space right now. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned, and it’s been interesting, it’s been an interesting journey. I’ve spent my, the last probably 20 years as a marketer. I mean, hardcore marketing. Most of the research I did when I was with Gartner and AMR was around digital marketing.

 

When I’ve come into this business, recognized pretty early on is, it’s just not terribly different. The recruiting challenges that I see today, and the recruiting opportunities, when you start looking at them, is marketing opportunities and marketing challenges. Look at some of the behavioral characteristics of the people that we’re trying to bring into our organizations. It really is not much different, and it’s, that’s the direction that we’re taking with the product set that we’re putting together right now in Salesforce. That’s probably the biggest learning for me, it’s a lot of [correlation 00:07:04] and how we’re going to attract, nurture, engage and then bring people along in the recruiting and then the talent management space.

 

By the way, I don’t think it’s terribly different for employee engagement either. Setting up what you might consider to be one-to-one marketing type journeys for employees to follow them through their careers, and being able to help them. Help them along that journey and engage them. I think that’s applying a lot of the one-to-one in consumer marketing techniques, there is … It’s well introduced as well, so that’s learning coming in.

John Sumser:

That’s interesting. We could have a long disagreement about that, but let’s … (laughter).

AJ Johnson:

I actually do, I actually John, I think I recall you and I sitting in San Francisco and having a disagreement on some of these things, which was great. We ought to do it again.

John Sumser:

Yeah, we should, but my sense is that the degree to which engagement is a personal choice is highly under accounted for. The idea that what you do when you go to work is figure out how to give your extra bandwidth free is. I think it’s an idea that emerged when there wasn’t any money for raises, and there were a lot of layoffs going on. As we get to an environment where employees are back in the driver’s seat in that equation.

Maybe what you’ll see is the other thing. Wouldn’t it be nice if the company was engaged and wouldn’t it be nice if the company held itself accountable to employees for its engagement. Rather than demanding some sort of non-quantifiable performance measure. Anyhow, so you’re doing this stuff with Lumesse. Tell me about Lumesse, it’s an interesting company, and it’s not well known in the United States.

AJ Johnson:

Yes, it’s really not and it’s interesting because it’s a very large software company in Europe in terms of footprint. About 20, these days I’ve got some numbers in my head. There’s about 2400, 2500 clients globally that use the Lumesse portfolio. Now the portfolio is broken up along two lines, you’ve got the talent acquisition side and you’ve got the talent management side. The products themselves, in some cases are SaaS and in some cases are on premise. The talent management product that we have that’s been around for a very long time.

ET Web and you’re probably as familiar with it as anybody John, it’s one of these highly customized … It’s the IBM mainframe talent management. People bring it in, they bolt it to the floor and it just wakes up every day and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s one of those products, it’s got a long life and probably a longer life still. Because it’s been such a reliable showing up at work every day product. The company’s been around about 15 years.

We got great results for the clients. I think the last time I looked there was on the recruiting side, around a billion dollars of accounted for savings annually in recruiting costs. Huge number of applications processed, huge number of job postings that run through the system. Really, enterprise class global footprint kind of a product. The company I guess, probably a little over a year ago, looking to the future, looking for some expansion markets, looking for some additional growth, as all companies will. Started thinking about how to re-imagine some of the products as being more engaging is the right word I guess. To be much more engaging, much more human-centric. Much more people oriented kinds of products, really thinking hard about how people use these things.

Some discussions started about how to make that happen, about the same time. Salesforce was looking to reinvigorate their HR offerings, they’d been in and out of this mix a few times. We came together and had some common goals and had a shared vision for how we thought, what the future would look like. If you did some rethinking and re-imagining of some of these tools and went to work on it. Really that’s how Talent Objects, that was the genesis of Talent Objects as an entity inside Lumesse. It was that, that was what started the whole thing.

John Sumser:

That’s interesting. The project at Talent Objects, is not, it’s run much more like a skunk works, which I’m going to guess has something to do with your military background. Because that’s how you get things done in large organizations but go ahead.

AJ Johnson:

No, I was going to say actually it’s not really a skunk works. It was a small group that started out, the project, it started this project. It’s well know to everybody in the company, so it went off in a warehouse of its own. There is a subtle difference. The Talent Objects product in the group was actually a US operation. It was a change for Lumesse to really get close to the market that we intended to launch in which is what we’re doing, launching in the US.

To locate development and locate marketing and locate the [custom rotation 00:12:55], have the strategic part of that business in the US. We’re split between the Austin office, that you know, and that has been there for a number of years and then at Boston. We’ve got these two centers and then we have a development team in Chicago. A complete US operation, developing the product, with a lot of help and a lot of support from Salesforce.

John Sumser:

That’s interesting. This is, just to be clear, the kind of outfit, is a recruiting, first recruiting, it will be an HR suite, I believe. It opens as a recruiting tool on the Salesforce.com platform, built so that it’s an organic function inside of the Salesforce ecosystem. Is that right?

AJ Johnson:

It’s exactly right. In fact, it’s funny. I just got asked this question yesterday, “Are you integrated to Salesforce?” I always answer it the same way, which is no, we’re not integrated to Salesforce, we are Salesforce. We sit right on top of the platform. We’re native, and so there’s not a … It’s not an integrated product and it’s not by the way and this is another question we get a lot John. It’s not a re-spin or a re-hosting or a  in the old days we called it [courting 00:14:12] of existing applications over the platform. This was actually starting with a blank sheet of paper.

The applications have all been developed from that perspective, on the platform, nothing was re-hosted or part moved over. The good news is, you’ve got about 15 years of amassed knowledge and a lot of domain expertise that we can draw on. The products themselves, how they’re presented to the user. What the design focus is, all of that was fresh, none of it was a re-tooling of anything that was in the portfolio before.

John Sumser:

If I’m not mistaken, you’ve managed to assemble some pretty amazing architectural talent, so that what’s going on in the design is the latest thinking from people who have been thinking about this stuff for a very long time.

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, that’s true. Also, I’m glad you’ve brought that up. Because not only from people who have been thinking about what they would do differently had they created a product starting today, rather than one they inherited over the last several years. Not from that perspective just necessarily but from the platform perspective, so they … Part of our development team is actually an expert team in user experience design, on the Salesforce One platform. We brought those guys in because they employed a methodology that we really wanted which was to keep to start with, the user experience. Then work your way out and back, to the technology that may well be experienced and that’s the methodology that we’ve used.

They’re experts on the platform. All of the objects in the platform, the workflows, the various capabilities that are there, experts in how to enable that stuff. I’ll tell you what’s interesting John, and this is what I really love about what we’re doing. Because we’re developing on the platform, and we focus 100% of our development resources, devoted to user experience. Effectively I would say, contextualizing the capabilities in the platform for the HR professional or the hiring manager. Those are the two constituents that we’re really developing for. The net effect of that, is that we get to … We get a trailing effect on the innovation cycles of Salesforce and as you know, they’re a pretty innovative bunch.

We get, we’re engaged daily with those guys and have really good visibility in the things that are coming now that will be on shortly, that we can incorporate in. I think most importantly, what is does for us, it lets us compress the delivery cycle. If you look at what we just put out, on the F exchange which is the first module, which is Talent Objects Recruit. From the day that the project started, in other words, the first day that the team went out to start doing some of the visual design work or the visual prototyping with some clients. Until the day that we released it on the F exchange, was 100 days. The cycle, the development cycle is exceedingly rapid and I’ve got to tell you, it’s good news, bad news. If you’re a customer, it’s great because you’ve got a constant stream of innovation.

If you’re the marketer which I am, it’s a complete nightmare because things come at you so fast. It’s a good problem to have. The platform has really freed us up to do two things. Speed, there’s a lot of speed in the innovation cycle, so we’ll be releasing once a quarter, once every, what is it, every 10 weeks, or whatever that number is. Once every 13, 14 weeks, so speed comes with it. The fact that we’re able to rapidly pick up some of the innovations that Salesforce puts out there.  When you think about things like communities, and some of the things they’re doing with [Chatter 00:18:08] and some of the stuff they’re doing with the customer platform now. Look at what we think is applicable for the space we’re in and quickly roll it into the product. Really, really nice to be sitting on top of that platform.

John Sumser:

There’s a cajillion look-alike recruiting tools out there, that all claim to be the latest, greatest, but you know what, the market doesn’t seem to move. The market doesn’t seem to move at all and your opinion on the readout where the happiest customer with a recruiting tool is miserable but stuck. We’re doing some research into the category in general and the categories that promote our scores are low but it’s coupled with a very, very long replacement cycle. People hate it, but they don’t switch. What makes you different, or what makes you think you can get people to switch, or do you want them to switch?

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, that’s actually great that you brought that up too. I’m going to love it when you guys bring some of the research out too. If you look at the market, I think I heard William say one time. There must be, I don’t know, 23,000 recruiting tools or some crazy number out there in the world and all the various iterations and all that. A big number, but when you look at it, and what we’re targeting, and where we’re perfectly happy to operate. The number gets smaller of the tools that are on the market when you move them, and say, “Okay, now which ones would run on the Salesforce platform.”

The number gets smaller there, and then if you winnow it down and say which of the tools are maybe more or beyond a tool and more of a platform on the platform. Something that would manage the process from passive candidate nurturing all the way through when somebody’s been in a 20 year career, and is getting ready to move into the executive office. Succession planning and performance and all that stuff. That whole thread that runs through a talent journey. That makes the market even smaller, the choices in the market be even smaller. Then as you say, okay, what sorts of uniqueness are you bringing into that space, what sort of things are you doing differently in that space with that platform.

Well that’s how you get to some of the platform capabilities and some of the capabilities that we can tap into. We’re doing some interesting things with Salesforce communities, and we think it’s a great tool for setting up a mentoring community, an on-boarding community, a talent community, a candidate community. Being able to set those things up and really let companies. I love what you said earlier, companies need to engage the employees, not the other way around kind of thing, and need to be accountable, and they need to … I think you’re right and I think now that there’s some infrastructure coming into place that it makes that possible for companies that want to make that cultural shift. Obviously, those are going to be the company should really shine.

You’ve got that, that makes for a smaller market. Finally I think, one of the things is, some of the future looking stuff that is coming with Salesforce, and the one I’m thinking of is … Look at analytics, and look at the role of analytics and where things are headed. Occasionally I can’t help John but revert and put my analyst hat on and think ahead a little bit, which is something I probably shouldn’t do very often. One of the things that keeps jumping out at me, is what I see going on in the analytics space, in the data space, in the data portability space. That we’re getting to a point where I can see a time, not too off in the distance future, where you may be looking for a job and actually the job will find you.

You may be in a company’s career site, poking around, filling out applications and get stopped by a little thing that pops up and says, “You know tap you on the shoulder, you’re actually applying for the wrong job, we think you’re better suited to look at this one over here.” To have that stuff going on in real time. A lot of that’s analytics driven, obviously and if you look at the … and data driven, and if you look at the some of the futures, and what’s going on with the Salesforce platform. That infrastructure is coming together pretty quickly. They’ve got Wave, that they announced last year, that they’ll be showing, and we did a group concept on it last year. Showed our group concept for how you apply the Wave analytics on our platform for talent management recruiting.

They’re going to have another release out of and some solutions, that they’ve showing at Green Force, coming up later this year. I think that makes us a little different, is that innovation that we’re able to bring under that platform. Because we’ve set ourselves up as a really embedded offering and really in the middle of that platform. With that coupled with the things that actually Salesforce bring in, that we’re going to tap into. It narrows it down to a slate of maybe two or three players that would operate in that same place. That means that the market that we are the most focused on logically, would be companies that have made the decision to use Salesforce as their cloud platform.

Would like to extend the capabilities that are in it now to be more of a candidate engagement, employee engagement platform in addition to what they currently do with it. That’s the way we look at the market, that’s how we’ll play in that market. The differentiation for us is partly the market we’ve selected to play in and partly the capabilities that we’ll bring into that market, as we roll into it. Does that make sense?

John Sumser:

That makes all the sense in the world. We’ve talked a lot about Salesforce. It would be almost irresponsible not to ask you the next question. You launched Talent Objects maybe a month ago, Salesforce picked up the momentum with a big fuss about it, overall approach to HR.

AJ Johnson:

Right.

John Sumser:

Just as the buzz and momentum were building, the rumors started swirling about and after the show. That’s got to be a tough environment to do marketing in and I’m wondering (a), if you’re behind all of the rumors and Lumesse is actually a buyer. (b) if you care to speculate about whether or not this is something real or a slick competitive move by someone who’s trying to disrupt the company. What chance do you make out of this? The timing is interesting.

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, it is. Well, it’s interesting, but it’s funny. We were at the Salesforce event in Chicago last, it was last week I guess. Mark Benioff was actually the speaker there, he did the keynote and it was wonderful. To hear him talk about the things that he talks about best. Which is the evolution to the customer success platform and engagement and what’s going on and what they’re trying to do to drive that. Then of course their 111  philanthropic, a slant that they have in the company and focus I guess. Just hearing all of that, and the energy in the room and the almost cult following there. It’s just so difficult for me to believe that somebody could come in and think that they could take that cult following and pick that cult up and move it into their company and have it actually operate well.

Now I, obviously people do things for other reasons than that they do things for financial reasons. Therefore they capture corners of the market and all that. I would suspect, I mean obviously, where there’s lots of smoke, I’m sure there’s at least some fires somewhere. I think everybody is speculating from different directions and my speculation would be you’ve got to wait and see what happens in a month. Because everything at this point is speculation. I think I’ve read in the last few days, about six different versions of the same story, every one of them has a different ending on it. Everybody that’s writing those stories is a pro, that does that kind of stuff for a living. I don’t know John, what do you think is going on?

John Sumser:

Well, so there’s a couple of pieces to me. Piece one is this sort of thing doesn’t start as a rumor unless there’s a hiccup of some kind. My bet is that Salesforce.com large ambitions are being frustrated, that there’s some miss in the financials and there’s some sort of hiccup in growth. Because it’s only when there’s a hiccup in growth that you can ask the question can we make more money by selling the company, or by selling software. Somebody in the infrastructure is asking that question. Then when you start with that question, which is oh, “Oh maybe it’s not a platform, maybe it’s a niche. Maybe what Salesforce. com is great at, is providing data management, infrastructure for sales oriented companies.”

Which is 30 or 40% of all companies, but it’s not a market … Not everybody loves the sales team. Not every company wants an aggressive sales team. Lots of companies wish the salespeople would just get the hell gone. That’s it, and so when you’ve got a company that has its roots in aggressive sales, it’s got an inherent cap on its market potential. That said, each of the potential buyers, and to me they look alike, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, IBM, maybe one other cost in there. Each of those potential buyers is like the Tiffany setting for this particular jewel. All of them need a tool that allows tracking with more dimensions than a spreadsheet but fewer dimensions than a relational database.

The way that most people work involves tracking that’s more complex than a spreadsheet can handle. The core technology makes as a sort of a fifth jewel in the Microsoft office suite. It makes real sense for both oracle and SAP who don’t have … Because they’re process oriented companies, they don’t have results oriented tools, like a sales tool is. Right, the difference between Salesforce and everything that’s out there is it’s so results oriented. That kind of prepping allows you to create results, and cause them to happen, where the rest of the business software industry does processing sorts of [shit 00:29:13]. It’s a great fit, particularly if you say, “All right, there’s a cap to this market, this is not a universal, this is a huge segment, but it’s a segment.”

My guess is, where there’s smoke there’s fire, but the market has responded by driving the stock price up, and maybe that’s all anybody was after. It’s another good reason for asking that question like this, is you get to test what the market’s response is to the real value of the company. I think it’s going to be fun to see what happens. The entire universe that I spend my time in, is kind of scratching its head, trying to figure out what the next move is if this happens, what the next move is if it doesn’t happen.

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, I’ll tell you though, the way I feel about it, I don’t know. Forget speculation, just the way I feel about it is, I just hope that … The thing that always has intrigued me since I’ve started working with Salesforce, is they’re more of a culture company than a technology company. The technology is great but the culture over there is wonderful. If you go to the events and you go to their offices on Freemont Street and you deal with the people. There’s a conviction there that they can change the world and there’s also a conviction that they’re going to help other people change the world and I love that.

They’re helping us and I just hope that whatever goes on. Whether there’s some merger stuff going on, or not, whether there’s … whatever it is, I hope that the culture stays intact because that’s the biggest part of that company, for me. I’d love to see it continue the way it is for another 100 years.

John Sumser:            I think that’s right and I think another great conversation we should have one of these days, and maybe in this sort of a format is that I think the first era of software is over. That what the future of software is, is companies that are primarily cultural companies who have a technology product. Because what customers buy are … customers don’t buy software, they buy relationships.

AJ Johnson:               They do.

John Sumser:

Software companies sell software but customers buy relationships. Once software companies start understanding that they’re in the business of delivering relationships and not technology, the game will start to change in some interesting ways. It seems to me that Salesforce.com was a leader in that particular rearrangement of the market.

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, it’s interesting. You mentioned relationships, and it’s almost like for me personally, I don’t know how you feel about it. I’m actually, when I’m buying technology these days, I’m buying experiences. I’m looking at experience even more than, well even higher than technology and higher than relationships on my decision trail. If I have a god experience with something, I’ll buy it, if I don’t, I probably won’t. I think maybe culture is shifting to be more experience based and I know they’re doing a good job of that. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

John Sumser:

Yeah, well it will be interesting and I’ll be happy to come visit in your new office, once you take over Salesforce. Because well, lunch will be better at your place, than it is in mine.

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, okay.

John Sumser:

We’ve blown through our half an hour, it’s been a great conversation.

AJ Johnson:

Yes.

John Sumser:

I really appreciate you taking the time to come do this.

AJ Johnson:

Yes.

John Sumser:

Is there anything that you want to leave the audience with, about what you’re up to, and about Talent Objects?

AJ Johnson:

Yeah, I think maybe two or three things, just simple things. Basically, we talked about experience a lot, so user experience, and I’d love for some of the people listening to this to come talk to us and see how they feel about what we’re putting together. We’re actually actively bringing on what we’re calling testers, beyond data, but testers, people that’ll look at … This is coming in iterations, as you mentioned, we have the full platform, as we talked about, recruiting being the first thing. Experience will be common across all of them, all mobile, all social, all that stuff. We’re looking for some people that want to help us shape the future of this thing, and take a look at what we’ve got, and where we’re going, and kind of almost advise a little bit, and test with us a little bit.

Anyone that has an interest in that should reach out to me. I’m pretty easy to get a hold of, you know how to reach me, I’m Allen.Johnson@Lumesse.com. A quick note to me gets a phone call back and love to hear what people are up to and share what we’re up to as well. Then obviously, some of the things is you know visit some of the website stuff and we’re always happy to get on the phone and show people demos and things like that, happy to do that as well. Any and all, any and all, that’s in play.

John Sumser:

Well, thanks a bunch Allen, it was really great to talk to you, appreciate you taking the time. Let’s do it again. The Sun is getting brighter out here in California, I hope everybody who’s listening has a wonderful weekend, thanks everybody, have a great day. Bye.

End transcript

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