Allow people the time to innovate: Mark Goldin, CTO, CSOD
Mark Goldin is the Chief Technology Officer at Cornerstone OnDemand. In his current role, Goldin is responsible for building and managing the global technology strategy of the company. Mark leads the design and development of the application architecture, technology operations and other tech interventions for Cornerstone OnDemand.
With an influx of new tools and solutions, the HR Tech market is evolving, and, incumbents are innovating fast. In such a competitive market, how do you constantly innovate?
I believe innovation is not one person’s responsibility – it is everyone’s responsibility. There are many ways of creating an environment where everybody innovates. Google did it famously when it allowed Googlers 20 percent of their time to work on things outside their regular projects. In hindsight, that is a huge amount of time. And the results were to show — many of those projects ended up in Google’s app suite, Gmail being a famous example. So the first way to do it is to simply allow people the time to innovate. At Cornerstone, we carve out specific time for innovation — we did a global hackathon a couple of months ago, and the ideas were so impressive that they will end up in our products.
Startups are another great source of innovation and ideas. We have sponsored an accelerator (incubator), have invested in startup companies, and brought them into our offices. They are doing work related to team management — we get to collaborate with them and they are a good source of ideas for us. Good companies do give their people enough exclusive time to innovate. In fact, it is particularly a common trend in West Coast software companies.
As a learning and talent management solutions provider, you tackle a wide range of HR challenges of companies. What do you think is the one common challenge your clients face regarding HR technology?
Integration. The biggest challenge organizations face is integrating several systems, and making them talk to each other seamlessly. We see cases that are at entirely opposite ends of the spectrum. In one of the most complex cases, a global leader in the oil industry had 125 Learning Management Systems, and it took as many as three years to get those 125 systems integrated into one. In another case, a bigger company with numerous employees just had one learning system. So it varies from organization to organization. The time taken for a rollout also varies considering the challenges companies face in managing change. Organizations with large systems can take 18 months to do a global rollout whereas on the other hand we have also seen a French Bank with a global employee-base of 130,000 finished our implementation in just six weeks.
My definition of innovation is “show your clients the things they didn’t know they wanted. Delight them with new ideas they didn’t even think about
How has the technology integration ecosystem evolved? What is Cornerstone doing to solve the integration challenges faced by organizations?
Integration is actually the reason we are in India in the first place. We faced a big integration challenge a few years ago. At the fag end of 2010, we did not have enough capacity to deliver all the projects that the clients wanted. Somebody then had a bright idea saying let’s do this in India, considering India had the talent. We made the decision to move to India the same day it was suggested, and the office was up and running four months later.
On an average now, the time taken for the overall technology integration is a few weeks. In terms of product development, we are building the Cornerstone Edge suite. Edge, because it defines the edge where Cornerstone ends and the client’s environment starts. Edge Integrate, one of the toolsets we built, is all about making integrations that clients have dead easy. It has a drag and drop functionality and is very easy to use. That has been an eye-opener for our clients. We are also building a tool we call Edge Developer. It gives clients more information, documentation and resources on consuming our Application Program Interfaces (API). We have a lot of APIs, and this tool is helping companies by giving them code samples and necessary documentations.
In your opinion, what is ideal — having one system or multiple?
It is definitely a nightmare to have 125 LMSs like that oil company had. An organization should never be in such a situation. What is ideal is to have just one system for all HR processes, but that is really difficult. Every vertical has specialized vendors and what is logical is to have one partner for every vertical (one for Learning, one for Compensation, one for Recruitment, etc.).=
Can a singular system offer all the requisite functionalities? How should organizations strike that balance?
It can, provided you get the functionality and the quality of the supplier — less is more. But I am a CTO and I understand that one cannot build everything — sometimes you also have to buy technology. So let’s say I am using Microsoft for emails, I would like to use the same vendor for office applications as well. I understand that CIO mindset, and it definitely makes sense to deal with fewer vendors. Having said that, I also do not want to compromise on functionality; so if Microsoft’s email system isn’t the right tool for me, I will find a different vendor and deal with integration issues later. So companies should not compromise on features and functionality, and do it while reducing the number of vendors.
In your experience, what have you seen common in organizations — having one system for all or multiple systems?
We see both cases and it depends on a combination of factors. Majorly depending on who is driving the decision, and what is the DNA of the company. Both cases are prominent in our clients — some use the complete CSOD suite, and in some cases, they use a different vendor for core HR and integrate Cornerstone’s learning system to it.
You talked about decision-makers in HR technology procurement. Who do you feel is the real decision-maker when it comes to procurement and implementation of HR technology?
It again depends on the company. In the US, it is mostly an HR-led decision. IT is involved, but it falls in the HR budget. In Europe, I have observed IT leading the decision and it is common to see it falling in the IT budget. In India, from what I have seen, IT involvement is again very strong, and it might just be coming from the IT budget here as well.
HR and IT need to partner to make the best decisions and bring their strengths to the table
More often than not, there are differences in opinion between HR and IT. If HR is driving the decision, it goes one way; if IT drives it, it goes the other way. The ideal solution is though when HR and IT partner to make the best decisions and both bring their strengths to the table. HR thinks about giving the end user a great experience, vies for the best functionality in accordance with the business problem. IT, on the other hand, is familiar with things HR may not always be familiar with — things like reliability, vendor SLAs, procurement process, integration, and security. The ideal situation is for HR and IT to come together, agree on a decision with IT supporting the work HR ends up doing.