Article: The New-Age HR Technology Turks


The New-Age HR Technology Turks

HR Technology start-ups vie with each other to grab a slice of the billion dollar industry
The New-Age HR Technology Turks

HR has traditionally been a very reactive function. Technology, especially analytics, can help transform the HR function to be predictive about their people


HR technology players look at increasing hiring efficiency and reducing the cost of talent acquisition, making HR a profit center instead of a cost center


Be it automation or making people’s lives easier, tracking employees safety or finding solutions to your own problems and then applying it for a larger audience, the HR technology space in the country is brimming with hope and a lot of innovation. And a lot of the action took place at the TechHR Conference 2014 held on August 22nd, 2014, in Gurgaon, Haryana.

From serious problems to simple solutions, the Conference saw nine products made it to the finals and battled it out for four coveted awards -- Futurism in Recruitment, Futurism in Talent Management, Futurism in HR Technology and then the Most Popular Award (See BOX). We will be featuring the winners in the subsequent issues, but first a peek into the trials and tribulations that the finalists had to undergo. What led them to make the path breaking products? What were their challenges and how did they overcome them? This story will attempt to put their stories in perspective.

Why entrepreneurship in HR technology?

We asked the entrepreneurs what attracted them to the HR technology space in the first place. Rajiv Jayaraman, CEO and Founder of Knolskape (Products were Knolytics and First Time Managers), says, “Technology is reshaping the landscape across multiple industries. Hence, the timing is perfect. However, the biggest challenge that we had to overcome was to encourage enterprises to look at gaming as a serious product and break the shackles associated with the methodology. Today, gamificaiton is almost a familiar concept and we no longer get questions about the effectiveness of the methodology, and the HR community understands that learning can be fun.”

So was being an entrepreneur in a niche space like HR technology more challenging? “Entrepreneurship is challenging regardless of the space you are in. But, I don’t think HR technology is a niche space. If you think about it, every company has people and hence an HR function. So, your customer-base eventually could be quite large. HR has traditionally been a very reactive function. Technology, especially analytics, can help transform the HR function to be predictive about their people. This is a greenfield and a lot of problems are unsolved, which attracted us to venture in,” said Mohit Gundecha, CEO & Co-founder at Jombay.

Be it talent matchmaking or being predictive about the people, these entrepreneurs saw the gaps in the system and are in the process of transforming the function one company at a time. Nirmal Singh, CEO of Wheebox, said, “I come from the education business and have spent close to 16 years in the space. I started with IIT Delhi, moved to NIIT and then moved to New Horizons and was the Country Head for Higher Education Business at NIIT Limited. While setting up talent centres of excellence in universities across the country, I found that there was a huge demand and supply and no one to do the talent matchmaking. That is where we fit in. We started making HR leaders understand the gaps that they were operating in.”

Arjun Pratap, CEO, EdGE Networks (whose product was Hire Alchemy), said his entrepreneurial journey began when he had an idea to build an eco-system for students and employers to figure out who needs who and why.

Emphasizing the importance of learning, Jayaraman said for over 150 years, education and training has been industrialized and there was hardly any emphasis on creating a better experience. Learning has always been taking seriously, and with a lot of dedication. However, there is no reason why this shouldn’t be fun. We hoped to change this, and make learning more than just a classroom exercise, and create a holistic experience, which would also help to retain the knowledge even after the training session. From pioneering simulations to having one of the biggest library of simulations in the world, we have come long way, Jayaraman added.

Applicant Tracking System, which helps the recruitment team to track the applicants from the time they decide to hire till the opening is closed with the applicant onboarded in any company, has offered the platform for free and is in the process of attracting more talent. Likening ATS to Google, Sri Arardhi, Founder and CEO, ATS, said that while the platform has been offered free like Gmail, ATS will market its innovations over and above

Apart from analytics, assessments and learning, engagement also found its place in the product line-up at TechHR. PlayDay is a brand owned by Quizworks, which has been working with the HR community, particularly in the area of employee engagement where employee engagement scores were measured through different modules that were quiz-based. Quizworks worked with Mahindra & Mahindra called the Mahindra Auto Quotient, which is the largest project in the employer branding space.

“We work in the area of employer branding, learning & development. Mahindra asked us to create a module where is it possible to know if employees could know more about the auto and ancillaries industry,” Raj Dam, Head-Sales & Marketing, Quizworks, said.

Another assessment company, Wheebox is broadly involved in HR and education, primarily vocational and professional education. In HR, they interact with people who deal with talent acquisition and learning and development.

Nirmal Singh, Co-founder of Wheebox, said, “When it comes to HR technology, there is a huge gap in the assessment space be it pre-hiring or in the learning and development space. We are majorly focusing on middle and large-sized corporations who are hiring more than 1000 people a year and have more than two offices. At least 600 such companies have this requirement. “We are looking at how to increase hiring efficiency and reducing the cost of talent acquisition, making HR a profit center instead of a cost center.”

Inspiration – The 1% that matters

Three IIT graduates – Mayank Jain, Nikhil Vij and Raghav Jain – were finding it difficult to get a job once they left the institute. “At campus placements, I could appear for many interviews during those four days. Compare this to lateral moves where I have to individually apply to companies either through their company websites, job boards or through referrals. In order to be able to get a job of your choice, the whole exercise takes a few months. That was how TalentAuction was born.”

When an employee uses TalentAuction, he can apply to hundreds of companies at the same time and get a response within a week. “We are focused on solving the problem for the jobseeker. For the employer, it is about the ability to get high quality talent on demand and quicker response time,” Jain said.

However, in the case of MTAP Technologies that developed Safetrax, it was a government legislation that inspired founder Shiva Ramani to begin his fourth start-up. The Safetrax platform was created after the government made it mandatory for companies to track their employee’s safety. In order to ensure that they safely reached home, the employee could dial a number and leave a missed call. The system will triangulate the coordinates of the call and ensure that the employee has reached his location. The platform integrates all channels, be it voice, SMS, email and telephone.

Ramani believes that for any business to be successful, you need your employees to be emotionally connected and meet their aspirations. “The reason my start-ups are successful is not because of just the idea behind the start-up, but the people I’ve associated with. The goal was essentially that you have to provide people with a lot of pleasantness. It is necessary to use the technologies available in the developing world because not everyone has access to high-end technologies,” he said. Even people at the lower end of the spectrum, who don’t have access to high-end smartphones, can use our processes, he added.

Indian companies have been traditionally running Analytics on the Demographic information of their employees (gender, salary, location, schools, past employer etc.). “Jombay saw a huge opportunity to help companies run analytics on the emotive profile of their employees to give more predictive insights,” Jombay’s Gundecha said.

So, how did PlayDay come into being? “Every company’s workforce is geographically spread, different working hours, accessing content over multiple device of the workforce, the millennials in the workforce where people were working on multiple devices right from smartphones to tablets to PCs. How do we maximize the content that we are deploying? There was a need to combine all of this in one platform and that is how PlayDay first came into being,” Dam added.

Nirmal Singh of Wheebox had an entirely different experience. He believed that no matter how much learning you did, if people were not critically measured, employers would not look at them or would not have access to them. Hence, he got attracted to assessments as it became the No. 1 component of the demand and the supply side. Jayaraman’s idea of a start-up first began when he envisaged the fusion of his two interests – Performing arts and technology. “It was a dream to fuse the two and create something at the intersection of creativity and technology. With this mindset, I entered my MBA program at INSEAD, where I chanced to encounter a simulation on organizational behavior. This was an eye opener as until then, I had experienced only one-way lectures, and I started working on creating a product by fusing education, technology and story-telling, and there was no looking back.”

Challenges & roadblocks

Finding talent, cash flow problems, challenges of the domestic market were some of the challenges and roadblocks that the HR technology start-ups faced. Jain said that the ability to source high quality talent and register them on TalentAuction was the biggest challenge. “We also had limited funds. Getting employers on board was also difficult as any new product encounters a lot of resistance in the market,” he said adding that hiring for his own company was difficult as firstly you had to get good talent and secondly you had to sell them your vision and make them believe in what you do.

Shiva Ramani of MTAP Technologies likened his major roadblock to 9/11 in the US. Narrating the story, he said. “We were almost on the edge of bankruptcy in the previous company that I started. So I called all my managers and told them that we had enough money for two months of payroll as one customer who gave 50 per cent of our revenue was severely affected. I told them that whoever wanted to take whatever wage cut they could – everybody at the bottom level gave up 7-and-a-half per cent, while the senior leadership were willing to forego 90 days of pay. But that was only the first month; we bounced back in the second.

Talking about operating in a difficult market like India, Gundecha of Jombay said, “To win in India, we have designed a SCALE principle - Simplicity, Customization, Analytics, Localisation and Engagement. Any product or feature we launch at Jombay confers to these principles, allowing us to differentiate from the competition.

Changing the mindset of the customer was Knolskape biggest challenge. “People who have experienced our simulation have never questioned its effectiveness and the trainees have constantly rated our products and programs among the best. In fact, it is rare that we don’t get repeat orders from our customers. With respect to competition, I strongly believe that innovation is the key to staying ahead and we have been ahead of the curve. For instance, we have progressed from a simulation company to providing a holistic experiential learning experience. This includes developing case studies, animations and gamified e-learning,” Jayaraman said. We have also integrated analytics deeply in all our products that play a crucial role in determining skills. This detailed report can help HR leaders to get more insight from the training program that traditional solutions can never match, he added.

Talking about the challenges that ATS faced, Arardhi blamed the HR for being slow in adopting technology. The fact that HR is not the final decision-maker also hampers the adoption of technology like ATS. However, there is a lot of scope in the HR technology market as it is very unorganized.

Wheebox’s Nirmal Singh said they faced plenty of challenges. A significant challenges was that the market had already seen a plethora of assessment companies. Hence, companies were questioning them as to why Wheebox and not someone like Aspiring Minds, Thomas Assessments etc? Secondly, the initial gestation period was long. If you have a larger gestation period, then the cash flow would also not be that fast. “We tackled this head on by first making the right team in place, getting the right investments in place. Thirdly, having the right set of investors and advisors and having a joint purpose. Innovation at optimal cost is our USP.

The India story

India’s HR technology space has been a laggard for a long period of time, largely due to unavailability of local players who could build world-class solutions that are affordable and scalable. Now with players who are enabling Indian companies with solutions customized and localized to their needs, you will see wide-spread adoption of HR Technology in India. “Technology will enable HR not only to be efficient but also intelligent about this function, said Gundecha.

The environment is conducive for growth. A lot more companies are present in the space now and they can be exploited only if you have the people. That will prompt companies to invest in HR technologies and everything will move to a SaaS model.

Pratap of EdGE Networks said the major roadblock they faced were the talent acquisition teams of the companies. “We don’t sell to the HR division anymore. We directly approach the operating side like the COO and CEO. For example, for Wipro, who is our first customer, we approached the CFO and the Chief Process Officer because we got stonewalled by the HR guys. We are going to be ensuring that people who are sourcing agents for companies like Wipro are probably going to lose their jobs. The RoI of HireAlchemy is that it would help optimize the workforce internally – matching the number of people to the number of projects. When we go to HR, they would put all such products into one basket when they go to meet the CEO. That puts us at a massive advantage. We have got a lot of traction when we have gone to the right people in the organization.”

Arardhi of ATS said, “This is a global product and we want to grow globally. We want to provide an end-to-end solution for the platform right from creating opening to posting jobs to Naukris & Monsters and getting responses automatically. We will do large campaigns to penetrate the Indian market and adopting technology.”

“While gamification and experiential learning is now understood, it still remains a novelty. We want to change this, and make experiential learning the new norm. While we say that this is the future of learning, we would want enterprises to understand that the future of learning is now. It is here, and is already happening,” Jayaraman says.

Technology will never replace HR. It will always strengthen the intuition of the HR. Technology cannot replace HR; it can only aid HR in aligning itself with business goals. Today, there are multiple options available outside, but it can be extremely difficult to pick the right company to partner with, and this is where HR plays a critical role. It is crucial that the HR community approaches technology with an open mind, especially in the areas of talent transformation.

Expansion and building the employer brand is high on the agenda of all the companies. As they grow to become part of the billion dollar industry, they aspire to be part of an employee life cycle from hiring, development and develop go-to-market. “The evolution of our enterprise is providing greater value across our current platform,” Pratap said.

Ramani summed it up in the right manner. “You want a lot of good people who are committed to executing what you want and keen and can take independent decisions whenever required. For that purpose, you need to provide extremely pleasant experience and HR technology is not unfortunately being used well or is being relegated to get the payroll on time etc. I want to see how much employee satisfaction can be improved by using technology. And let’s not ignore the lowest worker we currently have.

BOX: How emergIng technologIes are changIng the landscape of the way HR functIons

FuturIsm In RecruItment category

Applicant Tracking Cloud-based recruitment software tracks applicants from sourcing to hiring.

Hire Alchemy: Holistic solution for talent acquisition and workforce optimization (uses artificial intelligence, natural language processing, semantics, predictive analysis and textual analytics).

TalentAuction: Curated marketplace for connecting talent with employers in tech/internet/analytics space.

Wheebox: Talent acquisition platform for college students (tests skills viz. demography, geography and create skill benchmarks; ideal for mid/large enterprise customers.)

Winner: TalentAuction

FuturIsm In Talent Management category

First Time Managers: Capacity building program, uses the principles of immersive gamification where user experiences real life like scenarios and makes decisions in virtual environments.

MTAP: Focus on employee safety & transportation. Geo-contextual business process platform combining GPS, Edge, Cell Tower triangulation, Wifi and Beacon data sources.

Playday: Gamified e-induction and training platform.

Winner: PlayDay

FuturIsm In HR AnalytIcs category

Jombay: Talent measurement and analytics platform helps companies to be predictive about their current & potential employees; captures people behavior.

Knolytics: Search engine which captures over 400 data points in a span of 90 minutes. Analyzes the data captured and provides meaningful insights to the stakeholders.

Winner: Jombay

Most Popular Award: Knolskape’s First Time Managers won the award

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Topics: Technology

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