KronosWorks 2013: The World's Leading Workforce Information Exchange

With contribution by P.J. Jakovljevic (see bio).

This year’s Kronos user conference took place in Orlando, Florida, and confirmed that Kronos remains a very competitive vendor in the workforce management (WFM) area of the human capital management (HCM) market, reporting a double-digit—10 percent—growth in revenue for 2013. The conference attendance counted around 1,700 participants to whom Kronos offered a large variety of training sessions, panel discussions, customer stories, etc., from which to choose.

The Announcements

Kronos made a series of announcements confirming that the vendor is adopting new technologies and hitting most of the trends in the market, such as social, mobile, and big data. As Kronos chief executive officer (CEO) Aron Ain stated during the customer Q&A session, which took place on the second day of the conference, Kronos is not necessarily thriving as a technology innovator—but rather as a technology adopter. In fact, as Ain mentioned, the company strives to keep up with current and future readily available technologies and adapt its applications to them.Kronos Cloud (an offering targeting both small to medium businesses [SMBs] and large enterprises), is now counting 9,000 organizations.

Most end users that I have talked to pointed out that they feel relieved to not have to take care of their information technology (IT) infrastructure for Kronos solutions. In addition, Kronos stated that its customers have registered significant cost savings after having migrated to the cloud. SMBs can use the recently acquired SaaShr—now sold under the Workforce Ready label—which includes employee time and attendance tracking, payroll, and human resources (HR) functionality. Not only has SaaShr revamped Kronos’ competitiveness and growth in the SMB market, but also changed Kronos’ culture to now sell via the SaaShr reseller channel. In the Workforce Central space, Kronos still sells directly and without involving big consulting agencies. Workforce Central is Kronos’ enterprise solution, delivering time and attendance, employee scheduling, labor analytics, absence management, HR, and payroll capabilities.

As underlined by various sources from Kronos, the vendor’s investments in its cloud infrastructure are a priority, with Kronos expecting an influx of interested customers in the near future. Kronos Social unveils the notion that WFM practitioners from retail, manufacturing, health care, the public sector, or services and distribution may be ready to transition to the social enterprise. However, during conversations with end users at KronosWorks 2013, I sensed many concerns surrounding social technology and how to regulate its usage so that it does not disrupt employee productivity.

To support its social application, Kronos chose Tibco’s platform tibbr, due to Tibco’s reputation and ability to deliver both in the cloud and on premise. The module will be launched officially in December of this year. Kronos Mobile and Tablet, another top priority for the vendor, caters to customer demand for very diverse and sophisticated mobile functionality. A case in point was the high interest demonstrated by users in geo fencing—a capability that allows organizations to define work locations and configure system rules to ensure that time card punches are registered only under those rules. Another important addition is the off-line capability, which allows the usage of mobile applications in a location that doesn’t permit access to wireless networks. Kronos Mobile is available via iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. Kronos Tablet is available on the Apple iPad.

Kronos InTouch Time Clock now includes new biometric technology with a high-quality optical sensor, enhanced wifi capabilities that can transmit the data through firewalls to the cloud, and an improved user experience delivered by taking advantage of an easily recognizable design that resembles that of smartphones and tablets. Although asked several times by analysts and press, Kronos was unable to confirm what percentage of its overall revenues comes from selling time clocks.

Kronos Big Data Workforce Analytics introduces self-service data visualization and exploration capabilities. Kronos continues its partnership with MicroStrategy to support analytics. During conversations with Kronos team members, I noticed that most participants concur that Big Data is a good word choice, although it may not exactly fit the Big Data definition. However, the business intelligence (BI) space appears to be perceived as obsolete by many customers. Furthermore, the system is able to send not only alerts, but also recommendations on how to approach the alerts—i.e., the system is currently based on rules and is prescriptive and descriptive; in the future it will be based on predictive analytics.

Global outreach is another top priority for Kronos. The vendor believes that its global expansion is challenged by issues encountered at the country level—in ensuring nation-specific compliance as well as the delivery of consistent messages across countries. Kronos appears to be rising to the occasion, with some major recently reported wins in global enterprises such as Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, and Apple.  

What Did the CEO Have to Say?

The best part of the conference was attending the sessions where Kronos CEO Aron Ain participated, starting with the opening keynote where Ain discussed the above announcements and complemented them with brief customer stories. For instance, Don Pagel from City of Houston demoed workforce analytics on an iPad, and Thomas Neltner from Fifth Third Bank explained that the bank chose Kronos in the cloud owing to the product’s great user experience, fast delivery model, and full support by the Kronos team.

The opening keynote also included a guest speaker—Jeremy Gutsche, the founder of Jeremy’s talk—How to Create a Culture of Customer Obsession and Innovation—was a good refresher of well-known issues that we all encounter when we are confronted with change, as humans by nature have a tendency to resist change. During the Executive Round Table with analysts and influencers, Aron Ain pointed out that health care is the best/biggest sector (in the US), manufacturing is the fastest growing, retail is doing fine, service and distribution is the least developed, while the public sector is challenged (US and everywhere due to the austerity cuts). Thus, perhaps we could speculate that, given its history of 65 acquisitions,

Kronos might want to look at ServiceMax, TOA Tech, VSI, or other field service management (FSM) vendors to bolster its capabilities in the FSM sector. In addition, given its white spaces in project-based WFM, Kronos might also want to look at, say, Upland/Tenrox.

The second day of the conference saw an open Q&A session with Aron Ain that was intended mainly for customers. Ain showed his appreciation to Kronos’ clients and responded candidly to questions regarding pricing, licensing, and so on. What I liked was his emphasis on how Kronos is a responsible company toward its employees—whom the company surveys constantly for feedback satisfaction assessment. In addition, he stated that, unlike other big companies, Kronos offers a paid internship program through which it tries to help young people with their career choices. And, finally, when asked about who could succeed him as a CEO at Kronos, he responded that Kronos is more than the CEO. The company can continue to run as well as it does right now thanks to the entire team of people that make it what it is. While we do know that things are not quite that simple in real life, his response was much welcomed by the audience.

The Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is on everyone’s mind. Sessions discussing how companies attempt to comply with the new healthcare law in the US were filled to capacity. The hottest discussions revolved around how companies deal with the strict regulations defining part-time versus full-time employment. Kronos offers a Full-Time/Part-Time Analysis Report, available for purchase, which includes:

  • Detailed visibility into employee work hours for the Look Back and Stability periods, as defined by the ACA

  • A function to calculate average weekly working hours for a selected timeframe

  • The ability to determine which employees have crossed the 30-hour threshold and monitor full- or part-time status

The report will provide employers with a clear picture of the full-time/part-time status of their employees and allow them to enroll eligible employees into the ACA. Nevertheless, it was noted on numerous occasions that organizations have to take more than the law into account. Maintaining customer satisfaction, delivering high-quality products and services, as well as ensuring a sense of work stability and satisfaction for their employees should be part and parcel of a good business strategy for complying with the new regulations.  

Partnership with SuccessFactors 

Announced in May 2013, the partnership with SuccessFactors was reaffirmed when SuccessFactors president Shawn Price appeared on stage with Aron Ain during the opening keynote. Although there were factual recounts of how the partnership works from the sales/request for proposal (RFP) completion angle, the strategic vision of the partnership was not clearly explained. However, Kronos maintained that its position will continue to be that of a WFM vendor that is industry focused, internationalized, innovative, and in the cloud. This raises questions regarding where will the vendor go next and how it will maintain its growth and leading position in the WFM market. Aron Ain did say that more acquisitions are in the works for the next 2 years, without disclosing any specifics.

One possible extension of Kronos’ offering may be FSM—the Kronos team showed some interest in this application area when probed with direct questions about its future intentions. However, no one alluded to any possible turns toward other areas of the HCM space, such as HR, payroll, etc. Nevertheless, the partnership with SuccessFactors is unfolding in other areas after its initial ‘in-the-cloud’ appeal. The two vendors intend to complete each other’s gaps in functionality and finally offer integrated workforce management, HR, payroll, and talent management capabilities.

A Final Word

The conference rolled out in a relaxed atmosphere, which allowed me as an analyst to interview end users and Kronos employees at leisure. I gained in-depth knowledge about customer issues and challenges and how Kronos responds to them. For instance, as customers raised concerns about Java, Kronos strongly affirmed its long-term intentions to adopt HTML5 for its user interface, across all its applications. In the meantime, the vendor devised a plan that helps promptly address all Java-related problems. In addition, I grasped how important it is for Kronos to represent the particularity of each of its solutions, across industries, specific to its Workforce Central product for medium and large enterprises. For example, Workforce Central for Healthcare includes Kronos OptiLink, which allows nursing executives and their staff to manage workload, productivity, and schedules using actual patient demand.

Similarly, for manufacturers, Kronos offers an industry-specific KPI, i.e., Overall labor Effectiveness (OLE). This indicator unveils three important workforce aspects: availability, performance, and quality. In contrast to Workforce Central, Workforce Ready is promoted more generically, as it addresses the general and basic needs of SMBs.

In the future, it will be interesting to watch the vendor’s approach to other technologies: mobile device management (MDM); leveraging wearables (smart watches, fitbits, etc.) to manage the workforce; gamification to ensure desirable employee behaviors (e.g., rewards for filling timesheets without errors); in-memory big data to predict workforce trends (e.g., overtime and absenteeism based on history and external correlating data); as well as integrations with more non-WFM systems. The events were well organized and the Kronos team was happy to answer most our questions. I would like to extend my thanks to the Kronos team for their hospitality.

A final comment, worthy of note and appreciation, is the fact that Kronos donated $1 per tweet published under the conference hashtag #KW2013. image0015.png Kronos increased the amount on the opening day of the event, and as a result donated $25,000 to Hire Heroes USA. image0022.png
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