Will Multi-Process HRO Survive, or Will the Baby Be Thrown Out With the Bath Water?
The large multi-process HRO (MPHRO) deals born in the last 10 years or so brought HRO to a new level of awareness and created something of a cottage industry to support it before anyone in the equation really knew what it was and what it could really do. The first few service providers and buyers begat advisors to guide buyers, lawyers to write deals, analysts to research and comment on the emerging market, and HR-specific and more mainstream media to cover the phenomenon. Dedicated magazines and professional associations like HRO Today, HRO Europe and the HR Outsourcing Association quickly formed, and conference promoters and general HR consultancies swarmed.
It all looked so much like fun at first. One-stop HR shopping with almost every HR services you could name from one end-to-end provider, wow! (One hand to shake, or one throat to choke, take your pick. And yes, newbies, that language was actually used.) Anchor client HR operations lifted and shifted with rebadged employees, and systems and processes moved to the new providers with plans to become the foundation for multi-client services. Marketing promos promising 20, 30 and even 40 percent or more in savings were pitched by sales teams to HR and C-suite executives. HR RFPs were big and vendor responses were bold. Vendor and buyer due diligence assessments? Not so much. Either parties tests for customer readiness? Non-existent.
What Went Wrong – The Short Story
Then we all found out it was much harder than it looked. Take just two elements out of a very complex market dynamic. Transitions were longer, more complex and costly than embedded in the deal structures – something that would come back and haunt both service providers and buyers in the coming years. Transforming anchor clients or pre-existing technology platforms and processes into global multi-client capabilities with room for buyer discounts and customer satisfaction, while still leaving a reasonable profit margin, also turned out to be more problematic than anticipated.
In the meantime, the single process HRO field did not intend to be displaced or subsumed behind MPHRO vendors. Some joined the fray as new MPHRO vendors. Others dug in to defend, expand and promote their HR specialty point solution services in areas including benefits, payroll and learning. Today there are more standalone HRO options than ever. The struggles in MPHRO with some high-value, but complex, services even likely fueled the growth and expansion of services like RPO.
Will Multi-Process HRO Survive?
Yes, MPHRO is changing, but it is not about to go away any time soon. Granted a few deals did not survive, and some others have been less than 100 percent successful for either buyers or providers. Still, this a multi-billion dollar market segment with millions of employees served worldwide. MPHRO works for most buyers across many service lines, and many major contracts have already been updated, extended or renewed, although with little of the early fanfare.
Shakeouts are to be expected in any new market, perhaps even more so in a down economy. Some are playing in the field of mergers and acquisitions, like ExcellerateHRO going to HP. Others, such as Hewitt and Fidelity, are choosing to refocus on core services. However, most of the major HRO providers like Accenture, Convergys and IBM are staying the course, and there are even still new entrants, including offshore providers such as Infosys and Wipro, ensuring the MPHRO marketplace will exist, continue to evolve and provide buyers with a wide range of competitive options.
A topical article in the June 2009 of HRO Today entitled, “In today’s changing market, who has the advantage: End-to end or point solution? Industry experts weigh in,” also sees room for both MPHRO and point solution options.
But exactly how is MPHRO changing and adapting today, and how does it plan to compete tomorrow? It is time to find out. My first major NelsonHall Market Analysis study, planned to be published in October, will be on MPHRO. The results will be very telling!
Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall