It’s a Pac-Man World in HRO – ACS Buys ExcellerateHRO from HP

Google celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Pac-Man, one of the most successful and long lasting video arcade games, by putting the game on its home page. Created by Namco in Japan, the license to Pac-Man was bought by Atari, the biggest name in early gaming. And Atari hit big time with Pac-Man, selling a then outstanding seven million games. Unfortunately, it manufactured twelve million copies of the game. Success in the early stages of an emerging market is not always the path to long term success.

ACS, a Xerox Company, just announced it is acquiring ExcellerateHRO (EHRO) from HP, ending the rampant industry speculations, including those from NelsonHall, on who might want EHRO.  Almost from the start there was conjecture that EHRO was not a strategic fit with HP, which maintains focus on computing and IT-related services. (Try finding any references to EHRO services on the HP website.)

EDS acquired EHRO for around $400 million. Now being sold for an estimated $125 million in cash, EHRO now joins Exult – which was purchased by Hewitt in 2004 – and Convergys – which is in the process of being acquired by NorthgateArinso for ~$85 million –  as early HRO providers chomped by industry consolidation. 

Exult flew the highest first, literally helping birth the comprehensive HRO industry. Exult rapidly won a large book of large clients in the first generation of lift and shift deals that took over management of clients’ HR processes in place of complex ERP and legacy systems. But once the exhilaration of creation and big deal fever passed, it turned out to be a hard way to make money. Hewitt quickly learned this after its acquisition of Exult. In fact, given the major money lost by the early players year after year, it is amazing that the game is still alive and being played by a stronger, albeit smaller, field of service providers.

A shakeout and consolidation is not unusual in the early stages of industry development, especially when tempting bargains are there to be found. Just as the HRO industry was finding its way through the maze to a new level of services fueled by newer technologies and lower cost service delivery networks, the worldwide recession gobbled up growth and cornered hard won margins, leading to the availability of several of the early leaders at discount prices.

The question was, who was hungry enough to bite? NorthgateArinso wanted into the U.S. market in a bigger way and it is snapping up Convergys to do so. ACS is also hungry in its own way. Already a first tier player, it wants to be even bigger in segments such as benefits administration.

ACS has already spent more than $20 million on upgrading and enhancing its services and platform for benefits, and has been on an aggressive campaign to win share in benefits administration. And what could be even more enhancing than a shiny new acquisition? With the support of Xerox and the addition of EHRO’s assets, ACS will be significantly increasing its market share in corporate relocation services and benefits administration, especially in pension administration and health and welfare outsourcing.

Pac-Man survives thirty years. Long live Pac-Man. Long live HRO.

Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall

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