Fast or Slow for HRO?

The economic signals for the second half of 2011 remain mixed. Looking at the macro markets combined with global debt situations and unemployment rates, it looks like we are on the edge again. The long struggle to reaching agreement on raising the U.S. debt ceiling rattled nerves around the world.

Alternately, if we look at the NelsonHall HRO Confidence Index for Q2 2011, we see that service provider’s confidence level is 168, near the all time high of 170. Supplier expectations for 2011 for most industry sectors have improved with banking remaining the strongest followed by high-tech and telecoms, with the state and local government sector also up. Expectations are a bit lower for automotive, professional services, and transportation. Geographic growth expectations continue to be positive in emerging markets and have strengthened in the mature markets like the U.S. and some areas of Europe.

HRO vendors see what is happening in the larger economy, they know there is a chance of a double-dip recession or at least several more sideways quarters. At the same time, strength in new sales and expanded scope with existing clients along with still strong pipelines provides them with a more optimistic view. Let’s hope they are right!

ADP echoed this divergent view on its FY 2011 earnings call. It is well aware of the current economic conditions, including a still possible downgrade in the U.S. credit rating. ADP’s FY2012 forecast calls for continued growth based on its strong performance in FY2011, with Employer Services (ES) up 8% to $6.9bn, and a better-than-ever pipeline. It is also benefiting from recent acquisitions and new service innovations that have broadened and refreshed its service lines, especially adding more beyond payroll options in Europe. While payroll continues to be the largest service line for ADP at 66% of ES revenues, 33% is now from beyond payroll services including full HR BPO. In the pipeline, it is now an almost even split: 52% payroll, 48% beyond payroll.

As seen during the recession, HRO can be hit hard and fast in a full-fledged downturn. So, how can a HRO provider like ADP defy the larger economic outlook now? ADP was willing to take a small hit to operating margins to hire and train several hundred sales and service people ahead of the upturn. It was able to affordably acquire added capabilities to round out service lines and invest in new services that have been successful right out of the box, including Workforce Now and Run, which currently has over 120k clients in the small market on its cloud platform using self-service and Smartphone access. At the same time, ADP retains focus on client satisfaction and retention to stabilize recurring revenues.

In a recovery, even a weak one like we are experiencing, a well-prepared HRO vendor can beat the odds. Is your HRO provider one that is beating the odds?

Linda Merritt, Research Analyst, HRO, NelsonHall

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