Craig Cohen thinks the HCM ecosystem has tremendous promise—and a data connectivity problem

April 20, 2022
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Finch advisor and former HCM (Human Capital Management) exec shares his opinions for the industry he helped shape over the last two decades.

The Finch advisor and former HCM (Human Capital Management) exec shares his wishes and predictions for the industry he helped shape over the last two decades.

Two years ago, Craig Cohen left his position as general manager at ADP Marketplace for the world of e-commerce. Despite the leap, he’s still very much invested in HCM, both as a financial backer and an impassioned thought leader. He’s also a valuable member of Finch’s advisory board, who has been instrumental in helping us identify our priorities.

We recently caught up with Craig to talk about the state of HCM, including a requisite pandemic analysis and the industry change he’d most like to see.

You left ADP for WooCommerce just before the pandemic hit. Looking back, where do you think HCM was headed and how did the pandemic affect that trajectory?

It was like an asteroid hit and pushed everything in another direction. I think the big focus before the pandemic was, how do I find the best people? What incentives and wellness programs can I offer? Then the world changed. People became entrepreneurs. They realized they can work from home and start their own businesses. I think that people also lost their attachment to their employer. They really started to ask, is this the right company for me?

What's happening now is that the HCM tech base has changed. It's become much more about, how do I evolve to support and keep my people that are amazing? What can I do to make sure that they're productive and successful in the world we live in? And the last piece of that is about providing connectedness. How do we build relationships when we're not in the office together? It’s a huge shift, and the HCM ecosystem is getting bigger as a result.

It sounds like HCM has stepped up to meet the challenge. In what areas, though, is there still room for improvement?

There’s a need to make systems talk together. You don't want a situation where a user has to log in to seven different accounts to enter the same piece of information. So, I think data and data communication is the number one thing.

Do you think the need for connectivity is a given at this point, or are there players that still need to be convinced?

I think the HR people within the organization get it, and I think that the data people in the organization get it. At the same time, the C-level is worried about the top and bottom line. They haven’t seen the benefit yet. So, I think that the HR and the data information people need to have a bigger seat at the table to talk about the Great Resignation and how to get the tools and data they need to create positive experiences for employees. I think leadership needs to better understand that there is a trickle down effect that happens when you have an employee who is not satisfied with their overall experience within the organization.

What will it take to get to a place of widespread acceptance?

It’s interesting, because single sign-on has been around for a while, and everybody appreciates the instant gratification of it. We need to arm HR teams with information that shows what that impact is to the organization. The more tools and resources we can give to them, the quicker change can happen.

As you look to the future of HCM tech, what do you see?

What's happening today is you have big HCM companies—the ones that everybody knows—that took their technology from premise based to cloud based. And as their APIs continue to evolve, it allows more fields and more information to be transmitted, which creates new use cases and new opportunities for growth. So, I think it's a combination of education, like I mentioned earlier, but I also think API technology transformation needs to happen to a certain degree—to allow for new use cases that people are looking for.

You’ve talked about API maturity in the past. Why should HCM stakeholders care about API maturity?

If you think of an API as a pipe with a lot of different cords going through it, then what I mean by API maturity is that someone is making that pipe, but they're only putting 20 cords in it, when it could be 45. And if you want to go in and build out those additional cords, there are implications at various points in the pipe. That's the reason people are scared to make a lot of changes to their APIs, because it could have a significant impact on employee records. You have to be really careful. It could break an area you don't even know about. It takes a lot of testing, there's security layers on top of it, and there's a lot of things that could happen illegally, too. The result is that you have smaller companies that are more willing to take the chance to do something innovative. Then you have enterprise companies that have been around for 50 or 60 years, and they're susceptible to lawsuits, so they're a lot less willing to take the risk that comes with change.

What excites you about HCM’s future?

I believe in the HCM ecosystem; that is my biggest passion. I truly believe that companies are going to go to one HCM company less and less. At one point, the stats showed that an enterprise company touches something like 80 different sources, a mid-market company touches 40, and a small business touches 13. I believe that is going to shift up, especially as you add in wellness apps. Small businesses will touch 20 to 30. Mid-market will go to 80. As that happens, you need the data to flow. Otherwise, you're going to have to hire more people—data pushers—in the HCM space. Something like 56% of HR's manual tasks can still be automated. I think that's where Finch comes in. How do I make everything work together seamlessly, safely, and securely?

What’s your wishlist for the HCM ecosystem?

I would love to see better reporting on the back end. I know there's Tableau and others, but every one of those companies has their own reporting. As you build the ecosystem, you've got to go to this one for a report, and you have to go to that one for a report. I really think that there ought to be one place where you can grab all that data and figure out the overall impact of benefits to your company—how it impacts your turnover and hiring.

Why do you think you developed such an affinity for HCM?

As a sales leader, I spend 50% of my time hiring, onboarding and training, and the other 50% of my time retaining, which is all about motivation, inspiration, leadership, and coaching. These things impact me every day, and the HCM space touches all of that.

Which begs the questions, why did you decide to go into e-commerce?

My career in HCM was about the employee experience and how it impacted people's everyday lives. I saw a correlation between that and my work now, which is about impacting the buyer's life. If I can create a great experience for a mom-and-pop shop, a mid-market shop, or even an enterprise shop to give a great customer experience, so that people aren’t always buying through Amazon, then I have succeeded.

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