Former Business Objects CEO tackles workforce analytics

October 21, 2015, 11:00 AM UTC
John Schwarz, Chief Executive Officer Business Objects, an SAP company on July 31, 2008.
John Schwarz, Chief Executive Officer Business Objects, an SAP company on July 31, 2008.
Wolfram Scheible / SAP AG

Pretty much every well-known player in cloud human resources software—from Workday to Cornerstone OnDemand to SuccessFactors—is investing in analytics technology. The idea is to help businesses track everything from employee retention trends to the best geographic locations for a recruitment campaign.

The idea is sound—provided, of course, that your team uses human capital management systems sold by those companies. But what if your company simply wants to know more about employees without investing in an entire suite of new HR applications?

Upstart Visier, co-founded by former Business Objects CEO John Schwarz and backed by slightly less than $50 million in funding, concentrates on generating similar insights by pulling data from existing business applications and databases. Its platform provides the “answers” to more than 300 common workforce questions.

The twist is that companies don’t need to spend months creating a special data warehouse. That has typically been a requirement of business intelligence projects—and it’s one reason many of them historically have failed to deliver value for the companies behind them. In contrast, Visier can get new customers up and running reports using its pre-built performance dashboards within four to eight weeks, Schwarz said.

“Most companies don’t know how much people cost, who is leaving, they have no idea how to plan successions—this is really an underserved community, one that sits on an expensive and volatile asset,” he told Fortune.

Visier’s approach has so far been embraced by more than 60 “enterprise-class” customers, including the likes of insurer Chubb, good company Con-Agra, energy services provider Exelon, and hospitality business Hyatt.

One account, Internet search firm Yahoo, projects that it will save up to $2.5 million over the next years by using Visier’s software. That amount includes both labor (it now takes far fewer people to produce recruiting, diversity, salary, and retention metrics) and software services (the company previously relied on a data warehouse and custom development resources to produce this information). That accounts only for the actual expenses associated with the technology and not for any costs that might be saved by decreasing employee attrition or recruiting more effectively.

“We can be much more nimble, more data-driven,” said Scott Judd, global head of people and data insights for Yahoo. “We have reports available that we didn’t have before. What’s more, we can send them to a much larger number of relevant employees.”

(You can download a 20-plus-page case study by Forrester Research about the Yahoo engagement. Registration required.)

What does all this cost? Visier’s subscriptions are spread across three years, ranging from $100,000 on the low end to $1 million plus for large accounts. According to the Forrester case study, Yahoo paid roughly $730,000 software and services fees, recouping its investment in under two months.

Its main focus initially was reducing “regrettable attrition” by identifying lapses in productivity or geographic turnover. Broadly speaking HR managers can also evaluate metrics involving promotions, hiring, gender and ethnic diversity, and age.

Visier currently employs about 140 people split between offices in Vancouver and San Jose, Calif. Over time, it intends to apply its analytics to other business processes. “While we have picked human resources as our first domain, it’s not the only thing we are going to do,” Schwarz said. “Our intent is to populate as many functions as we can.”

As the CEO of Business Objects, Schwarz built the business intelligence company to $1.5 billion in revenue before it was sold to SAP. He also held senior positions at IBM and Symantec.

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