Last week I attended the UKG Aspire conference in Las Vegas. It was the first unified conference for the customers of Kronos and Ultimate Software since the merger of the two companies in April 2020. It was attended by about 5,000 people in-person and 2,000 online. Overall, it was a great experience and an opportunity to listen to the executive team about the new updates and their vision for the following year.
Below are my takeaways from the major announcements and themes from the conference. I also published a quick wrap-up video that you can check out here.
- A unified vision of putting people first. Two years after the merger of Kronos and Ultimate software, UKG presented a strong and unified vision focused on being people-first, including its customers and employees.
- Increased simplification and better user experience. UKG has made significant investments in simplifying its products, improving the user experience, and driving employee experience.
- Increased focus on DEIB. The company launched new analytics tools to help customers drive their DEIB performance.
- Greater attention to community and connection building. Retention is a major challenge faced by UKG’s customers, and the company is investing in building products that can help build connection, collaboration, and belonging.
A unified vision
As a unified company, UKG now has over 15,000 employees (or U Krewers as they are called) across the Americas, APAC, and EMEA. Forty percent of U Krewers have joined the company since the announcement of the merger. New CEO, Chris Todd, shared UKG’s goal of growing its revenue to $5 billion and cash operating earnings to $1.5 billion by FY 2025.
Having implemented the merger the vision that UKG is focused on now is helping their customers become the employer of choice in current times by focusing on 5 priorities in 2023 (Figure 1).
Figure 1: UKG’s 2023 priorities | Source: UKG 2022
Talking about the product, the Chief Product and Technology Officer, Hugo Sarrazin, shared what they believe are the product differentiators, which includes helping customers work towards becoming Great Place to Work Certified given UKG’s acquisition of Great Place to Work (GPTW) in 2021 (Figure 2).
Figure 2: UKG’s differentiators | Source: UKG 2022
The company’s vision is to become a people-first HCM solution provider and solve customer challenges through its 2 HCM solutions, UKG Pro (previously Ultimate Software UltiPro) and UKG Ready (previously Kronos Workforce Ready). Twenty five percent of the features on the 2023 roadmap for the UKG Pro product and 21% of the features for UKG Ready have come from its Customer Ideas portal.
The merger between Kronos and Ultimate Software appears to be a success. I spoke to a few employees about it and their experience, and they mentioned how UKG’s culture around and focus on putting people first has helped ensure a very smooth transition. The company seems clear on its purpose of being a people-first company. Still, with so many vendors putting out similar messages, it will be interesting to see how UKG truly sets itself apart.
The one true differentiator for UKG is the addition of the GPTW offering. We would have loved to hear from current customers of both UKG and GPTW on how UKG’s HCM platform has helped them improve their overall GPTW ranking and their DEIB performance over time.
Increased simplification and better user experience
Four announcements underscored the company’s commitment to simplification and an improved user experience:
- Retiring products. UKG will retire some of its older products and technologies over the next few years, especially those currently on-premise, to transition to a complete SaaS product to better support its customers (Figure 3).
Figure 3: UKG’s timeline for retiring products | UKG 2022
- One mobile application. The company will converge the existing mobile applications for different products into one single application, providing users with a single point of access to all the different products and tools
- Customer community. UKG will launch a customer community of over 140,000 users by bringing them together on the platform and allowing them to share information and best practices and learn from each other. The community will be live over the next few months.
- New technology. The company will launch UKG FleX, a new technology platform that is comprised of 3 components (Figure 4):
- FleX Fabric: Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), this feature will allow customers to receive insights, recommendations, nudges, and reminders both within UKG as well as their work tools. UKG shared an example of how this technology will be used in another one of their new products, Career Designer, to provide employees with prescriptive and individualized suggestions for relevant learning opportunities to drive growth and development.
- FleX Flow: This API framework will allow users to connect UKG solutions with other existing solutions easily. The leaders shared examples of how the framework can integrate UKG Dimensions within Uber and Microsoft to enable users to manage and fill open shifts with minimal disruptions quickly.
- FleX Dev: This component provides users with “low-code and no-code” capabilities which means that users and third parties can easily customize and build additional tools and applications. UKG leaders believe this will allow the developer community and power users to engage with the product more easily.
Figure 4: UKG FleX | Source: UKG 2022
UKG has made wise investments in the underlying technology to help their customers with a better user experience through integrations and AI, making it easier for the community to automate work processes easily, and build applications to augment the UKG product. The partnerships UKG has built with Uber, Microsoft, Google, and ServiceNow are smart investments that will enable better user and employee experience for the customers already using these products.
The community portal is an important addition for the company, especially since their biggest competitors (Workday and Ceridian) already have established community portals as part of their platforms. We would be interested to see how active and useful the community turns out to be for the customers in the near future.
Increased focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging
UKG acquired GPTW in September 2021. During the conference, the company unveiled its new “Great Place To Work Hub” product as part of the UKG Pro HCM suite. The product will allow users to bring their Trust Index survey data from GPTW, which includes employee sentiment data, into UKG Pro and combine it with their HCM data to better analyze and understand their performance on DEIB (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Overview of UKG’s Great Place to Work Hub | Source: UKG 2022
In addition to helping users surface crucial insights, it will also provide actions and recommendations within the dashboard and guide users on the next steps. The suggested actions are based on GPTW thought leadership, customer experiences, and best practices and the customers' overall goals.
The overall dashboard will also allow users to understand their performance in areas such as promotion and attrition rates through a DEI lens by slicing and dicing their HCM data. The recommended actions, however, are limited to GPTW data.
The Hub will also allow users to access all of their GPTW notifications from the UKG Pro inbox (Figure 6). The product will be generally available in the second half of 2023 as part of UKG Pro suite.
Figure 6: UKG’s Pro Inbox | Source: UKG 2022
This was one of the most important announcements and investments that UKG has made over the past year. By bringing GPTW sentiment data into UKG Pro, the company will be able to set itself apart from other HCM solutions that lack the wealth of data for benchmarking and comparison that UKG can leverage from GPTW. While ADP and Workday have invested significantly in their DEIB analytics capabilities in the recent past, the addition of GPTW recommendations and actions to help companies become GPTW certified as part of the product will be a strong differentiator for UKG.
It will be interesting to see how the customers that leverage these capabilities fare in their GPTW rankings over time. Additionally, if the future iterations of the product allow customers to bring in data from other HCM solutions into the GPTW Hub (as indicated by UKG), it will make DEIB analytics much easier for the customers.
UKG mentioned that intersectionality data (to identify inequality within and between groups of people based on multiple facets of an individual's identity) and providing actions and recommendations on the HCM data, will be considered for future iterations. While the investment is applaudable, UKG will need to move fast and take on a greater role in educating their customers on moving beyond simple data consumption.
Greater attention to connection building
A major theme during the conference was the role that UKG can play in helping their customers build connection and relationships in a hybrid work world. The recent acquisitions and product launches by the company are a reflection of that.
UKG acquired SpotCues, a mobile communications platform, in early 2022. The technology is folded into its new product, Talk, which is a social media tool that can help customers facilitate engagement, connection, and belonging across the organization. The product also helps customers build a sense of community by enabling employees to come together in groups, ask questions, share knowledge, and collaborate based on their shared interests (Figure 7). The product is live and available as part of UKG Pro.
Figure 7: Overview of UKG’s Talk Product | Source UKG 2022
Another new product launched by the company to help managers understand their teams better and drive engagement is the “Team Pulse” product which will be available in 2023. The pulse survey will enable leaders to find insights into their team’s engagement levels and if they are feeling connected with each other (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Overview of UKG’s Team Pulse product | Source: UKG 2022
The focus on connection building is a smart move for UKG. The communications tool and pulse survey capabilities are critical additions to its HCM suite. Not only will these tools help drive employee engagement and connection, but will also allow customers to understand the impact of their DEIB initiatives. It will be interesting to see the different ways customers leverage these tools to drive their DEIB goals.
How well UKG can help customers make the most of these tools remains to be seen. For example, with UKG Talk, a potential concern could be that a lack of moderation of activity feeds, comments and questions posted by employees could result in disengagement and disconnection among people. UKG will need to educate and set best practices for customers to use these tools effectively.
Overall, it was a very informative and well-designed conference. We greatly appreciated the opportunity to spend 2 days with the leadership and ask them questions about their challenges, vision, and product future. UKG has made significant investments in its HCM suite, user experience, and employee experience over the last few years. We are excited to see the company continue to innovate and look forward to hearing more about its work on DEIB analytics and connection building.