Road Report: Key takeaways and reflections from UKG Aspire 2023
November 28th, 2023
Stacia Garr and I attended the UKG Aspire conference in Las Vegas from November 6-8, 2023. It was the biggest conference the company has ever hosted, with over 4,000 customers and 1,500 partners and analysts in attendance.
CEO Chris Todd opened with impressive growth figures: $4.3 billion in total revenue, $881 million in bookings, and 1,000+ new employees in Q4 2023. The two-day event was filled with insightful updates from the executive team, offering a valuable glimpse into the company's vision for the upcoming year. Below is the TL;DR for this event. You can also check out our road reports from the company’s analyst sessions in Spring 2023 and Fall 2022.
- A strong commitment to making companies great places to work. UKG acquired the Great Place To Work (GPTW) Institute in 2021 and has been working to integrate the capabilities into its technology and service offerings. This year, the company announced the availability of the GPTW Hub – a single unified place for UKG and GPTW data – in all of their products.
- Doubling down on user experience and community. The company highlighted its continued investments in simplifying its products, improving the user experience, and driving user experience by providing a single unified mobile application for its users, launching a benefits hub for employees, and providing connectors for users to build custom codes.
- Entering and expanding into new and adjacent markets. The company has moved up on the SMB front and is providing UKG Ready suite to companies with up to 500 employees. It also announced a new product, UKG One View for Global Pay, and a new partnership with Eightfold.ai.
A strong commitment to making companies great places to work
The keynote sessions and analyst sessions focused heavily on UKG’s purpose of helping organizations become great places to work for all through people-centric HR technology (Figure 1). There are 2 main ways UKG is trying to do that.
- GPTW Hub: The company announced the availability of the UKG Great Place to Work (GPTW) Hub to all UKG Pro customers. The Hub is GenAI-powered, and leverages UKG and GPTW data, including Trust Index benchmarks, best practices, and insights. It is able to offer insights into a company’s culture as well as identify areas that need to be improved and recommend specific actions and behaviors based on GPTW leadership model. The company plans to launch GPTW Hub for Ready in H1 2024.
Figure 1: A snapshot of UKG Great Place to Work Hub | Source: UKG 2023
- UKG Bryte: The company announced the launch of its AI assistant, called Bryte, as part of its UKG Pro suite. Bryte provides a unified solution for access to UKG Flex People Fabric, which is the underlying AI and machine learning that pull together insights and provides recommendations and nudges based on UKG and GPTW data, which itself is layered on top of Google’s Vertex large language model, which allows the technology to scale easily. The company envisions the technology being used for both task automation and operational improvement and overall talent and leadership development (Figure 2). Bryte will be available for UKG Ready customers in H1 2024.
Figure 2: A snapshot of UKG Bryte AI | Source: UKG 2023
The investment in GPTW hub area strongly aligns with UKG’s goal to develop better leaders and is the most comprehensive and clear messaging we have seen so far. While the company has been leveraging its GPTW product as a differentiator ever since its acquisition, the integration of the hub into UKG Pro and the brand is firmly established now.
It’s interesting to see how this has led to a slight shift in UKG’s messaging. While in 2022, the company identified its people-first suite as its leading differentiator, it now sees the one-of-a-kind data from its GPTW hub as the leading differentiator. Although their human-centric approach continues to be a value driver, the company is right in leading with something that truly sets them apart from other HCM providers. The integration of the GPTW hub into UKG Pro solidifies this position, emphasizing its unique data as a leading differentiator.
The description of how UKG plans to enable their customers to use AI technology represents some of the clearest thinking around usage that we have seen so far. The idea of using it not just for job descriptions and interview guides (which comprise most use cases currently) but also for leadership behavior nudges, career pathing, and frontline worker insights reflects that UKG is thinking more broadly about how to use AI to transform practices, not just make them more efficient. The challenge will be in not just getting companies to adopt the technology for these high business value and impact cases at scale but also in the right manner. A good way to do this would be for UKG to share their own learnings as they test and build these capabilities. Chris Todd shared that internally, the leadership is already encouraging UKG employees to use these capabilities to help them manage their workload, and as a result, avoid burnout.
Doubling down on user experience and community
The company has invested over $2 billion in customer experience over the last 3 years. There were several announcements that underscored the company’s commitment to unification, simplification, and an improved user experience:
- Unified mobile application: UKG announced a new mobile application for the Pro suite, which allows users to access all the information from the Workforce Management product and Pro HCM in one unified place. The application will provide a consistent experience to all users, regardless of whether they need to run payroll, manage schedules, or take any other HR action (Figure 3).
Figure 3: A snapshot of UKG's new mobile app | Source: UKG 2023
- Low-code/no-code premium connectors and templates. These are provided for mutual UKG Pro and Microsoft Power Platform customers. These connectors will make it easy and simple for users to create their own custom applications and configure workflows as per their needs.
- UKG Pro Benefits Hub. A new product that makes it easy for employees to access all the information regarding their benefits in one place (Figure 4). The product includes a comparison tool for employees and a feature that shows the impact of selected benefits on their income.
Figure 4: A snapshot of UKG Pro Benefits Hub | Source: UKG 2023
- Continued investment in the community portal. Launched in 2023, the community portal was an important addition for the company, especially since its biggest competitors (Workday and Ceridian) already had established community portals as part of their platforms. This year we saw that the community has grown into an active and valuable place used by over 2000 customers and partners to ask questions, share knowledge, and access classes and courses for free (Figure 5).
Figure 5: A snapshot of UKG's Community Portal | Source: UKG 2023
UKG has been on the simplification and unification journey for a while. It is the persistent focus that made the Ultimate and Kronos merger a success and turned UKG into its own brand. With the continued development of new products and acquisitions, the investments made in simplifying the experience for the user will be crucial in long-term adoption. The low-code/no-code connectors, in particular, can help expand usage among power users.
The unified mobile application will ensure accessibility and consistency for customers while low-code/no-code connectors will empower customization, and the Benefits Hub will simplify benefits management, collectively contributing to more efficient and user-friendly HR practices.
Entering and expanding into new and adjacent markets
A couple of announcements highlighted this.
- Expansion of UKG Ready into smaller markets. During the Spring event, UKG announced the official availability of UKG Ready product for clients of up to 500 employees (it used to target customers with only 250 employees). The product is now directly sold to companies with 75-500 employees. For companies with less than 75 employees, the product is available via resellers and partners (Figure 6). To push further into the small-sized market (SMB), the company has changed its marketing strategy for the product to go directly after the market and has hired over 100 sales representatives to drive its efforts.
Figure 6: An overview of UKG suites | Source: UKG 2023
- Multinational payroll via UKG One View. The company announced the launch of a new product, UKG One View for Global Pay. The product is the outcome of the Immedis acquisition earlier this year and provides a unified view of a company’s payroll across the globe. Through UKG One View, HR can run payroll anywhere in the world in any currency and continue working with their preferred payroll provider through the product, thus helping the company expand its customer base across the globe. The product is currently available to UKG Pro customers and will be made available to UKG Ready customers in mid-2024.
Figure 7: A snapshot of UKG One View | Source: UKG 2023
- Partnerships. The company announced the integration of UKG Pro suite with Eightfold.ai, a skills-based talent acquisition vendor (Figure 8). The partnership will allow data from UKG Pro to flow into Eightfold.ai and allow customers to hire high-performing talent from a wider talent pool based on their needs. UKG also announced a partnership with PayPal which will allow customers to create PayPal account from within UKG HCM and receive their anticipated salary two days in advance.
Figure 8: A snapshot of UKG's partnership with Eightfold | Source: UKG 2023
The fall conference season firmly established the trend that we had long seen coming – multiple partnerships between HR tech vendors. UKG’s partnership with Eightfold.ai will be useful for customers interested in skills-based hiring.
The UKG One View product is also a smart move as it will help massively ease the multi-country payroll experience for HR leaders. We think it will be particularly beneficial for smaller companies with lean HR teams and global offices dealing with different payroll providers.
Overall, these developments collectively position UKG as a vendor focused on expanding its market reach by simplifying global payroll processes and forming strategic partnerships to enhance talent acquisition and financial services for its clients. They should lead to a more comprehensive and globally accessible suite of HR and workforce management solutions for a diverse range of businesses.
Overall, it was a very informative and well-designed conference. We greatly appreciated the opportunity to spend 2 days with UKG’s leadership and ask them questions about their challenges, vision, and product future. UKG has made significant investments in its HCM suites over the last few years. We are excited to see the company continue to innovate and look forward to particularly hearing more about how it will leverage GenAI for the benefit of its customers in the new year.