At the 30,000 foot level, Visier is getting into the skills tech space because it wants to combine skills data with the other employee-specific data it collects and analyzes for customers. This will allow Visier to provide skills benchmarking and greater levels of insight into what is happening with individuals within the organization.
This event is notable because it marks the first acquisition of a skills mapping technology (a nascent space) by another people analytics tech vendor. It speaks both to the broad importance of skills in our space and to Visier's specific strategy. This blog will cover both.
In case you've been living under a rock (it's ok, I do, too – after all, I still haven't seen Ted Lasso), you may wonder why skills are such a hot topic these days.
The reason is that skills allow organizations to quantify work more granularly and thus be able to do things like:
- Better determine the skills needed for specific roles and better gauge the qualifications of an individual to fill those roles
- Identify transferable skills across roles and organizations – making mobility more than a pipe dream and a solution to the many talent shortages organizations face.
- Rethink roles by determining which skills could be combined to create new or eliminate old roles.
- Create more flexibility and mobility – in traditional roles (moving from one role to another) and things like talent or opportunity marketplaces and gig work.
This list isn't everything skills can do, but it shows how a skills mindset can change how organizations function and work gets done. The promise of skills is creating great enthusiasm in our space right now.
Yet, skills is hard…
However, it turns out that once you dig into the whole skills topic, you find it is actually quite hard to:
- Identify all the skills of employees in your organization
- Organize the skills in a way that is flexible and continues to take into account new skills continuously
- Align skills to existing capabilities and jobs
- Integrate skills into existing talent practices and tech systems
- Do this for all of the organization
- Get everyone to use them
Hence, we’ve seen the rise of skills mapping vendors, such as Boostrs, Janzz, and TechWolf, which are designed to help with items 1-4 in the list above. (If you want more info on the skills tech market, you can read all about it in our recent report, available to members or via a free 7-day trial).
Why did Visier buy a skills mapping vendor?
Visier is what we call a “multi-source analysis platform” (MSAP). This means it connects data from existing HR (e.g., HRIS, LMS / LXP, TM) and other operational (e.g., sales or customer data) systems. It then enables robust analysis and distribution of those data. (If you need more background on Visier, you can get it from our blog on their last acquisition.)
So why did Visier buy a skills mapping vendor? There are a few reasons:
- Visier needed some sort of skills solution. Given the “hotness” of skills outlined above, pretty much everyone needs to be able to demonstrate how their solution supports skills. This is even the case in the people analytics tech space, where our bread and butter is analyzing people data that matters – and that is exactly what skills data are. Visier lacked a dedicated skills capability to date, and this acquisition gives them foundational skills infrastructure from which to build.
- Visier needed people who KNOW how to do skills. As mentioned above, skills work is hard: the tech is cutting edge, the devil really is in the details, the underlying graph technology is complicated, and HR use cases / applications aren't quite as easy to implement as you might hope. It takes time to find people and build tech that can do this. However, the market is moving really fast on this topic. It is far more efficient for Visier to buy this capability than build or borrow it.
- Visier wanted its own skills framework. There are so many skills ontologies and taxonomies out there right now that it will make your heads spin. At some point, though, we predict it will settle down, and folks will begin to adopt each others' frameworks, resulting in just 3-5 big ones. As a vendor, you want others to adopt your skills framework, as that means you can structure the data and approach in a way that is best suited to your technology. By buying a skills mapping vendor, Visier gets into this race – and as one of the largest MSAPs, they have a good chance of getting their approach to be one of the few that is widely adopted in 5-10 years’ time.
What is Boostrs?
Founded in 2017, Boostrs is an API-first technology that can extract any type of free or unstructured text from any type of document (e.g., Microsoft Word, PDF), such as training content / course descriptions, job offers / descriptions, titles, or resumes. The primary use cases for its technology to date have been skills mapping, matching, and job insights.
- Mapping: They have a skills repository of over 5,000 jobs and 13,000 skills, normalized across specialties, and includes complete job details (such as alternative job titles, and job and skill descriptions). They also have historically enabled customers to convert text content into normalized skills and categories automatically.
- Matching: They can match users with job opportunities based on skills, identify skills gaps, and identify appropriate learning paths.
- Job insights: They can share information on the evolution of jobs within a given organization (e.g., which ones are getting more automated), determine jobs that are harder to hire for, and determine which jobs are emerging in an organization.
To date, the technology has been focused on using skills to help with:
- Learning: Creating accurate and customized learning paths
- Recruitment: Matching candidates and job opportunities, pre-screening candidates, and generating candidate-shortlists
- HRMS: Integrating standardized job families and relevant skills data to improve data quality and insight
Why did Visier buy Boostrs?
From the press-release, Visier states the following:
“The Boostrs technology enables Visier to provide broader and deeper insights and benchmarks for skills across the talent lifecycle, including key areas in:
- Recruiting & Retention: Recruit for skills that lead to quality hires, and retain those hires through custom career and learning paths through a focused internal talent mobility strategy.
- Learning and Development: L&D programs designed to upskill and reskill, with succession planning and promotion readiness.
- Compensation: Clear benchmarks for skills and job level compensation, extending beyond job titles and offering clearer insights into skills based compensation planning.”
Yes, yes, but why, specifically, Boostrs?
This is all well and good, but it is worth asking why specifically Boostrs, versus some other skills mapping vendor? Here’s why we think they did it:
- Skills data are sensitive and buying a European provider is a good idea. Skills data encapsulate a person's current skills and future hopes (if you are capturing the skills they want to develop). And so, it is sensitive data, subject to scrutiny. Vendors need to be aware of all the data-protection limitations (yes, GDPR, but also the new California Privacy Rights Act, which goes into effect in January). As a European vendor, Boostrs is well-versed in this dance of data and privacy and will likely help Visier navigate this situation.
- More European presence can help bolster Visier’s expansion efforts. Visier has grown quickly over the last few years. It currently has a London sales-focused office and a Berlin-based development office. The acquisition of the Boostrs team (10 engineering and data scientist employees) in Paris will give them another toe-hold in Europe. Given that Visier’s biggest European competitor, Crunchr, is now pushing into the US, it seems appropriate that Visier push more into Europe.
- API-first, HR tech-integration-focused vendor. Boostrs is an API-first vendor, meaning it has no front-end for users. It also has seen other HR vendors as primary customers for a long time. Therefore, it is a perfect solution to buy and “tuck-in” to Visier’s existing data capture, mapping, and analysis capabilities. It’s important to note that the solution will no longer be sold independently, so it will only be available via Visier.
What concerns us?
As always, this all sounds super rosy on paper, but we always have to think about the concerns with an acquisition. Here’s what we’re thinking at the moment:
- The Boostrs skills repository isn’t that big. According to its website, the Boostrs’ skills repository has 5,000 job titles and 13,000 skills. When we compare that to other skills repositories at other vendors, it is obvious that this is far smaller than many others. Now, quantity does NOT mean quality – so it is important to avoid over-indexing on this point. However, it is still worth noting, as it implies that Visier will have a lot of work to build up significant skills benchmarking capability, which is one of its primary goals.
- The technology focuses on documents, not systems. We understand that Boostrs can imbibe information from any document (e.g., Word doc or PDF), but not go into existing systems (e.g, HRIS, CRM) and extrapolate or infer skills from those locations. This significantly limits the number of sources from which one can identify skills data. It also means that Boostrs isn’t doing anything to really identify proficiency levels, which will become increasingly important. It may be that Visier already has tech that can (or can be configured to) gather this information (maybe from its Yva.ai acquisition?), but this seems like a limitation Visier will have to overcome.
- Data privacy and ethics. It wouldn’t be a RedThread blog about a people analytics tech acquisition if we didn’t write about the importance of data privacy and ethics. As vendors bring together more and more data about people, it is critical that leaders make compassionate, thoughtful, ethical decisions about how those data are used. While people analytics leaders in companies may be the critical gatekeepers on these decisions, we very strongly believe vendors have an important role to play in setting norms and making design decisions about how these data will be used. Visier will continue to have an important role to play here.
Where might Visier go with this next?
We foresee a few places where Visier might go next after this acquisition (and the one of Yva.ai, earlier this year). These include:
- Labor Market Intelligence (LMI). LMI (existing players = Lightcast, Talent Neuron, etc.) is generally used to understand specific changes in the labor market, such as where within Texas there are concentrations of software developers and their annual compensation, that feeds talent acquisition and strategic workforce planning decisions. However, we are starting to see LMI be inserted into other talent management decisions, such as to inform decisions around investing in developing talent vs. trying to bring in new talent from the open market and compensation adjustments based on skills in the market. Given the breadth of information Visier will now have on employees, we could see it expanding more into LMI benchmarking in the future.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS).According to Microsoft, PaaS “is a complete development and deployment environment in the cloud, with resources that enable you to deliver everything from simple cloud-based apps to sophisticated, cloud-enabled enterprise applications. You purchase the resources you need from a cloud service provider on a pay-as-you-go basis and access them over a secure Internet connection.” With its increasingly large benchmarking data set – now to include skills – we could see Visier moving in more of a PaaS direction to make a lot of these data available to a broader set of customers. It’s worth noting that Visier has some of this capability today, but a PaaS play would be a more significant offering.
Visier clearly needed a skills-focused solution, and this acquisition gives them that and opens up some additional doors to more sophisticated benchmarking in the future. It also removes some potential technical headaches of leveraging someone else's skills ontology or taxonomy as their foundational skills framework. We have a few concerns about the technology itself, but those may be mostly related to its maturity, which will now evolve substantially. We see this as a solid strategic move and look forward to continuing to learn more.
P.S. If you care about skills, we have a lot of resources on them (below). We will also publish a new report on designing a skills strategy in the next few weeks. You can check out our existing resources below:
- Can Skills Run the World of Work?
- Skills Tech: A Market on the Rise
- Skills vs. Competencies: What’s the difference?
- Creating a DEIB Culture: The Skills Every Employee Needs
- Workplace Stories Podcast: The Skills Obsession, The Skills Odyssey and The Skills Odyssey II