Fall is officially here, and I couldn’t be more excited. Not only because I’m more into spooky witch girl autumn than hot girl summer… As an industry analyst and advisor, it’s when all the latest innovations come to market. And I’m literally a professional geek for this ish!
Kicking off the new season was ADP’s Analyst Day at their Innovation Labs in Chelsea, NYC.
They’ve held their analyst day here for years—choosing this location over their global HQ in Roseland, New Jersey to send a future-focused message to the analyst community: This isn’t the ADP of yore.
The message held especially true this year. While there were many familiar faces in the room, there were also a lot of new faces taking the stage—all part of the new leadership team Maria Black has built to execute her vision of ADP’s next chapter.
A Bold New Chapter for ADP
In her opening remarks, Maria shared her vision for growing “stronger, smarter, and with purpose,” specifically drilling in on three strategic priorities:
- Lead with Best-in-Class HCM Technology
- Provide Unmatched Expertise & Outsourcing
- Benefit ADP Clients with Global Scale
There’s a lot to unpack here, of course, but what really piqued my interest was Maria’s stated intention to “grow by listening.”
Solution providers in the HCM space—from the smallest startup to the biggest player in global payroll—frequently call out the importance of listening to their customers. If we learned anything from the rapid dominance of players like UKG and Workday over the last decade, it’s that HCM players can’t rest on their laurels—the problems you solved yesterday aren’t the same as the problems HR leaders and business executives face today… And ADP is taking this truth to heart.
Executing on these three initiatives, Maria identified several key audiences they’re listening to: Their clients (big and small), their partners (and coopetition), their expert associates, and their unparalleled datasets.
It’s a nice message—and an idea I fully support—but when you’re as big as ADP, listening is easier said than done. Hell, it’s hard to do even when you’re small! One key challenge is that a huge portion of any product and technology organization doesn’t organically interface with clients and partners on any regular basis.
For ADP, this specific challenge came up in a few of my conversations with the team who shared they would love to connect with customers more but lack established channels—and it’s something I raised directly with Maria during the executive Q&A.
While my heart was racing after asking because I am extremely non-confrontational, Maria took the question seriously, acknowledging that it’s easier said than done. “I appreciate you calling that out, and I’m not completely surprised,” she said in response. “But it’s a priority for us and we’re working hard ot make strides here.”
John Ayala, ADP COO, joined her in sharing some of the work they’re doing together to operationalize on this commitment. That joint investment of time and effort is already bearing fruit, and I see it playing out in a few ways.
ADP Puts the CHRO Customer in the Driver’s Seat—Literally
In a dynamic session on ADP’s approach to innovation, Sreeni Kutam, elevated from CHRO to President of Product & Innovation, struck a new tone with his willingness to acknowledge the monumental task ahead of him and his team. Setting the stage, he said, “We’re here to share what we think will make a difference for our clients. You’re here to check us—and together we’ll find the right solutions for the challenges we’re facing today.” Challenge accepted, Sreeni!
As former Customer Zero for ADP’s HCM and talent solutions, he knows better than most in the ADP customer ecosystem what’s possible—and what gets in the way of what’s possible. Leveraging that experience, he’s bringing new energy to the product teams.
First up on his agenda is simplifying the ADP product portfolio with a heavy emphasis on NextGen HCM, ADP’s strategic solution for up-market customers. As someone who has always struggled to navigate all of the different offerings in the ADP catalogue, this is a breath of fresh air—but it’s the why behind Sreeni’s decision here that really gets exciting:
By simplifying the product portfolio, ADP is better able to deliver cutting-edge innovations across all of their solutions.
“We want to move every single ADP product up in the value chain,” Sreeni said. Things like ADP Mobile, ADP DataCloud, ADP Marketplace can bring value to every ADP customer, regardless of the core solution they’re on—and ADP can bring powerful, edge-innovations to customers of any size and geo. “We can do this,” Sreeni said. “We have to do this for HR.”
And there are some really edgy innovations coming!
ADP Makes the Case for AI as a Core Offering
Jack Berkowitz, Chief Data Officer and product leader for ADP’s People Analytics, Benchmarking & Insights products, gave an incredible overview of ADP Assist—which leverages Gen AI to create a richer, deeper experience for employees, managers, and HR leaders alike. I’ve seen a LOT of Gen AI offerings this year, and I have to hand it to ADP: their approach and their ideas are deeply rooted in utility and longevity, not hype (though they are super hyped!).
The ADP Assist Framework orchestrates ecosystem of AI Assists and workflows across the entire ADP product portfolio (and eventually beyond, with their new OneIntegrations platform powered by their latest acquisition, Sora).
ADP Assist uses GenAI to power NLP-based actions and task automation to deliver BI that provides personalization, insights, and guidance. It’s supported by cross-system workflow automation across HR, Finance, and IT with use cases spanning a reporting assistant, policy summarization and interpretation, an ADP Payroll Inspector, and the ADP Skills Graph.
What Was Missing: You Can’t Have HCM without Talent
If the live offering works even half as well as the demo, I see ADP Assist powering deeper utilization of some of ADP’s deeper capabilities—capabilities that aren’t as easy for the layperson to leverage. Whereas much of the innovations in AI for HR has occurred at the edge of the vendor ecosystem, ADP’s approach to Gen AI makes a strong argument for why HR leaders—and their colleagues in IT—should be looking at AI as a core element of the future-proof HR tech stack.
It’s hard to put these kinds of summits together for a company as big—and product rich—as ADP. At the end of the day, you only have so much stage time. That said, I was sad to see the ADP Talent Solutions team didn’t make the cut this year.
My greatest takeaway from last year’s event was the powerful case Amy Ihlen’s team made for what they’ve termed “the connected talent experience.” There were several places in this year’s presentation where talent solutions were referenced—StandOut included in Sreeni’s vision of cross-portfolio innovation, twice as many roadmap items for talent solutions for both NextGen HCM and Workforce Now (including a new LMS!), as well as a compelling conversation with Dr. Nela Richardson, ADP Chief Economist and ESG Officer, on declines in employee sentiment and productivity.
As a former people leader and talent transformation agent, I have felt the pain of managing today’s workforce first-hand. And while it’s certainly important to have reliable, connected solutions for HCM and payroll, it was the talent processes (and gaps in talent solutions) that created the most significant hurdles for me in my work. ADP’s story for connected talent centered around enabling the hiring manager and embedding growth and performance conversations into the flow of work—capabilities I would have killed for.
I recently had the opportunity to get an updated product deep dive with Amy and her team this summer, and maybe I’m biased (I totally am lol) but I believe ADP has immense opportunity to compete with the other major HCM players in this corner of the space—and where they can also move the needle on Maria’s strategic priorities (both for offering Best-in-Class HCM and leveraging Unmatched Expertise through their network of talent experts).
All in all, I’ve got to say ADP set the bar high for the rest of the Fall 2023 conference season. Their vision is bold, their plans are big, and they have their work cut out for them. With new leadership at the helm and experienced executers at their backs, this marked a new and exciting chapter for ADP.