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Cornerstone OnDemand's unified suite delivers perks: an expert review

Ahmed Limam explains the importance of Cornerstone OnDemand's unified product line and speculates if the vendor will forge into core HR.

Cornerstone OnDemand is one of the few cloud vendors in the talent management software market to have developed...

its full offering internally, as opposed to via acquisitions. Having a fully integrated system is significant.

Since every vendor has its own approach to product development based on its proprietary technology, every product has its own data model. When a vendor acquires a product, it might create a unified front-end so that the home page for all users looks the same. But as soon as you really start using the platform, especially across functional areas, it becomes obvious that you are dealing with different products. If you change some data or objects in one component, the cross-module business process can break, and you will have to build it according to your own specifications. Cornerstone avoids this issue entirely.

Another differentiator is that Cornerstone issues only two releases per year, where competitors can have up to four. This approach allows organizations to come up for air between releases, rather than being constantly immersed in an upgrade. The "free" time allows customers to evaluate what has been done so far, what works and what doesn't, and adjust their software investment strategies as necessary.

The latest release came out in March and contains a lot of new things I like. First, the revamped user interface. It seems that every vendor under the sun is updating its user interface and Cornerstone has done so with a tidier look, mainly in grey and blue tones. It is a pity, however, that the vendor has yet to include the brilliant interface whose owner it became when it acquired Sonar6 a couple of years ago.

Another enhancement consolidates the disparate profiles in a Universal Profile. Previously, Cornerstone offered profiles in various parts of the talent suite (the result of a product that has grown in different directions catering to the needs of different users). Now users can find all of these views in one place.

In today's social and mobile era, it is hardly surprising that Cornerstone has embraced these two trends wholeheartedly. Particularly good is the social feedback that feeds into a 360-degree performance-review exercise.

Since no software product is perfect, there are a few things that need enhancing. One is the search box, which is a great way to circumvent the traditional tree-like navigation menu, but it's a headache at times. For instance, type in "Roberts" and the system displays a very long page filled with ROBERTS links. It would be more user-friendly to present a list of criteria next to the search box (employee, company, business process etc.), so that only the results I am interested in are returned.

Another useful enhancement in the performance module would be the bulk upload of offline performance review forms. Many users download the form (in spreadsheet format), fill it out and then upload it when they are online again. Fine for employees carrying out their review once a year, but for managers handling forms for a whole team, uploading the results one at a time is tedious.

The most recent module Cornerstone added was the last HR domain missing from its suite: Recruiting. While it covers many of the key features one would expect, it's missing onboarding functionality. It is expected that the next release will beef up this product.

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In terms of pricing, always a delicate issue, Cornerstone charges on a per-user per-year basis. The cost can be anything from $100 down to $20 or even $10 depending on the number of modules and employees and, most important, the competitive situation. Price-wise, there is only one rule that applies in the software world: There are no rules. To win a deal, a vendor might even give a module for free.

Finally, a last area worth mentioning is HR administration (aka core HR.) With talent vendors such as SuccessFactors developing core HR systems, one wonders why Cornerstone does not complete the full gamut of HR processes from hire to retire by doing this as well. Many of its customers could benefit from the value of deeper, native integration among all their HR processes. So far, Cornerstone is keeping mum on the topic but I suspect that competitive pressure could push the company in that direction.

About the author:
Based in Paris, Ahmed Limam's 20-year experience includes working as an HR practitioner and an administrator with the United Nations as well as a variety of positions with HR software vendors Oracle, Fidelity Investments' HR Access, Wipro and PeopleSoft. Since 2009, Ahmed has been running his own consulting business advising global companies on their HR systems. A popular blogger, adviser/consultant, influencer, lecturer and speaker, he is a strong believer in the dual role of human capital and technology in enhancing corporate performance. In 2010, Ahmed published a business novel set in the software world, High-Tech Planet. He can be reached at contact@AhmedLimam.com.

This was last published in May 2014

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