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How one company sparked reinvention by trying to put itself out of business

Kronos, a global workforce management company, created an internal start-up to disrupt its business to ensure its future was as successful as its past. Here’s how.

Unlike companies such as Microsoft, Google, and IBM, Kronos is not a household name in the software industry. Yet our solutions are deployed by 35,000 organizations and used by more than 40 million people in over 100 countries every single day.

Founded in 1977, Kronos offered the first computerized time clock. Since then, it has grown into a global leader in workforce management solutions, delivering innovations around scheduling, time, and labor management—and yes, time clocks, among other areas—to help organizations solve complex workforce challenges.

However, a few years ago, CEO Aron Ain began to express concerns. We had eclipsed a billion dollars in revenue, had happy and engaged customers and employees, and continued to grow as we steadily transitioned our sizable on-premises user base to a single-tenant cloud environment. Yet Aron kept saying he was nervous.

Despite all the positives, Aron was thinking about the future. He was thinking about the possibility of an entrepreneurial startup breaking into the workforce management market and disrupting the very foundation Kronos was built upon. Kodak, Xerox, Blockbuster—almost cliché at this point, these examples are of longtime leaders in their respective fields that have either filed for bankruptcy or lost market share after failing to react to a perfect storm of business and technology trends.

After some period of deliberation, Aron and our leadership came to a decision: It was time to put Kronos out of business ourselves, before another company could do it to us. While this challenge afforded the opportunity to secure the future of Kronos for another 40 years, it was also reshaping the future of workforce management.

The billion-dollar startup: Project Falcon

While some facets of the project were clear from the start—we were focused on building a modern workforce management solution and would not veer off in a dramatic new direction—other aspects were much fuzzier.

How would we do it? What types of technology would we incorporate? Would we be able to deliver a richer product experience than before? To answer these questions, Kronos launched an internal start-up known as Project Falcon.

It was initially staffed with a small but diverse team. Some were experienced Kronites, while others were straight out of college. Some had deep enterprise software credentials, and others came from the consumer world. The team was built this way to ensure we did not build another typical Kronos solution—we wanted to develop something unique and innovative compared with our existing offerings.

We also parachuted this team into a no-frills, bare-bones environment. It was a small office space at a nondescript office park located about 20 miles from our corporate headquarters in Massachusetts. The project team did not even get their own phone lines—they relied on their cell phones. We wanted to replicate the entrepreneurial spirit that permeates most successful start-ups as best we could, with one key exception: This startup had the backing of the billion-dollar company they were tasked with disrupting. 

Four factors for the future

The success of Project Falcon was never guaranteed. While the team was tasked with putting Kronos out of business, it still had to deliver the framework for a new solution that would earn the confidence of Aron and our leadership team.

Over time, that framework began to come into focus. There were four key factors that we identified as incumbent to success.

First, we recognized the opportunity to incorporate new and emerging technologies into the solution to create capabilities that simply could not be achieved with tools available to the prior generation. This included artificial intelligence and machine learning, real-time analytics and data analysis, and the ability to deliver real-time information to users in the moment a key decision had to be made.

Second, we decided it was time to build a cloud-native platform from the ground up. Since Kronos last did a technology refresh, a whole world of resources had become available via the public cloud that would benefit our team and our customers with regard to delivery, DevOps, cloud scaling, performance, and cloud services.

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Next, we wanted to bring our decades of domain experience in the workforce management field into clearer focus. We wanted to think differently about ways our customers would want to manage schedules, collect time, monitor compliance, conduct reporting, and in general, engage with their employees. An entirely new domain model that challenged us to reimagine how we capture, manage, report, and calculate data was required.

Last, the ubiquity of mobile was going to continue to influence user preferences. Rather than tweak our existing look and feel, and then scale it down into a crisp mobile application, we redesigned our entire user experience to be optimized for mobile first and then scaled up with responsive design. This also required us to reimagine hundreds of processes, like asking for time off, to be achieved in just one or two clicks.

Moving to the public cloud

While it may seem obvious today, six or so years ago, when Project Falcon first launched, the public cloud was not the obvious destination. However, over time, many of our early concerns were mitigated and we recognized the benefits of the public cloud for both Kronos and our customers.

Public cloud removed Kronos from the business of having to procure hardware and manage servers. It allowed us to benefit from the continued investments made by our public cloud partner—right now, Google Cloud Platform—in security, infrastructure and other areas. We could scale more quickly and act in a more elastic manner, deploying a whole new stack in a matter of hours.

From there, we built up the rest of our cloud infrastructure, starting with IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS capabilities. We built shared services that could be used across customers and across tenants, including single sign-on and identity services. On top of that, we put in a cloud management infrastructure to manage across multiple tenants and at massive scale. And we built the whole monitoring and management infrastructure around that—how you provision tenants, manage tenants, report, license, and do entitlements.

At every layer of the stack, we wanted to redesign with the latest technology that would enable us to achieve positive business outcomes for the customer.

To help us move through our cloud implementation, we engaged with HPE Pointnext Services, at several stages. While our team had a clear vision of where we wanted our project to go, we needed an expert to validate some of our assumptions.

Early on, when we were exploring hosting options, the HPE team helped us define plans for the construction and ongoing optimization phases. The company served as a sounding board on customer experience issues, how to demonstrate continuous improvement, and how to increase gross margins. It created baselines early in our cloud journey—particularly in DevOps—and helped develop road maps for improvement.

Delivering the next generation of workforce management

Aron’s challenge to develop a solution that would put Kronos out of business ourselves started with a small team of around 25. Over the course of five years, it would grow to include more than 500 world-class engineers and product managers.

In addition to building an entirely new solution, Kronos spent that same five years reimagining every facet of our business—from professional services and customer support to finance, marketing, and everything in between—to make sure the organization was ready to support what is today known in the market as Workforce Dimensions.

Workforce Dimensions is the first next-generation workforce management solution of its kind. It offers a breakthrough employee experience and unprecedented levels of operational insight. Embedded analytics and personalized visualizations provide real-time visibility into compliance and employee well-being. Artificial intelligence and machine learning provide best-fit recommendations and guided decision-making. The technology infrastructure provides powerful platform extensibility, with open APIs to easily adapt to changing business needs.

We have struck key partnerships with tech leaders like Microsoft, Google, IBM, and SAP—all of which are using Workforce Dimensions in some capacity to dramatically change how people leverage technology at work.

It is not often you get to work on a project of this significance. For many people, it may happen just once in their career, if at all. This spring will mark the one-year anniversary of our first customer go-lives on Workforce Dimensions. We are proud that customer demand over the first full year on the market exceeded company goals by 50 percent. But while it may seem like we have reached the end of our journey, the truth of the matter is, the real work—migrating thousands of customers, implementing brand new customers, and continually innovating Workforce Dimensions to stay ahead of customer needs—is just beginning.

This article originally appeared in The Doppler, a publication by the Cloud Technology Partners team, and has been reposted here with permission. 

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.