Betting on software-as-a-service

Vedior North America isn't just dabbling with software delivered as a service. It's betting the farm on the model. The $US1 billion company is in the process of implementing Bullhorn's hosted staffing and recruiting software across its myriad business units.

Staffing and recruiting are not ancillary activities for Vedior they are the company's business: Vedior provides temporary and permanent placement services across a broad range of sectors. Anyone, from a traveling doctor or security guard to a mushroom picker or forklift operator, might find a job through one of Vedior's 280 offices.

Entrusting such a mission-critical system to an outside vendor wasn't an easy decision for CIO Peter Ross -- nor was it one without risk. "We need a very good sales and recruiting organization. That activity is critical," Ross says. "We mess up the candidates, or we mess up the clients -- we're dead."

One reason Vedior chose a hosted solution is the consistency it provides. As employees sign contracts, screen candidates and fill job orders, having a single staffing and recruiting platform gives the company centralized access to performance metrics in near real time. This information would have been filtered to management eventually, but now divisional and branch managers can see instantly what's going on in their businesses, Ross says.

In addition, individual operating units don't have to dedicate IT resources to upgrade applications each time a new feature is required. Bullhorn's hosted software combines e-mail, calendaring, applicant tracking, CRM and job management features, and provides Vedior recruiters a front-end interface to communicate in real time with clients, job candidates and colleagues.

"A lot of this activity really doesn't generate any revenue unless [it] lands in a deal," Ross says. So the more the software can compress the time it takes for candidates to apply, clients to place job orders, and recruiters to match up candidates and clients, the better.

With so many divisions to satisfy, choosing software came down to finding a vendor that understood the staffing world.

A key part of completing the deal was crafting a service-level agreement (SLA). More significant than ironing out precise metrics, however, was the opportunity the process gave Vedior to confirm that Bullhorn understood what Vedior needed -- for example, guaranteed uptime, not only during traditional business hours but also after hours, when recruiters have the best chance of catching up with candidates.

That business insight is critical. Unless it's certain a service provider understands a company's expectations, don't do a deal, Ross recommends. "If you have any hesitation that they don't get what you do, then don't do it. You'll get stuck."

While some might consider it too big a risk to depend on a third party to secure and maintain a mission-critical system, Ross feels confident in his decision. "I actually believe I've reduced my exposure by using software-as-a-service," he says. "But I did put a lot of eggs in one basket."

Vedior considered keeping its staffing and recruiting systems in-house, but too many IT staff in its different divisions were duplicating each other's development efforts. Now internal IT staff focus on revenue-generating activities and let the service provider focus on hardware, performance and network connectivity, Ross says.

Surprisingly absent from Ross' reasons for choosing Bullhorn is cost. Software-as-a-service is usually priced per user, and there's a perception its cost of entry is low and requires minimal capital investment. However, the software isn't cheap, particularly for Vedior business units that already have in-house applications for staffing and recruiting.

"It's costing me more than what I spent before," he says. "But because I'm handing off those things that are less profit-enhancing and don't make us more valuable to our customers, we can spend more time on smarter things."

The benefits of the Bullhorn system are just starting to become apparent among the divisions to adopt Bullhorn early. These include ATS Reliance, Clinical One, Global Managed Services, Placement Pros and Sapphire Technologies. So far, nearly 500 users in seven divisions use the Bullhorn software, and Ross plans to add as many as 300 more users as rollouts continue. "I knew it would invent time for us. I knew it was going to compress the work cycle down massively, which it has," Ross says.

One way Bullhorn has made staff more efficient is by providing in one place data that wasn't previously available. In the past, only a recruiter knew the life cycle of a particular job candidate, for example. "With a product like Bullhorn, I can find out what's happened from when we first made contact with a candidate," Ross says. Bullhorn stores all the data -- such as e-mail correspondence, resume submittals, interview schedules and, eventually, telephone logs.

The system has helped Vedior win deals, too. If a large deal comes in, Bullhorn automatically distributes job orders to recruiters across the country. Location information, required qualifications and contract requirements are dispersed automatically to all the parties. "All the recruiters have to do is start pumping people against it," Ross says.

That efficiency lets divisions bid on low-margin deals they might have avoided in the past. "Without the right technology, you can't even think about entertaining those job orders," Ross says.

Ross also appreciates that Bullhorn stays on top of issues, such as regulatory and legislative initiatives, that affect the staffing world. "The fact there is a group of people who have been chartered to eat, sleep and drink a task is very valuable," he says.

Precautions for software-as-a-service

When Vedior North America decided to deploy a hosted mission-critical application, uptime and service-level agreements (SLA) were CIO Peter Ross's chief concerns. Bullhorn's hosted staffing and recruiting software are key to the placement firm Vedior's livelihood.

Vedior and Bullhorn negotiated an SLA covering response times for incidents of varying severity. "As an IS organization, we have our own vocabulary and our own metrics. We needed to make sure the SLA we're working with meshed with our escalation metrics here," Ross says.

Ross also had to ensure his SLA with Bullhorn aligned with the SLAs his unit maintains internally with Vedior divisions. "Within our own business, depending on certain types of outages or service interruptions, there are SLAs that require us to get back to our users in a certain amount of time. If our SLA calls for a one-hour response for certain types of outages, we made [Bullhorn's] response time a half-hour."

The SLA isn't the only mechanism in place to protect Vedior. Ross is assembling an operational version of Bullhorn's software in-house to cover the company in the event of a major event, such as a fiber cut or regional disaster. As data hits the Bullhorn application (, it will be copied to Ross's replica, which will run in Vedior's disaster-recovery site.

If the Bullhorn service is lost, "I don't have enough time to go buy the equipment and get it up and running. Three-quarters of my [company] would be out of business. So I'm creating a replica, a running version of it. It's not synchronized in real time, but it's close enough," Ross says.

In addition, a software escrow agreement is in place that ensures Vedior can obtain a copy of its source code if something happens to Bullhorn's business, such as bankruptcy or an abrupt change in development direction. Getting the software escrow agreement wasn't expensive, but it makes Vedior comfortable, because it provides another means of recovering from unexpected events, he says.

Despite all the precautions, Ross knows outages in Bullhorn's service are unavoidable, as they would be with an application deployed in-house. So far, he hasn't experienced any significant outages -- just one minor blip when Bullhorn needed to swap out a router.

In that case, Bullhorn's efforts to keep Vedior in the loop went a long way. "There's only one thing I don't like, and it's surprises," Ross says. Bullhorn let Vedior know in advance that service might go out for a few seconds, and Ross was able to prepare users.

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