Sunday Business Post
The fast-changing pace of technology requires companies to have the agility to change course quickly, but many are unable to upskill their workforce fast enough to keep pace with the market.
While working with technology partners has long been recognised as a way to achieve the scale and flexibility needed, effective execution has been difficult to accomplish. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Workhuman has been successful where many have failed, because its business is centred around nurturing workplace cultures that enhance productivity. It also helps that its partner is EPAM, a global product development and digital platform engineering services company, with a track record of forging seamless client relationships.
With annual billings in excess of $500 million, Workhuman, previously known as Globoforce, is one of Ireland's best-kept secrets. The world’s fastest-growing social recognition and performance management platform offers a new approach to employee recognition and professional development programmes.
At the heart of its success lies a focus on using leading-edge cloud technology and social media-type engagement to help bring a human element to employee engagement and recognition. To help, the company has been drawing on external software skills to support its tech-driven business for more than a decade.
Eight years ago, Workhuman met EPAM and made them its ‘partner of choice’, supplementing a 200-strong IT workforce that operates out of Dublin and Framingham, Massachusetts.
"One of the main reasons we went with EPAM was because of their cultural fit, experience, expertise and work ethic. We are in the culture business so we place huge value on it," said Jonathan Hyland, chief technology officer of Workhuman. "We treat our EPAM team as colleagues and partners, and they do the same to us. I think that's been key to making the partnership so successful."
Hyland said he was determined to avoid the traditional vendor/customer relationship where work is farmed out and managed at arm’s length with no real collective commitment to success.
"We were very much against that model, and wanted to have an integrated partnership," he said. "EPAM’s people work in our delivery teams in an equal capacity to our own employees; they head up some of the projects and have a real willingness to share risk and stand over success."
Solman Rahman, EPAM Senior Vice President UK and Ireland, spoke just as enthusiastically about the special relationship. "Workhuman treats our people as their own and goes out of its way to manage the IT resources as one team," he said. "It practices what it preaches and instils a professional and healthy culture in its organisation – and ours by extension."
There was an obvious synergy between the two firms from the outset. Both are advocates of agile software development, where they use Scrum software across 15 product delivery teams, each made up of eight to ten people that act as mini start-ups with autonomy over their own projects. Mastering the art of agility has been key to Workhuman bringing great solutions to market faster and better.
Around 30 percent of the total Workhuman IT department are "EPAMers" and are distributed across a wide range of projects. EPAMers work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Workhuman team, taking joint responsibility for project success. They all participate in the same tasks, including "hackathons" and any celebrations that accompany the successful live launch of a new project.
To encourage collaboration, Workhuman invites every EPAM employee that works remotely to its Dublin headquarters at least twice a year to spend face-to-face time with the team. In between these meetings, they rely on state-of-the-art collaboration technologies. Video meetings, shared desktops and software Scrum tools, like Jira, Confluence and Slack, are all used to facilitate seamless remote teamwork.
"We rely heavily on technology-based collaboration for our day-to-day operations, and to work effectively across the two companies," explained Hyland.
Deep domain expertise
The close relationship has proven invaluable for Workhuman as competition for technology skills has increased. Consistently achieving double-digit growth has fuelled a constant demand for IT expertise to help develop new products and services.
"At a time when hiring talent is only going to get harder, EPAM provides the people, expertise and level of flexibility we need to meet the demands of our business, including our research and development pipeline," said Hyland.
He‘s been particularly impressed by EPAM’s mobile development work and skills around user interface frameworks. "There is a lot of deep domain experience within EPAM which we look to leverage whenever we take on new initiatives or introduce new technologies," he said. "There is a wealth of experience there that we‘ve tapped into on numerous occasions."
In terms of metrics that demonstrate the success of the partnership, productivity is measured across the entire delivery team – not broken up by in-house and out-house performance – which is a testament to the trust and transparency of the relationship. Both EPAM and Workhuman value professional development and growth opportunities for their employees.
"Some EPAM employees have been working with us for years," said Hyland. "They take on various roles in the Scrum team and progress throughout their careers. Working with EPAM, we help drive their career direction, keeping people motivated, engaged and fulfilled."
Martin Byrne has seen first-hand how EPAMers flourish in the agile working environment that Workhuman cultivates.
"We love working with them because they are extremely professional. Like us, they expect high-quality software development. So our employees feel they are learning and progressing in a really stimulating environment where their contributions are valued," he said.
The way the relationship is managed from the EPAM side is recognised and valued by Workhuman, according to Hyland, particularly in EPAM’s ability to address changing business needs.
"Our stakeholders recognise that the partnership has been very successful for us in driving scale within our business and allowing us to achieve a world-class delivery model, which is core to our growth and success" he said.
When Hyland was asked if he had any advice for other companies working with tech partners, he reiterated the importance of having a seamless partnership.
"We know from working with EPAM that the model that is going to deliver the most productivity and the best return on investment is where you operate on a partnership basis, not on a vendor/customer basis," he said.
"Having a collective commitment to success and treating external resources as you do your own employees is key."