HR Finally Gets a RoboCop!

By: | May 9, 2019 • 5 min read
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Remember when HR was dumped on for being the “rules police,” focusing on its key role in compliance to the exclusion of everything else? Well, there’s an app for automating compliance—and HCM veteran Larry Dunivan is now in charge of it.

You should know Larry after his work on HR software products forevah (as they say on Long Island)—more precisely, 35 years.

After getting his MBA at Northwestern, and growing used to Chicago’s cold weather, he stayed to work for Cyborg, a leading mainframe vendor, for 11 years, starting in 1984. Back then, I still thought HR meant “homerun.” LinkedIn lists 3,276 people in our world who worked at Cyborg at one point.

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Remember Cyborg and mainframe package competitors MSA, McCormick & Dodge (later merged into Dun & Bradstreet Software), Integral, InSci and Genesys? Probably not, but those names are part of your history in HR technology. To quote Harvard philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Larry moved to Minneapolis as an early home/igloo worker for Cyborg. He snowshoed out of it in 1995 to work on HR software at Lawson, eventually for a total of 12 years. He interrupted his tenure there for five years with stints at Big Three legacy assessment vendor PDI and actually running systems for Best Buy, the local big-box merchant. My guess is he quickly discovered creating software was a lot more fun than making it run properly.

At Lawson, he eventually became senior vice president for global HR products, until 2011. Larry was the first HCM executive to recognize recruiting was strategic and acquired a vendor instead of using a partner, created Lawson’s first SaaS system (for talent management), took part in the acquisition of Swedish manufacturing-software vendor Intentia and worked closely with Ron Hanscome, a Lawson colleague who lived in his own St. Paul igloo and is now a Gartner analyst.

Both finally came to their senses after years of finding their car tires frozen to the pavement and have recently decamped for warmer climates: Larry to Palm Springs, Calif., and Ron to Arizona.

Larry left Lawson soon after Charles Phillips made it his very first acquisition eight years ago after he took over Infor as CEO, and, as I wrote, the product has been updated and thrives.

Ceridian, then still big in the Twin Cities, was Larry’s next stop, where he again ran HR products. Those of us who know and admire CEO David Ossip knew Larry was there for his domain expertise, as Ceridan was consumed by David’s company, Dayforce. The latter only had David’s amazing second workforce-management product and had to build out its first talent-management suite and core HR tools, including benefits and modern payroll.

Then with malice aforethought, Larry switched into sales, eventually becoming chief revenue officer at Ceridian Dayforce. The method in his madness was knowing almost no one becomes CEO of a software company without experience running sales.

So now, before hitting 60, he’s CEO of ThinkHR, which is automating all the boring stuff around compliance, always so critical to HR because, for the most part, no other corporate department does it. The CFO has to keep the company out of trouble with the SEC and FASB, but only HR worries about the company not breaking the rules of every other federal, state and local authority, now numbering more than 800.

Since it’s software, ThinkHR naturally can’t simply tell you that’s what it does. Instead, it has to position itself as something bigger and more important—the best provider of “HR risk-management solutions”—and coin its own TLA (three-letter acronym): PRM, for “people risk management.” My first reaction was “Puhleeze!”

But after looking more closely, ThinkHR does take the broadest imaginable view of compliance in the modern world, including a lot of new categories beyond new FLSA regulations and local taxes, such as: workplace violence, cybersecurity, harassment and discrimination, employee wellness and leave management, as well as the more traditional work-related injuries and pensions.

My new favorite is its coverage of marijuana laws. If your company is in a state with a medical-marijuana law, what’s the policy about employees coming to work a little stoned and eating marijuana cookies at their desks? How about if they’re taking antibiotics? ThinkHR tries to provide some answers for you.

The company launched in 2005 under another name, offering health-insurance brokers real-time advice from benefits experts on the phone—which it still does with about two-dozen advisers among its 150 employees, and brokers (still the largest share of its business) offering its services to their customers.

Software followed six years later with a licensed compliance database. For more traditional compliance, ThinkHR gathers all the legs and regs from the usual sources like BNA and StateNet from LexisNexis, but then curates and individualizes the data to death, traditionally  by hand. It also offers a module to build and automatically update an employee handbook, complete with new cultural-compliance principles, which go well beyond whether hugging is acceptable in the office and between whom.

So ThinkHR rightfully claims the description of a tech-enabled services company, with 80,000 clients (about 70 percent from brokers) and a sweet spot of SMB companies with 50 to 200 employees.

“We offer companies a holistic view,” Larry says. “What might happen, what did happen, what to do about it and how to measure it.” It also offers some proactive training acquired from Skillsoft.

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On the roadmap are AI tools to scrape and aggregate content, and machine learning to identify, automatically curate and deliver it to the right person in the right context—even to a new employee in California, the most uniquely regulated place on earth. In short, a content-management system.

Lawson always gave new products code names, usually derived from buildings next door or across the street. So Larry has Project Grace first aimed at providing relevant recommendations on up to 800 Affordable Care Act questions! But this is just the beginning of applying new tech to the entire compliance database.

Plus new legislative tracking and then … shudder … going global! But if you’ve got the depth of Larry’s experience, where else are you going to go?