Podcast: How ADP’s Lifion Turns Complexity Into Simplicity

Skills Data


Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

My guest today is Mark Angelillo, director of application development at Lifion by ADP. We’ll talk about the business challenges Lifion’s trying to solve, and how they’re trying to solve them. That’s on this edition of PeopleTech.

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And now… Mark Angelillo. Welcome.

Let me start with a general question, but when you’re doing your job, what are the main problems that you are focusing on solving, and what makes them such big problems? Why are they so important?

Mark Angelillo: I think for enterprise clients and the types of folks that are looking to use our ADP Next Gen HCM as their solution, they have a couple of things going on that make it complex. First of all, these are the largest clients. They have extremely complex workflows in their business, just because this isn’t a company with a couple of 100 associates that doesn’t even have a full HR team.

This is a company that is at scale, that is operating at a very high level, and requires data to flow between teams that may be working in separate buildings or on separate parts of the organization. And that exchange of information needs to work and it needs to go together like an orchestra with different parts, playing their different pieces.

The second thing we’re seeing, and we’re just starting to get into now, is this concept of global. And that’s where I think Lithion really starts to hit our core competency. So our system is built on a foundation that is meant to scale out to support clients, wherever they have associates working. And so the rules are layered on and, I didn’t come up with the idea for the technology, but it’s this really intelligent way where there isn’t just a bunch of if blocks written in the code. We’ve actually layered solutions on top of one another.

So if we have a core piece of functionality we’ve built and there’s a tweak that needs to be done, we can seamlessly put that on top of the solution. And it just kicks in when the associating question is in that context.

So what happens is within the tool, let’s say an associate working in the U.S., our data model will recognize that they work in the U.S. and they have a social security number, but if they’re working in Canada, will assist them, will automatically react to that and realize it should be collecting a social insurance number.

So that type of core component of the system built into what we do at a base level, really scales out to support the global use cases in terms of compliance and collecting information, but also workflows. And it even extends across, eventually we hope, to a client’s specific use cases and workflows that they build on top of the platform themselves.

Mark Feffer: So, that sounds like it’s prebuilt customization built into the platform so you don’t have to go customize on a customer by customer basis. Is that fair?

Mark Angelillo: That’s correct. So the initial part of what I was talking about is more along the lines of we’ve understood that there’s a business need, and there’s a business rule that’s going to be relevant for all companies. Then we’ve understood that in a specific locale, there is another set of rules and we layer those in, and then the third layer of customization would be something truly client specific that can be added seamlessly on top of the rest of it.

Mark Feffer: And how narrow is this application, or should I say, how unusual is it for it to be deployed to customers? Or is it becoming common?

Mark Angelillo: You mean in terms of adoption of Lifion today?

Mark Feffer: Yeah.

Mark Angelillo: Okay. So it’s a very complex system. There’s a lot going on. This is an enterprise grade HCM. So we’re being careful about our rollout strategy and how we go to market with it. So it’s a partnership with the potential client, with our sales team and our implementation organization to pick the right early partners for us.

I think that we’re seeing a ton of interests beyond the stage that we feel would be comfortable for the market, for us to go out though, we are rapidly iterating towards where we can kind of open the flood gates a little bit more.

Mark Feffer: Do you think this is the kind of feature that will become a standard?

Mark Angelillo: In terms of the customization on top of the layered, yes, I do. I think once we bring that to the market, the idea is so fundamentally simple, but difficult to pull off. I do think that we’ll have others are racing to adopt a similar sort of thing within their tools and solutions. It’s tremendously powerful to take the core of a system and be able to extend it in this way that doesn’t disrupt the internals and nicely adds hook points into it and works into how an organization would need to scale out.

Even small players find the systems that they integrate with on a day-to-day basis. As we start to build out more tools and products that folks need to run their business, even a small player finds it difficult to integrate those pieces. At scale, I think you can imagine that there’d be a lot of appetite from our clients in having a hub-and-spoke model that they themselves can invest in.

Mark Feffer: I would think that, that approach has a lot of implications, not just for the customers, but also for your development teams, the people who are building the product as well. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Mark Angelillo: It doesn’t mean that we need to keep a number of things in mind when we’re developing a solution, so normally we account for that in design. So, in our design stages, we’re saying, “Okay, what part of this feature, this capability set that we’re building out is truly global, is something that is going to be needed by everyone? What’s locality specific? So what specifically needs to be pulled into the localized layer? And then what is truly only used by one client?”

We tend not to go in that and we’re still building our capabilities that tend to be used in one locality or in the global core these days, but it’s something that we do need to account for in design. And then when you’re actually building out the solution, there’s some steps you need to take in order to create the development artifacts that will make this situation work. But we’re also starting to build out as guardrails rails to ensure that developers are led in the right direction, depending on what their intention is.

Mark Feffer: When you say, “Led in the right direction,” can you give me an example of that, because I can think of several different scenarios where they might go with Stripe.

Mark Angelillo: Absolutely. So, one example of that is, we have a core piece that we’ve locked down. We believe it’s complete and it’s full. We can make it so that you can only add customizations in certain areas of that piece. So we can prevent parts of it from being disturbed or broken, in that sense.

In terms of whether it’s supposed to be a localized piece, it ends up being built globally instead. That type of thing needs to be accounted for in design. But we also have teams that are coming on board that only build out in the localized scenario, because that is their charter and that’s where they’re building out. And we can draw that box around them too, so that they get to operate in that. We’re also starting to, and this is a concept that’s been around in the product for a long time.

We’re starting to think of this as really an operating system. So, when you install the OS on, say your phone, then you can install apps on top of that. And the mini app concept is something that really builds on that. Although, what we do have that’s over and above that and what I’ve been talking about is, you could have two apps that extend each other. So, you can build one app that adds a bit of functionality and another app that extends it further beyond that. And so we have that capability as well that’s built into the tool.

Mark Feffer: Has this changed your approach to application development?

Mark Angelillo: So, one of the key pieces here is the low-code platform that we use to develop. I’ve been a huge proponent. We’re building solutions for clients. Anything that can give us the ability to deliver that solution faster is only good for the business and only good for the client.

So, the tool continues to get better and continues to give us the ability to deliver at scale very rapidly. So, I’m a huge believer in that and have been, since I joined. I think this is going to become more and more prevalent, particularly as we look, I think as a society to try to retrain folks to account for the growing need for business applications.

I think these tools are going to become more and more prevalent and we’ll just get more and more used to them being part of this suite of what we use and honestly, engineers solve problems. That’s what we do. The tools really, we should use the right tool for the job, regardless of what it is and for what we’re trying to do. The global HCM at scale with the ability to take it globally, the Lithion development platform is the tool of choice.

Mark Feffer: Could I circle back to something you said, because low-code is really interesting. And could you tell me about how it fits into what you’re doing?

Mark Angelillo: So the whole metadata concept is how we layer. If you think about a full code solution, what you’re doing is, every time you have a new concept to layer into your solution, you need to bring it back into development. And you’re writing for all intents and purposes, if statements you’re saying, if country equals Canada, do XYZ. And that results in an unmaintainable mess over time, as you continue to add more and more of these branching paths, these conditionals inside your code.

What our low-code solution is, is you can sort of brush aside all of the Canada stuff if you’re working on France, for example, because it’s added in another layer and everything is maintained by the tool. So, when we’re creating our solution in our low-code platform, underneath the hood, it’s generating metadata, which sits layers on top of one another.

So, you can add or change what the base does based on your localization. And then ultimately our subsystem knows how to read that metadata and drive the application. So, there’s that dual translation. We’re translating our intent, our developers’ intent into metadata, and that metadata is being converted by the system into the application. So, developers are getting more and more comfortable with the paradigms we have.

The application is, we can do more and more things with our solution as we build it out. And honestly, it gives us constructs and tools that do specific jobs way better than you would be able to do or way faster than you would be able to do, writing specific modules and extending them for different locales.

Mark Feffer: Let me shift gears a little bit where I hope coming off of the pandemic, COVID-19, that’s put a lot of strain on HR departments, on IT departments, on the developers of HR solutions. How has COVID impacted your work? Not just in terms of getting things done day-to-day during the pandemic, but has it changed the way you’re looking at your solutions, the way customers are expressing their needs and what they need?

Mark Angelillo: I think it’s really enhanced the need for what we do. Bringing the workforce together with a tool that allows for businesses to track them and have touch points for what they’re doing. So for example, our talent suite of applications can help understand what’s going on with a diverse workforce, and our time tracking and payroll applications can help our client’s teams operate more independently when they aren’t in the office and can’t go tap someone on the shoulder.

So, I think we are finding that what we deliver, is more in demand than ever. I’ll say from my perspective, it’s really been able to double down on our focus. Oftentimes in an office you do have a number of distractions. For developers, it’s extremely important for them to be able to get into a flow. To actually just be able to focus and get their work done, because we are an agile organization and we operate in an agile Meccano methodology.

The teams are constantly catching up with each other and they’re constantly checking in and you never go more than two weeks without getting a chance to course correct and see how things are going and deliver something of value to clients. So we have taken the opportunity to double down on that approach of just making sure we iterate, listen to our clients, react and discuss. And that cycle is something that we’ve fallen back on as a way to manage through the remote working situation.

Mark Feffer: Mark, thank you.

Mark Angelillo: Yeah, of course. Appreciate it.

Mark Feffer: I’ve been talking with Mark Angelillo, director of application development at Lifion by ADP.

And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of RecruitingDaily.

This edition’s brought to you by Criteria.

Their scientifically validated assessments help you make better talent decisions, by identifying high-potential candidates. The result? Increased revenue, reduced turnover, and better quality of hire. Visit criteriacorp.com to see how Criteria can help you unlock the potential in your candidate pool. That’s www.criteriacorp.com

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PeopleTech is part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com.

And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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