Behind the Scenes of UKG’s Data-Driven Innovation

Serving more than 50,000 customers around the globe, Ultimate Kronos Group is playing a critical role in helping the world get back to work safely.

Over the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has become an accelerator for one the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. Human resources teams have been put to the test to protect both employee well-being and that of the organization, as companies shuttered their offices and employees began working from home full time. 

More than ever, as businesses begin relying on their HR departments to provide clarity for the way forward, leading human capital management (HCM) and workforce management company UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group)—the result of an April 2020 merger of Ultimate Software and Kronos Incorporated—is stepping up to empower its customers to do just that. 

Serving more than 50,000 customers around the globe, the multibillion-dollar company is playing a critical role in helping the world get back to work safely. It’s doing so by empowering its development teams with the data and technology needed to rapidly add new capabilities to its powerful HCM and workforce management software to help organizations deal with this pandemic and deliver on UKG’s brand promise: “Our Purpose Is People”—an ethos central to its business. 

Employee experience is about more than just benefits, especially now—it’s about understanding workers’ needs and meeting them. To that end, the company’s journey to the cloud and continuous delivery has kept the business on the forefront of HR innovation and change.

UKG’s Digital Strategy: Embrace the Cloud, Make Data Easy

The need to implement cloud technology had been growing more urgent with the company’s move toward a mobile-first approach. The business looked to the scalability and resiliency of the cloud to get new functionality to market faster, and allow customers to access information on the go.

When COVID-19 shutdowns began, Joseph Cutrono, Senior Director of Engineering, and the team at UKG were prepared to innovate at the speed customers have come to expect. 

“Our biggest initiative on the horizon is the speed at which we can get functionality to our customers,” says Cutrono. “Public, cloud-based technology is giving us scale at the snap of a finger and enables us to focus on doing what we do best, which is building HCM and workforce management software.”

The company—while still working to officially close its merger amidst the pandemic—reacted swiftly and provided its customers with tools and resources to support remote workers just weeks after shutdowns began in March.

“Since the beginning of this crisis, we have been looking at our data to monitor the evolving landscape and identify key business needs,” says John Machado, Chief Technology Officer. “We want to help our customers navigate changing legislation, better understand employees’ feedback, and communicate more effectively.”

The organization rolled out a number of product enhancements for one of its flagship applications, UKG Pro, making it possible for companies to easily handle taxes, payments, and leave management in compliance with new legislation such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Plus, UKG launched new features that offer instant communication and notification to employees, crisis check-in pulse surveys, contact-tracing capabilities, and even a solution for organizing charitable-giving campaigns—all available through Pro. It also established a relief fund for its own employees to support those who were severely impacted by the pandemic.

Behind the scenes, UKG had over 1,000 developers voraciously consuming data at high frequency to speed up the development process. The engineering team is automating its data operations, enabling test instances to be available at the push of a button and power fast, continuous app development. Fostering a relationship with the entire global security team was paramount to automating it into the software-development lifecycle and ensuring that personal data remain safe as the speed of app development scales. 

“We run a continuous integration shop, and our teams deploy 1,700 test instances of our application during a 24-hour period,” Cutrono says. “Having the type of automation we do around our data tier allows us to iterate much faster on feature development. It also saves us the time of having to create complex test scenarios.”

The Key To Helping Enterprises Put People First and Manage Through a Crisis: Dream Big and Move Fast 

Recognized as one of the early pioneers in Software as a Service (SaaS), the company (known then as Ultimate) has greatly expanded from solely maintaining HR information to helping employers retain and build stronger relationships with their workforces. As disruptive and overwhelming as this acceleration into the future is, UKG’s leaders believe organizations succeed when they focus on their people—but that’s almost impossible to do without data and cloud infrastructure. 

“You have to dream big and let go of the things that you think are true today,” Cutrono says. “My original goal was to be able to stand up an environment in 10 minutes or less, and people thought I was crazy. Here we are a couple months later, and all of a sudden, we’re starting to see numbers drop for things that used to take an extraordinarily long time.”

As organizations and their workers begin to map out what the future of work looks like post COVID-19, HCM and workforce management tools can help employees get back to work smoothly—and safely. It’s up to providers like UKG to develop the tools needed to drive resilience and adaptability in the workforce, and the company takes its role seriously. 

“Our culture is what sells our application, and we bake it into our software from the ground up,” adds Cutrono. “I’m confident that companies and cultures will emerge stronger than ever on the other side of this crisis, and we’ll be here to support them with data-driven innovation when they’re ready to come back to the office.”

Read more stories about data-driven innovation in the 2020 issue of Data Company Magazine

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