Ultimate Software is having their 25 year anniversary this year and having their user conference in Las Vegas at the Bellagio Hotel and Resort (again). The conference is well attended, with a record 2500 attendees, and participants are generally positive, excited of things to come and loyal to their vendor. One sign is how Ultimate manages to flood the airplanes with their customers wearing the conference shirts.

Here are my top 3 takeaways of the conference (my day #1 keynote takeaways are here):

A rich roadmap – Ultimate is sticking to its practice to share two years of roadmap, and went even further with sharing the leitmotivs of the 2+ years (and even further with the analysts where the 2017 roadmap was shared under NDA). So kudos first of all for keeping up the visibility and transparency that is vital for prospects and customers to plan and align their roadmaps and rollouts of their HCM projects.

For 2015 Ultimate is strengthening its Talent Management capabilities on the Recruiting and Onboarding side, which makes sense as both functions are relatively junior in the portfolio. But Ultimate also adds new Performance Management and Succession Management capabilities as well. On the Compensation side the major enhancement will be new Benefits capabilities, in time available for the fall benefits enrollment ritual. On the Payroll and HR Core side the major new module is Organizational Modelling. Ultimate has put a lot of thought into this key function and the first version has an attractive user interface, and robust functionality that makes us believe it will show instant value to managers. And on the Integration side Ultimate is adding a new Integration Studio that should make integration with 3rd party systems and applications easier.

For 2016 the Ultimate agenda gets more ambitious as the leitmotivs are centered on broader predictions and actions and culture and the organization. On the large ‘tectonic’ functional HCM pieces, Ultimate plans to deliver new Workforce Management and a (person centered) Learning Module. On the Payroll side Ultimate wants to deliver Global Leave Management and on the Talent Management side an almost ‘mythical’ function ‘Fulfill your Potential’. But if you think people centric as Ultimate does, fulfilling potential is a key functionality for employees / people. And on the Integration side Ultimate will support self-service imports – key to empower end users – and extend its developer network.

Along the way Ultimate is planning to become more global, with support of more statutory requirements and languages. The vendor just announced the support of German and Dutch during the Day #1 keynote. 

The Ulimate Roadmap for the next 2 years

A strong analytical agenda – Ultimate keeps pushing its ‘true’ analytics (see more here) agenda – for now the vendor has three analytical applications in the field, around performance and the ‘infamous’ flight risk scenario that is the bread and butter analytics of the industry. As with all analytical applications it all comes back to ‘does it work’ – and the good news for Ultimate is that they have enough customers in production to tell their experiences. We heard from a bank that found that both performance and flight risk indicator worked better than the human judgement of its managers – a great proof point for analytical apps. And more is to come – and Ultimate has a ‘problem with plenty’ already – with a ‘Predictive Analytics Console’ planned for 2016, that will tie together all the analytical capabilities the vendor has created by then.
Ultimate's Person centric product philosophy

Partnership with NetSuite – The partnership with NetSuite was a surprise for the audience and we had the chance to sit down with both NetSuite and Ultimate leadership. NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson took the time to fly out to Las Vegas, which certainly shows that NetSuite is serious on this partnership. NetSuite has a long history of pivots in the HCM area – from doing all themselves, over partnering with many, partnering with Oracle at the high end, acquiring TribeHR till today. What all this shows is that NetSuite needs a strong HCM automation story and that Ultimate was the right partner for them. For Ultimate it means access to opportunities where customers are looking for more than HCM automation, given it competes with HCM vendor that have their own in house ERP capabilities. Both vendors are actively working on product development supported integration, a partnership integration level that is the ‘must have’ standard in the cloud world today, meaning that the vendors (and not a partner, or the customer) needs to maintain the integration. Both vendors have a number of joint customers together and answered all the questions the right way. Now the future will tell how well the partnership will work in day to day operations and ultimately customer success. You can find the press release here. And more on NetSuite here.

From the joint Ultimate and NetSuite presentation

Analyst Tidbits

  • Engaging user interface – Ultimate is investing a lot of time and effort on usability – last year the first fruits of that work were shown at Connections. The vendor is keeping up the commitment and the UIs seen at the conference are consistent, engaging and often deserve the moniker ‘beautiful’. The vendor has also done a good job of keeping the user interface consistent across the various applications, something never easy. We also saw some interesting prototypes and early thoughts around analytical applications that are encouraging.


  • Modern architecture – Equally a year ago, Ultimate unveiled its go forward architecture, which showed an opening to open source and a ‘best tool’ approach to architectural decisions. A good example is the new organizational modelling functionality that takes advantage of mongoDB, which is a perfect database for the job of administering a large number of organizational models. A new configurable workflow, more in memory capabilities and a new person search are further examples. And finally the vendor is already using micro-services, which is the craze of the year, and expanding their usage. Microservices are a key capability for HCM vendors as they bring the code to the data, which is often governed by statutory restrictions. 

  • Developer Network – Ultimate has realized that it cannot be the sole source of innovation for its products – opening the technology stack more up for 3rd party developers. And Ultimate needs these to validate the platform and constructs like e.g. APIs, but also create a network effect that the vendor needs to accelerate growth. 

  • Partner momentum – Ultimate is enjoying a lot of momentum on the partner side, as it changed its approach from doing all services in house to opening them up to partners in 2013. In less than 2 years Ultimate has garnered a lot of interest and investment from partners, one example is the number of partners exhibiting being up from 12 to 34 year over year. And Ultimate is doing the right things around partner enablement with training, material and certification, too. 


A very good conference for Ultimate – which is on the run at the not so tender age for a sotware company at 25 years. It’s great to see the momentum on the partner side and it is good to see that Ultimate can attract strategic partners like NetSuite. One can argue though who needed who more – but at the end that doesn’t matter for a synergetic partnership.

But all the good work should not distract from the fact that Ultimate has to do some heavy lifting behind the scenes, moving older parts of its product portfolio to its next generation architecture. The vendor has an experienced product leadership team in place and a deep commitment to R&D budgets that make us optimistic on the effort, but it is not trivial and needs to be something for prospects and customers to be aware of. With end of 2016 concluding the Talent Management functionality with people centric learning, the vendor has a near enough complete date for this critical functionality, which is not only important going forward but a significant upsell potential for the vendor. But in the meantime a lot of interesting HCM functionality is being built by Ultimate that no HCM system prospect should miss to take a thorough look at.

More on Ultimate from me:

  • First Take - Ultimate Software UltiConnect Day #1 Keynote - read here
  • Event Report - Ultimate's UltiConnect - Off to a great start, but the road(map) is long - read here.
  • First Take – 3 Key Takeaways from Ultimate’s UltiConnect Conference Day 1 keynote – read here.

More on NetSuite here:

  • Event Report - NetSuite powers on with targeted innovation - read here
  • Why NetSuite acquired TribeHR - read here
  • Act III the cloud changes everything - Oracle and NetSuite with a touche of Deloitte - read here
  • Act III and final day - A tale of two conferences - Sapphire and SuiteWorld - read here
  • The middle day - 2 keynotes and press releases - Sapphire and SuiteWorld - read here
  • A tale of 2 keynotes and press releases - Sapphire and SuiteWorld - read here
Find more coverage on the Constellation Research website here.