On the heels of ADPs Meeting of the Minds user conference last week I had the chance to visit ADP’s brand new innovation lab in the trendy Manhattan Chelsea neighborhood. As a matter of fact it is so new, that the build out is still underway. ADP is for now using the previous tenant’s setup while work on one floor is completed (right now a hard hat area) and then will build out the other floor as planned. Credit goes to the new ADP that let me visit the center as work is in progress – a positive sign of a new level of transparency with the company.

So when you are – rightly or wrongly – perceived as a vendor that struggles with innovation – what do you do? A proven page from the corporate strategy playbook is to open up an innovation center or a lab in places of high innovation density. Silicon Valley used to be the location, but increasingly vendors chose the up and coming Manhattan area, that is popular with young professionals and offers a wide mix of previous employer background.

So ADP decided to do the same, picked a historic landmark building, rented first one then two floors (as hiring was revised up) and is now tackling the challenges of New York real estate development. But that does not faze the current 80+ employees working on the new ADP user experience.

So here are a few of the most notable takeaways from my visit:

      • Deciding to have an innovation lab is easy – funding it when you are ADP is, too – but then how to design and divide the space is a creative challenge. Good to see ADP partnered with proven architect bureau Gensler, and even better to see that ADP challenged them to create something special, even for them.
      • There is a strong emphasis in the floor layout to not only collaborate, but get work done as an individual. Many innovation labs cater primarily to foster collaboration, ADP is also expecting employees to be able to perform significant quiet tasks. And that is maybe needed as ADP plans to collocate not only the creative employees, but also those who will have to do the actual coding of the new technologies.
      • Obviously ADP will use the center to host clients and prospects so one floor offers a multi-functional area, that can host up to 150 attendees, but if not used can be transformed in smaller workgroup areas. And in a common move of innovation centers, ADP also plans to become part of the New York creative community, hosting various community meetings and gatherings. Not only the meeting area but also the planned roof area will make ADP’s innovation center a popular location for events of this nature.
      • It was nice to see that ADP will conserve the nature of the 130+ year old building, preserving as much as possible of the original wall structure to the original wooden floors. High tech meets late 19th century.

      • And ADP is already doing productive work at the center. We had the chance to see some usability testing being done on the new Benefits layout that was presented at Meeting of the Minds last week. And while already a very good user interface, it is good to see that ADP is not resting on its laurels and continuously working on further improving the design. We also had the chance to see some UI design work being done around the Pay Lens, centered around bringing the paycheck to life. And lastly we saw work in the employee profile area, a key asset of any HCM system, as being one of the most frequented properties in the overall user interface. 
      • As a testament to the rich talent pool New York offers, ADP recruited usability experts with such diverse backgrounds as advertising agencies, consumer devices, defense and financial services.
      Not a garage in Palo Alto - but an equal sotto voce start in Chelsea
      Finally it was good to see that ADP has developed its own design methodology for its usability projects, and is using all the proven best practices of recent user experience design. So the very attractive new user interface is no coincidence, but the result of method based hard work. The good news for ADP customers – it looks like a repeatable process, so more good work should be coming down the product innovation pipeline.


      I wrote before that it’s not your grandfather’s ADP and the Chelsea Innovation Lab is another key asset for the company on the overall strategy to be a major player in the HCM software market. ADP is doing all the right things to establish a productive innovation center, and the early work results are more than promising, but also validating the approach as the right step for the company.

      Can’t wait to visit when the Innovation Lab is officially opened.