ADP has been referred to as one of the original cloud companies, as it has long run other companies’ payroll off-premises as a service. Now, the $12 billion human capital management company has become colossus in the industry. It does not lack for competition, however, both among traditional players like Paychex, and among digital native companies like Workday and Zenefits. ADP still enjoys the advantages of scale, producing one in ever six paychecks for all non-governmental employees in the United States.
Stuart Sackman has spent the past 25 years at ADP, running various businesses within the company. He has spent nearly two and a half years running Global Product and Technology for the company. In that role, he has enormous influence over the company’s products, but also the methods of delivering them to an increasingly technology savvy customer base.
Sackman also leads an innovation lab that has been branded Lifion. The lab was founded in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, 15 miles east of the company’s Roseland, New Jersey headquarters. Sackamn explains the rationale behind the branding of the division, the advantages of its geography, its path forward, and a variety of other topics in this interview.
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Peter High: You are the Corporate Vice President of Global Product and Technology for ADP. The organization has an enormous scale and produces a tremendous amount of data you are able to leverage for providing services to your clients. For instance, ADP produces one in every six checks for U.S. non-government workers. Please describe Global Product Technology and your purview.
Stuart Sackman: ADP is a global software-as-a-service company, with 56,000 employees. The services and solutions we provide to our clients are technology-based and delivered through the cloud. Today, we run the large majority of those in our own data centers, but we are starting to experiment with public cloud. As the Corporate Vice President of Product and Technology, I am the head of Research & Development and Infrastructure. Our Research and Development team has gone through an agile transformation that allows us to keep up with the pace of technology, surpass competitors, and deliver solutions more quickly. We integrated R&D with Infrastructure to minimize the baton toss that happens in other companies. Having one executive lead both businesses makes the hand-off for delivering ADP products through our private cloud to our clients smoother, and is a more efficient way to bring solutions to market.
High: Paring product and technology is a rising trend. What are some of the specific benefits ADP has experienced?
Sackman: There are two major advantages. First, it enables agility and speed to market, because we do not have to worry about building products and then tossing them over the wall to Infrastructure. This is critical in our marketplace. Second, it makes our systems more resilient and reliable. There is a lot of growth and discussion around DevOps. The R&D side has as much responsibility for the performance, reliability, and the delivery of our products as the Infrastructure side. As those disciplines come closer together, it is more efficient to have a single leader looking over both sides of those functional areas.
High: Your career path differs from that of many of your contemporaries. As an undergrad, you were a computer science major and worked in startups. Then, you earned an MBA and became a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton. In 1992, you joined ADP, where you have held a diverse set of roles. You were part of the team that helped move the organization past its original offering in Tax and Payroll Services into Time and Attendance; you had product strategy roles; and you have been the GM of several different businesses within the organization. Especially in a day and age when people often have the same role in many different companies, what advantages have you found from having many roles in the same company?
Sackman: When the person who ran corporate technology before me left, I went to our CEO and told him I was the best person for the job. He said, “That is interesting. Why?” There were a couple of reasons I was a strong candidate. As you said, I had worked across our business segments around the globe, which gave me a detailed and deep understanding of what our clients want from our services. I also worked in operations and have a technology background; if you are going to run a technology group, you have to understand how technology works. Since taking over this role, my diversity of experience, broad understanding of our clients’ needs and how they use our technology, and technology experience, have helped me drive ADP forward from a product and technology standpoint.
High: Today, the term cloud-based is common in technology circles, but it has been the basis of ADP before the term was even invented. As a cloud-based organization, ADP has competitors on several sides. There are traditional competitors that operate in somewhat similar ways to your own, and digital native organizations that compete in slices of what you do. How does ADP stay innovative and impactful in a complex competitive environment?
Sackman: I am proud of the innovative history of ADP. In many ways, we created the application service provider model before computers existed. The magic of a cloud system is a versionless one-to-many delivery where the users do not have to worry about where the work is done, and they can access it from any point. ADP created that model in the 1950s with a team of bookkeepers who would visit companies, collect spreadsheets, and then produce payroll; the alternative was having your accountant come to your office and do it for you. We originated the model and have successfully transitioned through major technological evolutions including moving from punch cards to green screens to batch processing to client servers to the cloud. However, the competitive environment, especially over the last five years, is changing. For many years, our competitors were basically our business model, for less. They would try to replicate our innovations at a lower cost.