Understanding Human Resources Technology with a Periodic Table

CB Insights recently unveiled a fascinating infographic entitled “The Periodic Table of HR Tech.” This table is not only an extremely clever notion in its own right, but it also provides genuine insight into the way many private companies make up the modern face of the HR tech industry.

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Categories at a Glance

The HR tech universe encompasses so many different kinds of businesses that it’s sometimes difficult to tell the players with a program. The CB Insights Periodic Table provides a logical, easy-to-understand visual guide to help clear things up by grouping the enterprises into color-coded categories, just as the Periodic Table of Elements groups individual elements according to their physical properties, electron counts and atomic numbers.

You’ll find “Recruiting Agencies” (in green) toward the left-hand side of the table, “Culture/Productivity” (in blue) occupying the center the table in blue, and “Recruiting Tools” (in pink) nestled just to the right of “Culture/Productivity”. The right-hand area is dominated by “Operations Management” (in orange) and “Recruiting – contractors/temporary” (in purple). The light-blue and yellow rows at the bottom represent “Investors” and “Recent Exits” (more about that later) respectively. This at-a-glance reference is hugely helpful for seeing just how the HR landscape is laid out, even as it illustrates how many important private-sector players there are in the game.

Strength in “Unbundling”

Some of the firms represented on the table are poised to play giant-killer by chipping away at the giants of the industry, especially companies such as Paychex that offer bundled services. These firms are focusing their efforts at delivering specific chunks of the bug guys’ bundled services, which enables clients to pick and choose different providers for different features — an approach known as “unbundling.” For instance, ZenPayroll is aimed specifically at the payroll and taxes piece of the pie, while Zenefits concentrates on human resources/employee benefits and Justworks handles all three functions.

The great benefit of unbundled HR, at least for small-to-midsize companies, is the cost effectiveness and scalability it promises. Clients can add or cancel services to suit their HR tech needs, allowing them to pay for everything that they need and nothing that they don’t. The fact that many of these companies have scored enough success to make the CB Insights Periodic Table is a clear indicator that this trend is a popular — and profitable — one.

The Evolution of an Industry

As revealing and handy as this visual representation may be, think of it as an industry snapshot rather than a permanent table or guide. It’s important to remember that CB Insights compiled this chart based on an amalgam of data such as investor quality, financial stability and other analytics. This kind of data can be highly dynamic in nature, and many of the companies represented in the current table may eventually leave the scene — not due to failure, but by transforming themselves from independent private enterprises to publicly-traded companies.

You can see this process in the yellow row at the bottom the table, which depicts “Recent Exits.” These are HR tech firms that served as major players in the private sector but have since gone public. One of the current heavy hitters in the Operations Management category of the table, ZenPayroll, has been making noises about going public since 2014. But as these firms make the transition into their new structure, you can be sure that new, hungry private firms will be jockeying for their place at the table.

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