HR software in demand

by Scott Denne

A tight job market is opening exit opportunities for HR software companies. The record-low unemployment rate – it recently dipped below 4% for the first time in more than a decade – has increased interest in owning software developers that help businesses find, retain and train increasingly scarce employees, pushing such acquisitions to a remarkable level.

In the latest example, Cornerstone OnDemand has reached for Workpop, a provider of software for hiring hourly and seasonal workers, as part of the buyer’s revamp of its recruiting suite. As we noted at the time of that company’s last acquisition – back in 2014 – Cornerstone OnDemand hasn’t been much of a buyer, although in making a purchase now, it’s joining a parade of dealmakers scooping up HR software targets.

According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, acquirers have hooked 70 HR software targets, more than any other full year in this decade. Still, in terms of deal value, 2018 isn’t likely to be a record. The year’s total stands at $2.35bn, while two earlier years (2012 and 2014) saw more than $5bn in HR software transactions.

While 2012 and 2014 each had a pair of $1bn-plus deals by Oracle, IBM, SAP and Charthouse Capital, this year’s boom has benefited midmarket targets as we’ve recorded 13 acquisitions valued at $100-500m, two more than any other full year. Although the jobs picture helps juice this market, much of the increase comes through the same trends that bolster the overall software M&A market – increasing activity from private equity firms and a surge in strategic buyers. The former category has already purchased more HR software businesses this year than ever before, while corporate acquirers are heading toward record territory.

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Hiring bankers

Once thought to be just part of the broader ERP offering, the so-called human capital management (HCM) market has come into its own in recent years. That has meant a few IPOs (going back to when there was a market for the offerings) as well as two or three HCM deals each year worth more than $100m. Recently, those twin threads came together in HireRight. The $195m acquisition of that company, which sells pre-employment screening software, closed earlier this month, almost exactly a year after the company went public.

In addition to the acquisition of HireRight by a private company serving the US government, we also noted one of the largest deals for market consolidation earlier this summer when Taleo spent $129m for longtime recruiting software rival Vurv Technology. (As opposed to consolidation, earlier HCM deals were typically done as a way for the acquirer to get into new markets or expand its product portfolio, such as outsourcing giant ADP spending an estimated $160m two years ago for Employease, an on-demand HCM vendor focused on the midmarket.)

So what does HCM deal flow look like for the rest of the year?, which picked up a small British firm on Tuesday, has indicated that it plans to ink another deal or two before the year is out. went public last year and has done two deals since then, including this week’s $5m purchase of InfoBasis.

More intriguing, however, is the rumor we heard from two market sources that PreVisor, a PE-backed HCM vendor selling employee screening and testing software, is looking to sell. The company was formed in August 2005 through the combination of three companies, and it has done a handful of acquisitions since then. There is no initial word on who might be bidding on PreVisor, which is owned by Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

HCM deal flow

Period Deal volume Deal value
Jan.-Aug. 2006 45 $617m
Jan.-Aug. 2007 35 $2bn
Jan.-Aug. 2008 26 $511m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase