Acknowledging the elephant in the room – Attract and Onboard retirement

TL:DR – the loss of Attract is disappointing but justifiable. Onboard was a simple gem of a product and should have been rolled into Office 365 as an optional add on.

Note to translators and syndicators – do me a favour and don’t use this post anywhere else. I’d rather it stayed just on this site. Thanks.

My mum always told me that if you can’t say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all.

So you might notice this blog has been a bit quiet just lately.

It’s not that there haven’t been things I’ve wanted to say, more that I haven’t really known how best to say them. Or that I don’t feel like I could say them until I’d addressed the elephant in the room.

Before I do that I just need to highlight that any views shared here are my own, and not those of my employer.

Right, more on that elephant.

On 6th December Microsoft made the announcement that the so called ‘Talent Apps’, Attract and Onboard, would be discontinued effective 3rd February this year. I’m not going to regurgitate the announcement in full, you can read it yourselves if you haven’t already and plenty of others have already picked it to pieces.

I’d known about this news for a while, before it went public. One of the privileges of working for a Gold Partner I guess. And I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts on the news ever since. This blog post is my attempt to articulate a response, now that the emotional energy around it has dissipated for most customers, they’ve either opted in or out, and we’re not trying to explain to prospects why they can’t have that shiny thing the Microsoft marketing machine has been pushing at them for the last two and a half years.

Let’s take Attract first.

The first time I saw it, I was disappointed. I’m familiar with the phrase ‘minimum viable product’, but this was pushing it. If you understood the evolution of the product it made more sense (it was initially conceived as an interview scheduling tool, rather than a full featured ATS) but who really needs one of those? Most companies who did enough interviewing to justify an interview scheduling tool invested in e-recruitment around the turn of the century, and were probably on their third or fourth iteration at least by mid-2017.

Don’t get me wrong – it had promise. That ability to directly reference Office 365 calendar data when scheduling interviews was a bit of a holy grail. It just didn’t do much else. If it had stayed in that state I would have been cheerily waving it off. I may even have made some cakes to see it off properly (possibly even purple unicorn cakes – private joke).

But the point is, it didn’t stay in that state. Since early 2018 there has been some great work going on with some great people (albeit extremely slowly, from an outsider’s perspective) to mature Attract into a proper grown up ATS. We got configurable email templates, we got hiring process templates, we got Offer – which was a beautiful piece of kit with immediately obvious value that was loved by anyone who’s spent their days creating offer letters and contracts using at best, sketchy VBA and at worst, extensively highlighted templates where you have to manually change all the key values. Recipe for human error much?! The problem was that with these things, we also got the Comprehensive Hiring Add-On.

Any of us who have purchased an ATS in the last 15 years will have been familiar with the CHA-O model. Yes, it was a bit confusing to folks more used to licensing users than org headcounts, but a nifty little cost estimates spreadsheet could soon alleviate that. More problematically, it positioned Attract right up there with the e-recruitment big boys. And it didn’t resolve a few key weaknesses of the product. Job board integrations took a leap forward with the addition of Broadbean, and we did eventually get the ability to choose which email account to send notifications from. But not being able to brand my job pages in my corporate colours without building an integration? Criminal. If the clock was always ticking on Attract some of the critical additions came too late and were too little, and the new pricing structure set expectations that the product couldn’t deliver on.

So as we say goodbye to Attract today it is with a tinge of sadness, knowing the amount of hard work that went in to getting it to the point it had reached, and knowing how close it had got to being a genuinely competitive ATS. LinkedIn are undeniably experts in the candidate sourcing field, and they’ve made some great acquisitions in the last few years. But Microsoft needs to remember that LinkedIn is not the solution for every industry, nor every geography, however much they would like it to be. If you want evidence of that, you only have to try this week to get hold of any ISV who was offering Dynamics based recruitment solutions. They are currently very, very, busy. Good for them. They deserve to ride the wave created by Microsoft’s news, which I have no doubt will carry them a very long way.

So that’s Attract. Shelved – understandably. But still a shame.

Onboard, however, now that’s a whole different prospect.

Onboard was the easiest part of the Talent suite to deploy. HR users just got it – straight away, and ran off to create resources they could share with new joiners. I would have liked the ability to change the colour scheme – blue isn’t everybody’s choice after all – but at the point of onboarding I could justify a difference. It hadn’t changed much since its inception, which suggests that not a huge amount of work had been done to it since Travis Isaacs, a key member of the Onboard team, jumped ship to Cisco.

It was also a key prompt to advanced users to start exploring CDS, and build a footprint in Power Apps or Power Automate. The ability for HR to create a guide and automatically push tasks out to third party products like Jira? Priceless.

So I don’t understand why that had to be shelved as well. Like, I really, really, don’t get it.

Sure, there was some work that could have been done to make it better. Do something with the Checklists feature in Core HR to bring the two things together, for example. Or improve the ability to have local/state/federal management of certain tasks within templates. But these products are always evolving, so that could have happened over time, in balance with other priorities.

I hope that over the course of this year and next, towards the final retirement of the solution (existing, opted in, users can retain usage until February 2022, or their next license renewal if sooner) a clearer onward path for Onboard will reveal itself. There are ISV products out there doing similar things, yes, but this now feels like something which should be part of the standard product. I hope to see a full integration of Core checklist tasks into CDS soon, maybe with some of the additional features we saw in Onboard (like embedded videos or Sway content), so we can push them out through a Power Apps portal or similar. Who knows. I’m speculating, which is dangerous. But I can’t let this one go.

So – we move on. We find an ISV to deliver our recruitment and onboarding solution, and we wait to see if Microsoft will find a way to incentivise partners to work with LinkedIn. It remains to be seen the long term impact of the announcement and I’ll be watching with interest.

In the mean time I need to work out a new name for this blog, and try and train my brain to say ‘Dynamics 365 for HR’ instead of just ‘Talent’. That decision by the way makes absolute sense.

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