In a given year there are dozens of industry conferences to attend – and although Brandon Hall Group loves to participate any time performance focused professionals gather – obviously we cannot be everywhere. The thing about HR Tech  is that it is a one stop shop for analysts; an opportunity to speak to a multitude of practitioners asking questions, vendors launching products, and industry experts commenting on the market.

It is also a uniquely integrated event. What do I mean by integrated? Well this is the event where you will find vendors of all types – pure learning solutions, full assessment offerings, talent suites, HR services providers, and so on and so forth. I would go so far as to say that this event spawns some of the most successful relationships – and later acquisitions – undertaken in our market today. It is also here, where buyers will see the potential for future connection points across various HR Technologies and supporting processes.

As HR Tech 2011 begins to fade into memory, you’ll see a lot of commentary about what was “hot” at this year’s conference – and terms like social collaboration, analytics, ERP resurgence, HTML 5, and gamification were definitely flying around the conference floor. The vendors were selling the concepts, the speakers were talking about their limited use, and the analysts were looking for realistic applications – but the practitioners seemed a bit overwhelmed by these discussions.

With over 60 vendor announcements  that ranged from acquisitions to new product offerings, I personally didn’t feel like this year’s event high-lighted any real game changers. Vendors spent the challenging economic year focusing on brand awareness, filling gaps in product or services offerings, or figuring out mobile delivery strategies. What we did get were a few sneak peeks of potentially ground-breaking shifts to come in the next few years.

So here are the interesting areas I will be keeping an eye on coming out of HR Tech. My advice is to keep your ear to the ground on these topics and figure out where they fit into your future technology goals, but for right now focus your buying plans on immediate needs:

Weighing the Value of Relationships

The idea of social collaboration rests on one thing, the relationships between people. Technology supports those relationships, but can’t force relationships if participants find no value in the connections. Any vendor who didn’t already have a social component was either launching new tools or announcing partnerships with existing tools and platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Chatter. What I was looking for was vendors who were taking social to a new level. One vendor doing this is Silkroad:

A talent suite provider, SilkRoad shared a new social product “Point”  launching in January. The tool not only allows people to make a social connection, but also tracks the value of those connections and tracks the work that is accomplished through those connections dynamically. It assigns a numeric value based on the influence, relationship, and the skills an employee uses daily. This type of tool is only valuable if used by all the relevant people in a group, because the value is found in the spaces between the connections and relationships.

The most intriguing element of this tool is its ability to see the impact of removing or replacing any one individual from an existing work eco-system, based on the skills and influence that would be lost. Now think about that for a second – how many times has a company discovered the real value of an employee after they have gone? Job descriptions rarely define the most important elements of an employee’s job– but this system, if it works as described, would seem to provide that insight dynamically. I have to admit that I find SilkRoad’s new offering fascinating… but as I suspected, the few buyers I spoke with were overwhelmed by the layout, gaming elements, and complexity of the ideas. Additionally, without a way to connect to existing social platforms, many organizations may find it difficult to convince employees to participate in a completely closed social platform. Many products are beginning to track the value of influence, but this is the first I’ve seen to connect that analysis with work activities and skills. I think it is something to watch closely.

Aggregating Cloud Data

Everyone is talking about releasing the power of the cloud, and the discussion is often focused on the technology behind those decisions, but the real power of the cloud is consistent shared data that can be analyzed for insights. Traditional HR service providers such as SHL , Kenexa, Mercer, and Talx  all shared plans to use the amazing amount of data they have gathered over years of managing their clients’ HR transactions to provide decision making insights and benchmarking back to those clients on workforce planning, job matching, and forecasted business outcomes based on people decisions. My recommendation is to keep your eyes on this new trend in data aggregation:

Talx, an Equifax organization, handles the most basic HR transactions including payroll, tax, and onboarding services. Talx announced their acquisition of eThority at HR Tech. I highlighted eThority last year as a company to watch because they could help combine business data with HR and learning data in single, easy to use analytics tool. Now that power will be combined with an immense amount of data gathered through Talx’s assessment tools, industry compensation surveys, and on-boarding programs. Think about both the possibilities and risks.

Today you may look at Glassdoor.com as a source for candidates and insights on the real culture of an organization – but tomorrow you may view them as the number one tool in your workforce planning arsenal. Glassdoor.com has now gathered information from interviews and company reviews for over 130,000 social participants. If they begin to leverage their aggregate data, they can provide real insights into the reasons behind people leaving an organization, their development challenges, or even trends for their movement and compensation requirements.

Have Profile, Will Travel

Let’s be honest, the reason career pathing and career management programs often don’t work is that they assume that the goal of the program is to give direction. In reality, most successful professionals and skilled laborers want to know their options and benefits, but they don’t really want to be directed. The original job boards and LinkedIn may have been the first iteration of travelling resumes – but there are growing discussions among vendors to begin offering career tools that can travel with an employee from job to job, or more likely from company to company.

These are profiles and career management services that not only include self-reported data, but also include employer defined information that is approved by employees on training programs, assessment data, recognition, interviews, and performance – that can be accessed from industry specific or neutral platforms. This is in its early days – and is tentatively being discussed by only a few vendors. This is a trend to think about carefully, but if managed effectively it could create a unique employee benefit – and create a much stronger occurrence of “Yo-Yo” employees, who return after they have gained valuable experiences.

Business Tools are the Best HR Tools

So a big theme this year was the advances seen in the ERP space, especially in HR and Learning. This will continue to be an ongoing discussion. Should an organization attempt to use their challenging ERP as a talent platform or do they use the more innovative and flexible tools built specifically for the purpose of managing talent. This debate won’t be answered today – but organizations like WorkDay the newest SaaS based ERP like tool on the block, are beginning to drive change in this space. I also spoke with a few vendors that were taking tools originally created for marketing, customer service, or business analytics and morphing them to meet HR needs. This isn’t a new idea, but I think it is a trend to keep in mind these days. Just a few of examples include:

  •  Dovetail Software– A simple HR case management and support services tool that comes from the customer service industry, think Best Buys Customer Service Case Management tool.
  • MiiATech – Their “Goldfish” tool was promoted as a better way to match HR data and resumes. In their words, “they are using a natural language processing platform TautonaTM to understand the meaning of what is being searched for and can deliver the precise information required faster and more accurately than traditional keyword-based search or text”. This is a tool that would be imbedded in existing platforms, but it isn’t native to the HR space, rather the technology comes from the marketing industry.

As you look at the tools your business professionals use daily, you may want to keep an eye on their application to learning and talent needs. Could Salesforce.com and Facebook be your next talent or leaning platform, it may not be as far away as you think.

Summarizing Conference Trends
HR Tech, like any industry event, provides a great opportunity to learn a bit more about both vendors and buyers alike. I was pleasantly surprised to see the increase in the learning industry focused vendors and buyers participating in HR Tech this year, as it was a big focus for my briefings and interviews. I saw many positive vendor updates that we’ll include in our Learning and Talent KnowledgeBases, but to learn a bit more about the various commentary and discussions that took place, I also recommend visiting these blogs as well:

You’ll notice that my personal focus wasn’t specifically on the technology but rather on what technology can enable – as you look at your plans strategies for the coming year, be sure to remember that technology is a means to an end, not the final outcome.

Stacey Harris

Brandon Hall Research Group

Stacey Harris

Vice President, Research and Advisory Services
Stacey Harris

Stacey Harris oversees Brandon Hall Group’s research strategy and agenda, solution provider relations, and advisory services. Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Harris was with Bersin & Associates. In her most recent role as director of HR and talent management research, she launched the company’s HR practice and led key research initiatives in strategic HR, talent strategy, organization and governance, measurement, and total rewards. Harris also served as director of strategic services for three years and worked with companies such as McDonald’s, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, and Pfizer on a variety of mission-critical talent initiatives.Harris has also held leadership roles at Jo-Ann Stores, MRI International, and Keybank.Harris's background includes experience leading enterprise-wide change management initiatives and technology implementations, business process alignments, and the design and implementation of integrated organizational effectiveness solutions including measurement strategies.

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