Thoughts and Soundbites from HR Tech World London
What a great start to the HR technology calendar! Never has a subject or a domain been so popular and 2017 promises to be a great year for our industry if the first HR Tech World of the year in London last week was any indication. And we still have San Francisco in June and Amsterdam in October to look forward to!
Having been attending these and other HR technology events for a number of years, it’s interesting to be able to compare themes year on year. Here’s how I would summarise the last 5 years:
2016/17 – Artificial Intelligence
As for 2017/18 – I predict everyone will be blockchain business 😉
Clearly, all of these, with the exception perhaps of social media, are all current, but the hype meter tends to raise one above the others as each year moves on. The last 12 months have been dominated by AI and discussions of ‘disruption’ in HR. Here are my thoughts on what I heard last week:
It’s the word on everyones lips at the moment. During the conference, I was approached by Lace Partners, an HR technology and services consultancy who were running a survey which included the question “which of the following was the most disruptive thing to happen in HR in the last 5 years” See the slide below.
I said “none of them” and here’s why. Given that some Enterprise HR/resourcing functions still don’t yet have even mobile-friendly career sites or job application processes, or mobile/cloud enabled employee systems, it’s a stretch to say that any of these have been truly ‘disruptive’ in HR. They could be, but they are not.
Fosway Group, the European HR and Learning analyst firm, recently released some excellent research that demonstrates we still have a long way to go, even to shift core HR applications to the cloud. Their research shows that a significant proportion of core HR technology is still “on premise”. For the bearded, no-sock-wearing millennials amongst you, that means that the core system sits on a server box, somewhere inside the organisation! (I know, unbelievable eh?!) See slides below:
So much talk of disruption, so little action.
Despite this, the ‘disruptHR’ area at the event was buzzing. This section was busy throughout the conference so it’s clear there is a lot of interest from attendees in new technologies. Hats off to Marc and the team for recognising the importance of showcasing the new breed of technologies and giving them the space to be seen.
The new fashionable phrase. Everyone was talking about it. It even got a mention during the “HR Shared Service and Payroll” sessions that I chaired. Enterprise technology vendors came under fire, and rightly so, for the poor approach to UX, and a lack of focus on the ‘end’ user. Jason Averbook brought this to life in his session ‘Be Brave – The time for action is now!’ pointing out that enterprise technology is built for the current buyer – IT & HR – and that the real audience is ‘us’, the end user, the employee, and that systems are not designed around their ultimate needs. Spot on. As I tweeted during his session: “I love my enterprise self service application”. Said no employee. Ever.
The theme was also echoed in more research findings from Fosway, the following slides calling out the issue with UX:
By contrast, having spent a long time delving into the start ups in our domain, the smaller vendors are way ahead in putting the user first. Now, I realise that I’m talking about the superficial, visual experience here and appreciate that UX is much more than that. But you can see that these tools are much more intuitive and easy to use. We have seen this trend in the wave of alternative ATS providers like Workable, Greenhouse and SmartRecruiters etc. and it’s clearly moving into other areas of the HR function.
Many important business messages often get wrapped in the millennial banner either because we believe that they are exclusive in their needs, habits and wants compared to others in the working population, which just isn’t true. Or, because it’s easier to get attention when you align your messages to the magic Millennial word.
Patrick Petitti, CEO and founder of Catalant, discussed the future of work, and how organisations really need to get with the program and start to re-shape the work and the workplace in order to make sure they can attract and accommodate the best people. Unfortunately, there should be some linking between his research findings to millennials and GenX’ers and baby boomers. What could also be considered because the over 45’s are projected to increase their presence in the workforce over next few decades, making up nearly half of the working population by 2050. The 16 to 44 year olds as a group are, by contrast, predicted to shrink.
Ultimately, we all want better work, more flexibility, more recognition for our efforts and more personalised rewards. And it seems to me the strategic question for the future is more likely to be “how do we accommodate the workforce as it inevitably ages?”
The ‘gig’ economy
You can’t open a publication these days without seeing reference to the gig economy, so it’s no surprise that it was a prominent subject at HR Tech World. It’s a subject that polarises opinion too. On the one hand you have the romantic view which paints a picture of sharing economy flexibility and controlling your own destiny, that the gig economy is the “new normal” and a gateway to a better life, characterised by sipping latte’s in a cafe overlooking the beach while controlling your business empire from your MacBook.
The alternative view is that it’s a smokescreen for reducing organisations’ obligations to provide permanent employment and or reduce direct employment costs and that in the worst cases, it’s contributing to the number of people living on the breadline. Big names like Gary Hamel spoke at the Paris event and pointed out that the gig economy is simply too small to have any positive impact on productivity, which is the holy grail most companies are seeking to find.
There is no doubt that, for the employable population, the future points to shorter periods of employment, the reduction of permanent roles, the increase in temporary/portfolio careers or self-employment and the need to retrain. If nothing else, this increases the need for individuals to be properly “understood”, to be clear about their capabilities and potential in the face of uncertainty around career change and for organisations to be able to look beyond classic measures of potential. Beyond a plethora of new online “gig marketplaces” springing up recently, have I seen a viable and game changing technology solution to this upcoming challenge? To be honest, I don’t think I have.
Smart ‘ish’ Data
There was a stream at the conference called “smart data”, featuring stories and case studies from the corporate world around people analytics. There were some interesting case studies for sure, Adidas in particular stood out. Even the Adidas case study whilst interesting in its execution is really only a blueprint for a minimum standard of people analytics that all decent sized organisations should be achieving. It’s no wonder the function lacks credibility when the insight they have is so limited.
There are some good case studies out there and if you follow people like David Green (recommended) from IBM, you could be forgiven for thinking that most organisations are on the case. But the truth is that the number who are is still tiny. And it’s quite obvious from listing to those presenting that very few, if any, have moved on from structured data to consider unstructured data and that ‘predictive’ analytics are still generally a vision rather than a reality.
The economists view
The conference was rounded off with a keynote by economist Dr Daniel Thornily. His review of post Brexit Britain and its likely impact was sobering. You had to be there to appreciate the full impact and I can’t begin to do him justice here. For a short summary of his talk, see this write up in Personnel Today. His ability to translate the global economic climate into relevant messages for the audience was captivating to watch, especially given he didn’t use any slides at all, which is his signature style. All in all an excellent and thought-provoking way to wrap up a great event.
Big thank you to the HRN team, especially Marc (Get well soon!) Peter, Alex and all the hard working folks who made the event run like clockwork! Special mention to Dave Hazlehurst, who did a cracking job as MC!
Hopefully see you all at the next event in San Francisco in June!