#HRTechConf Trends from 2012: Innovation Comes in Different Packages

I’ve been on the road non-stop for almost 6 weeks straight – crisscrossing from U.K. to L.A. and back again several times – and many of my peers in the analyst space have been on similar annual conference pilgrimages, traveling even further and faster than I. So my hat is off to each of you … particularly those affected by this week’s storm and flooding on the U.S. East Coast. Our thoughts are with everyone during these difficult times.

My own travels took me to big industry conferences including HR Tech, regional peer meetings, and my personal favorites, Brandon Hall Group member meetings. At each stop you couldn’t help but think about innovation versus practical application. Learning and HR as industries are slow to change and even slower to implement… after all we are dealing with people and their livelihoods and we should think carefully about how our decisions as industry leaders impact the people we propose to “serve.”

On the other hand, many conferences and meetings are for the sheer purpose of showing off innovative and groundbreaking technology changes – supposedly to improve our approach to meeting “people” needs, but in reality it is to kick-start that visceral instinct in all of us to “not fall behind” which hopefully pushes buyers into action. And therein lies the problem, innovation in technology does not make us a better industry, in fact it often makes us a less innovative industry.

Don’t get me wrong, as an analyst, I love technology – I think the drive for innovative technology has driven us to some amazing places like real people analytics and mobile performance support, but I also think it has overshadowed the importance of “innovation” in our thinking. Innovative technology often allows us to just modernize already bad thinking…i.e. annual performance reviews and power point driven classroom training. Instead of forcing us to change how we think.

So this year, in my fall conference sprint, I was glad to see less technology innovation and more idea innovation taking place. We saw only 40  new product announcements at HR Tech this year, compared to 60 last year… a blessing in disguise because I believe it puts the focus back where it belongs.

Workforce Management that Works, That’s an Innovative Idea!

One area I was thrilled to see getting its time in the spotlight was Workforce Management systems. I’ve been saying for years that one of the key reasons we’ve struggled to truly implement effective Talent Management practices has been due to poor employee data management tools and approaches. One simple rule of thumb for any data management process is junk in = junk out. The systems that truly impact our employees every day were being left in the dust – as we focused an entire industry on the sexier topics of “Talent Management.”

This year we saw a resurgence of innovation and updates from the workforce management space – from major launches in mobile employee and manager tools, to more cost effective tablet based time clocks, and huge overhauls on user interface designs. Much of this innovation is in response to the success of Workday and ADP’s  cloud based workforce management options – and as these organizations have shifted their focus to financial modules and talent management tools, we saw major improvements from organizations such as:

  • Kronos: The grand-father in the industry was making real headway in their shift towards the cloud with the Workforce Ready product, and more mobile capabilities, and updates on their successful inTouch (tablet like) time clock launched last year. No matter how you look at it – Kronos has a lot of companies they can convert to a new way of thinking.
  • Ceridian: Placing robust reporting and management power in the hands of small and mid-market business with updates to their cloud based DayForce workforce management product. New interfaces, faster reporting capabilities, dynamic reporting tools, and user friendly tablet time-clocks are all new features from this solution.
  • WorkForce Software Systems: Making it easier to track and manage more complex and difficult workforces, that require highly strategic and configurable workforce management tools. Thinking differently about things like employee fatigue management and absence tracking.

None of these innovations will knock your socks off as far as technology goes – most of them are focused on getting information closer to the workers, getting to you faster, and getting it in a platform that is simply easier to use. However, I’m thrilled to see these shifts– organizations often underestimate the importance of connecting their workforce management efforts with their talent management efforts to achieve real business changes. This is innovation that was absolutely necessary.

HR thinking like Marketers, The Ideas Keep Flowing

I was a bit overwhelmed again with the amount of energy still focused this year on talent acquisition at HR Tech – of the 40 new announcements made this year over 16 of them had something to do with recruiting or assessing new candidates. In all my briefings and update announcements I was struck most by the growing overlap between the Talent Acquisition and Marketing worlds. Branding and talent campaigns aren’t new territory for recruiting professionals, but this year I saw the stakes being raised.

  • SmashFly: Calls their system, a Recruitment Marketing System with tools and analytics that are so similar to sales and marketing campaign tools that they and many of their small clients leverage the system for both.
  • TalentBin: Is focused on finding passive candidates with similar techniques marketing functions leverage to find passive customers. Using a confidential algorithm, TalentBin can follow social online conversations for critical technical roles and identify the best candidate options, not to dissimilar to Amazon.com using data to push buying recommendations based on affiliations and buying habits. TalentBin continues to expand their searching options beyond technical sites, to now include the U.S. Patent office and future opportunities with journal databases – letting them move beyond just technical job roles.
  • Entelo: not only searches for hard to find passive candidates but predicts their readiness to make a job move based on an algorithm that combines information such as time on the job, recent activity updating on-line profiles, or commuting distance. A ranked list based on job “hoppiness.” Marketing companies have been using data such as location, recent purchases, and even job affiliations to predict future buying habits for years – but leveraging that sophisticated thinking for HR is something new.
  • Gild:  this little gem of an organization has combined gamification principals and mobile tools to engage audiences to interact with recruiters in a more meaningful way.

Personally I saw both exciting and some concerning possibilities for these type of technologies inside company walls – once we start realizing that looking for talent internally is as important as looking for talent externally, things may shift dramatically. But either way, they are innovations in thinking

Getting Granular to Get Big Ideas

Last year my HR Tech annual blog on trends to watch spoke a great deal about solution providers aggregating their internal SaaS database information to create benchmarking tools – and you not only saw that happen but you saw major acquisitions taking place based on those aggregated data bases such as Corporate Executive Boards purchase of SHL, an assessment provider,and IBM’s notification of intent to purchase of Kenexa. These purchases were based on acquiring data, as much as they were on any other factor.

Why is data aggregation important to getting granular? Why is getting granular important to getting big and innovative ideas? Simply put, the more we actually look at the real relationships and behaviors of people – the more likely we’ll be able to see what is working and what is not. Organizations that are starting to take this concept to heart are changing how we think about our role in HR.

  • RoundPegg: A small company, helping organizations better understand their cultures by breaking it down into identifiable characteristics and then helping them understand the impact of that culture on the employee. Assessments and benchmarking are nothing new in the HR industry, but I found RoundPegg intriguing because they were looking at an old question in a new way.
  • Xyleme: a Learning Content Management System that is launching its new learning analytics module that allows organizations to analyze a learner’s actions and reaction while in a learning event at the most granular level of learning – versus a “smile” sheet survey to judge the effectiveness of the content. Join me for a good discussion on this topic – Granular data can give us big information. 

These are just a few of the innovative approaches and ideas that I’ve seen in the last few weeks. But as you can see it doesn’t take a big new technology to feel like we’ve innovated – sometimes just a new way of looking at an old problem.

Every year we spend more and more time at work – and we have high expectations about how our organizations manage that work, and every year we seem a little more disillusioned that our companies seem unable to provide the same experiences we are coming to expect in our personal lives – customized, tailored, targeted, and engaging connections when it comes to connecting to our friends, making purchases, planning our travel, even driving our cars.

HR and Learning need to realize that we are living through a major social and economic shift, and they need to stop worrying about getting at the business table and start worrying about engaging with their audiences through intelligent and thoughtful connections – and the business table will come to them.

If you’re interested in discussing Innovation in Talent and Learning feel free to contact me at [email protected], I’d love to hear your thoughts on new market offerings and where you think innovation is heading in the marketplace.

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Stacey Harris



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