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People First the Key Message from HR Tech World

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Last week, I attended the HR Tech World conference in San Francisco, where ~ 2,000+ HR practitioners, thought leaders, vendors, analysts, and VC representatives converged on the Fort Mason campus on San Francisco Bay to experience and discuss the latest disruption in the HR technology space.   

This was the first year the event was hosted in the U.S., but it felt like San Francisco is where this conference belongs – with Silicon Valley just down the road, this is where the future of technology is being shaped, and for HR it’s no longer a case of ‘disruption is coming’… it’s already here. In fact, according to some of the thought leaders presenting at HR Tech World, organizations that aren’t embracing the change should be planning their funerals.

The conference theme was ‘Unleash Your People’, with the focus on employers embracing technology to transform and empower employees to get work done without all the minutiae and bureaucracy that often surrounds them. The message was that it’s about killing the old way of doing things – not just reengineering old processes with new technology, but allowing new technology to drive the HR processes of tomorrow, some of which we haven’t even thought of yet.

All of the usual players (e.g. Workday, SAP/SuccessFactors, Cornerstone, ADP, SABA, etc.) and several newer niche players (e.g. SmartRecruiters, Culture Amp, Harver, etc.) were on hand to show their latest HR technology offerings. However, one glaring absence at the conference was Oracle HCM – interesting to say the least given that this is Oracle’s backyard. And with SAP/SuccessFactors and Workday the event’s ‘Diamond Plus’ sponsors, I imagined Larry Ellison himself pulling in to the bay on the Team Oracle America’s Cup sailboat just to one up the competition. But there were no such sightings. 

Over and over, I saw demos, apps, dashboards, and presentation after presentation about enabling employee engagement, user experience, social interactions, and mobile technology. A few highlights were:

  • SagePeople presented its robust end-to-end SaaS-based HCM platform (built on the Salesforce platform) and capable of delivery in ~140+ countries’ complete with mobile technology, robust analytics, and implemented in under 90 days (depending on customer data migration and complexity requirements)
  • Netherlands-based Harver featured their TalentPitch cloud talent acquisition platform – with features for talent acquisition like situational judgement testing to allow employees to try out a role before moving forward in the process
  • NGA HR showed their cleaHRsky offering, powered by SAP/SuccessFactors – a HR SaaS offering capable of implementation in under 100 days, including analytics that tie in HR, Payroll, as well as HR service center interaction data
  • Infor CloudSuite HCM demonstrated their end-to-end cloud HCM technology with industry-specific configuration and talent science features to truly understand and drive day-to-day decisions on talent management and employee engagement
  • SmartRecruiters showed off their talent acquisition platform with its mobile first technology, simplified user experience, and built in integrations to apps like LinkedIn, Dice, and

However, I think the highlight of the conference was the keynote presentation by serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk (‘Gary V’). In his very ‘un-HR’ presentation that was very refreshing and well received, he reminded us that all this technology is great, and all the bells and whistles may be necessary to be competitive today and push HR forward towards a transformed, digital model. But the reality is, none of this will help a business unless they care about and understand their people, and empower them to thrive, make better decisions, and improve their performance. 

He went on to say, “The only tech you should give a **** about is the one that gives you the most data on an individual basis for every single person that works for you… and in real time.”  His point was that if organizations don’t start truly understanding what every single employee in their organization cares about in life, what truly drives them, then being able to act on it, and being nimble enough to pivot the moment things change, then none of the technology matters.  


Later this year, I will be conducting a major global project reviewing Next Generation HCM Technology, including a deep dive into the leading HCM software providers, HCM technology platform capabilities, and the overall trends impacting the HR technology market.

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