I’ve just reread my observations from last year’s conference, and you should too. If I say so myself, it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of what was happening then, much of which is still happening but which is much farther along, at least in some (but by no means all) vendor products and some end-user organizations. Rather than repeat myself, I thought I’d take a very different tack on collecting my thoughts from this year’s conference and focus not on the substantive trends in HR technology but rather on the show’s gestalt.
Big, Big, Big!
I’m sure that Bill Kutik will report that all the numbers were sky-high, from vendors to sessions to attendees to international representation to miles walked. But for once I think I’m going to believe him.
Sessions were jammed, the show floor was buzzing, and my two sessions — Master Panel on the main stage Tuesday morning and “Expert” session Tuesday afternoon — were both standing room only. I felt badly that quite a few people were turned away from my “Expert” session because of fire code limits on the number of people the room could hold, and I’ve had lots of requests for recordings.
Hopefully, LRP’s 2013 preparations will include live streaming of the main stage sessions and at least record and playback for all others (especially any that I may do). I sure wish there were a recording of this year’s “Expert” session; it was lively, to say the least. And anyone with a video of our panel could get top dollar for it. So please let me know if you are the proud possessor of either.
Master Panel — What Wasn’t Said!
With just about sixty minutes of talk time and six panelists, we worked hard to make sure each panelist’s voice was heard across a meaningful range of topics. I couldn’t be more proud of the panel members in how they cooperated on the preparation for and delivery of our session. And I was truly honored to be on the same stage with so capable a group of gentlemen. But I couldn’t help noticing that they were all gentlemen — and neither could you. Hopefully, if we organize another panel of this type, there will be some women chief architects, CTOs, executives over all products and technology, etc. ready to join us. There are a ton of women in HR technology, but they rarely hold the top technology positions, and that’s a bloody shame.
The big takeaway from our panel was the absolute consensus that the train to the cloud (however defined, but which appeared to include consumerization of IT, integration of core HRMS with full talent management capabilities, and so much more) has left the station. Even the most laggard of these vendors are now not only now on the cloud train (does anyone remember the clue train?) but they’re shoveling coal into the train’s engine as aggressively as possible.
It practically took drugging myself to restrain Naomi from wanting to go deep into the very real differences across the vendors and their products. And there are MANY! From how easy they are for customers to do business with, to the simplicity and clarity of their pricing, to the healthiness (my bias is showing here) of their corporate cultures in terms of the presence or lack of internal competitiveness and political machinations, to how they deal with NO when prospects or customers choose someone else, these are VERY different companies. And that’s before we even get to their definitions of SaaS and cloud, let alone to the completeness and correctness of both their object models and applications architectures.
I so wanted to pin down every one of these panelists on these and many other points, but we would have needed a full day and a ton of diet coke to do that — not to mention that the audience would have glazed over or left. So, as in so many things in life, less was more.
Innovation, Adoption, More Innovation
How much real adoption has there been across our industry of the very best in HR technology? How many executives are using their tablets to run their succession planning meetings without paper or laptops or whiteboards? Or to execute those succession plans when all hell breaks loose?
How many employees are recording their time on their smartphones, requesting leave right there, and getting their payroll results on the same device while cheering their children’s sports teams on Sunday afternoon? And doing all of the above with a ton of embedded intelligence to guide them and live chat available if needed?
How many garden variety managers are using their tablets to propose some future-dated organizational changes, to see the future-dated impacts of these proposals on their budgets and the potential business results if those proposed organizational changes are made? Can they then launch those future-dated changes for needed approvals and execution?
It’s clearly not everyone having all of this capability delivered where/when/how they prefer to work, so perhaps some are awaiting Vulcan mind melding rather than messing around with today’s tablets and smartphones? Or not.
I could give you a zillion more examples of the differences between what’s possible and what’s been adopted, rolled out to everyone, and placed actively in service. With the show floor and adoption case studies from HR Tech 2012 to point out the high ground, and Lexy’s survey to tell us where we really are, the delta is very large. And it feels to me as though that difference is growing as those able to take advantage of the best we offer further outdistance their late adopter cousins with each generational change in HR technology.
Legacy Apps, Legacy People
I wrote a blog post series (see below for the links and short descriptions) a while back about how to enjoy a long and productive career. These were really just lessons from my own experience with same, and the experiences of many friends/family members who have worked long and well. I’ve also written some posts about the specific KSAOCs that have served me well, and which you may want to consider.
So one of the things I’m always on the look-out for are people who, through their own hard work and pushing the envelope, stay at the top of their game. And I can’t help but notice those who aren’t, some of whom once where but slacked off as well as those who never were and wonder why their careers have tanked. Just as enterprise software, especially HR technology, doesn’t stay young forever, neither do we or our KSAOCs. There’s a “half-life” to many KSAOCs which, unless refreshed continuously, degrade visibly.
If you’re one of the folks I scolded about all of this (is there any other way to describe having this aging Tweep in your face about professional development?), I hope you know that it was with genuine concern rather than any negative intent. I’m not only trying to make the world safe from bad HR technology but also to make our community safe from bad HRM and HR technology decisions and use because of legacy KSAOCs.
HRM Drives Business Outcomes
Another topic on which I tend to repeat myself (yes, it’s a common sign of aging, or perhaps it’s just because it bears repeating), is that all technology investments must begin with the business outcomes that are their purpose. Here too I’ve written a ton, with this particular post (and do follow the links at the end for a tour of the “Yellow Brick Road” to achieving those business outcomes) aimed squarely at our HR leaders. But it was very reassuring to see that something I’ve been advocating for 25+ years is now front and center on vendor and consultant as well as end-user agendas.
Touring the show floor, reading what vendor booths say they do, skimming all that marketing literature on and off-line, it’s clear that our industry has shifted gears from improving administrative efficiency to driving organizational outcomes. And just in the nick of time. There are simply no more heads to cut, and saving another few cents per employee per pay cycle is no where near as important as ensuring that we have the talent and talent management processes to support our growth targets, open up new geographies, bring new products to market faster and with better sales, etc. Yes, administrative efficiency and effectivness are important, but accomplishing that should be in our rear view mirrors. Now we simply must demonstrate the real power of HRM, of strategic HRM, in driving business outcomes. And at last the entire industry seems to be singing the same song on this.
Rethink And Replace
I was really amazed at the size of the audience in my Tuesday afternoon “Ask the Expert” session but didn’t learn until later that quite a few people couldn’t get in because we were over the limit for our room. I hope someone who was there took photos/video and/or make a recording and will send those to me because I was so busy answering your questions that I didn’t make note of them or of my responses. Hopefully, I gave reasonable answers, but your feedback on that would be very much appreciated. What did strike me were the number of people interested in talking about how, when and why they should plan for getting off of their licensed/on-premise/aging ERP/HRMS with add-on talent management applications
Serendipity During Nature Breaks
If you’re the woman who approached me as I was washing my hands to ask/talk about your struggles with your ERP vendor over the incessant pressure to buy more modules, open up seats, commit to their next generation, etc. etc., this post is for you. I did say this in my “Expert” session but know that you weren’t able to get in because the room was over its limit, so here goes again. Do not spend one more dime investing in your current, aging licensed/on-premise HRMS and related apps (apps which their vendor owner has designated as legacy even as they are building out their own next gen apps as fast as their feet will carry them) until you’ve completed a thorough strategic HRM and HRM delivery systems planning project.
My own “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” approach is a good starting point, but what matters here is drawing the line of sight from your organization’s needed business outcomes through the HRM policies/practices/plan designs/etc. that are needed to achieve those outcomes and right on to the enabling technologies. It’s that analysis which will tell you whether or not you should stay where you are or prepare to make a major leap to a next generation of core HRMS with integrated talent management capabilities or take an entirely different approach via best-of-breed interfacing, substantial BPO, etc. Whatever you do, don’t let any vendor sell you; rather, educate yourself to be a buyer on behalf of your organization’s best interests.
Ron and I had a great time at HR Tech, and we’re already thinking about next year. Every year the best part of this conference are the meetups with friends new and old, the casual conversations on the show floor, chance encounters in the rest rooms, and all the other unplanned intersections with members of our community. But between this year’s show and next year in Vegas, it’s clear that there remains a ton of work to do if our industry is going to own the damn table, as well we should.
Next week we’ll be in Amsterdam for HR Tech Europe, and I hope to meet many new colleagues. If we haven’t met before, please do introduce yourselves.
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