A Look Forward
Our Inside HR Tech columnist files his after-action report on the 20th Annual HR Technology Conference, which highlighted the growing use of HR tech to shape and direct more attention and resources to employee and organizational wellness.
By Steve Boese
The HR Tech Conference held earlier this month serves almost as an annual report card, health check and starting point where HR technology will head in the next year, from the latest developments in mobile, analytics and cloud technology to a look at some of the technologies that are coming next, including artificial intelligence, augmented reality and even blockchain.
Reflecting on everything that went on at the conference, here are some thoughts about what HR and HRIT leaders should really have top of mind as 2017 winds down and organizations begin planning for 2018.
Cloud, Mobile, Analytics: Not "If?" but "When?"
If you look back over the past few years of HR-technology-trends articles, you'd find that the migration of HR systems to the cloud, adoption and greater rollout of mobile HR solutions, and an increased focus on HR analytics were mentioned in just about every piece. As the 2017 HR Tech Conference clearly demonstrated, all these trends/predictions starting in 2010 or so have been (or are in the process of being) realized in most organizations and by most HR technology providers.
The potential for increased HR innovations that arise from having a solid foundation of core HR systems is being realized by organizations of all sizes. And that is an important point as well. A quick check of the many cloud-based HR technologies that are specifically targeting and serving small- and mid-market businesses reveals that most innovative HR technologies are available to almost at any scale. And these so-called mid-market solutions have mostly been built from the ground up -- with cloud, mobile and analytics at their core.
Wellness, Experience, Productivity
During Josh Bersin's closing keynote at HR Tech, he talked about a couple of key trends that are combining to shape and direct more organizational attention and resources to employee and organizational wellness. The first is the idea of the overwhelmed employee: one who is barraged by a combination of incessant interruptions from email and smartphone notifications and apps, highly complex business systems and processes, and a general increase in working hours which all compound the challenge of achieving work/life balance. One of the strategies that HR leaders and organizations are increasingly adopting (and applying associated technology solutions to support these strategies) is more thoughtful and measurable programs to address and improve employee well-being.
Notice I did not use the older term "wellness," which tended to be associated with step-counting and discrete health measures. Well-being is a more comprehensive and holistic concept that incorporates not only health, but also financial security and planning, recognition, career planning and even the physical work environment. This category of HR tech is broad, but according to Bersin, it presents a huge opportunity for HR leaders to better engage employees, improve retention rates and decrease absences, as well as drive increased productivity and revenue growth.
AI and What's Next
If I had to identify one new HR tech concept that is just starting to gain traction, it probably would be the evolution of artificial intelligence in HR technologies. Right now, there seems to be two main ways that AI tools, concepts and capabilities are being introduced into the field.
The first approach is one that is being taken by many of the larger providers, which are building platform-wide AI layers designed to provide key technology and infrastructure to inject AI into their functional applications and business processes. Examples of companies taking on this approach include Ultimate Software with its "Xander" technology, Infor with its "Coleman" solutions and Oracle, which calls its approach "Adaptive Intelligence." These large-enterprise providers will seek to power HR applications for hiring, team building, managerial coaching and more through AI-driven insights and decision support.
The other main AI-for-HR trend we saw at HR Tech was an increase in the number of HR tech start-ups and point solutions -- with many of them in the hiring/talent acquisition space -- that are meant to improve processes, provide greater service levels and response times to candidates, and help organizations make better and faster talent decisions. What HR leaders need to look out for is how many of these point solutions will manage to get enough early traction with customers that they can cut through what is bound to be a crowded space in the coming months.
But whether you experiment with what an AI start-up has to offer or take advantage of what your enterprise provider is developing, my prediction is we will see even more AI solutions and case studies at next year's HR Tech Conference.
Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology Conference and Exposition® and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at email@example.com.