Technology of Tomorrow

HR Tech 2018 shone a light on the need for HR leaders to plan ahead to make the most of today’s technology.
By: | December 12, 2018 • 11 min read

As much as technology is shaping today’s world, it’s also laying the foundation for tomorrow.

That idea was on display at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition® in September in Las Vegas, where thousands came together to learn about the latest trends and solutions impacting the HR-tech field. Among the many themes that emerged was a consensus that HR technology is evolving at such a rapid rate that HR professionals need to be vigilant about keeping pace—in order to help their organizations stay ahead of the curve.

The following are a few of the highlights from sessions that explored how HR leaders can be forward-thinking when it comes to tech:

Randi Zuckerberg on Tech’s Future

What’s the best way to get ahead as a woman in the male-dominated world of technology? According to Randi Zuckerberg, you need to have a masculine first name. Joking aside, she said, during most of her career, particularly during her time at Facebook, she fielded many questions such as, “Where’s Randi? I thought I was meeting with Randi.”

Gender expectations were among the many topics Zuckerberg addressed in her opening session, “Future Consumers: Decoding the Trends and Opportunities Today,” in which she traced her whirlwind career. After studying business marketing at Harvard University, Zuckerberg moved to New York to work at a well-known advertising agency. One day, her brother Mark called and offered her a digital marketer position at his start-up, which he was calling Facebook.

Once she arrived on the West Coast, she said, she saw there was something truly inspirational about the scrappy start-up. The small team had a real passion; they truly believed they’d change the world. At the time, though, they were competing with already established tech giants that offered employees fancy lunches and amazing (expensive) perks. How could Facebook compete for the best engineering talent?

The team decided to use its passion of entrepreneurship to attract talent. They would host all-night hackathons for everyone in the company to join so that they could all feel like entrepreneurs. The submissions had to be passion projects that were separate from contributors’ everyday jobs.

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During one, Zuckerberg presented an idea that was met with skepticism. She wanted to know what it would look like if everyone using Facebook was his or her own broadcaster. So, she set up a mini-studio in a closet and broadcasted herself in real time on Facebook. Both of her parents tuned in—and that was the end of Facebook Live with Randi Zuckerberg … or so she thought.

A few weeks after the failed broadcast, Katy Perry’s team called Zuckerberg and said the singer wanted to launch her world tour on Facebook Live with Randi. She said she considered how her male colleagues would respond to the request.

“Would they say, ‘Sorry, Facebook Live isn’t a reputable show?’ ” Zuckerberg recalled. “No! They’d say, ‘Sure, come on in,’ so that’s what I said, too.”

In 2011, Perry delivered the first Facebook Live broadcast, which became a hit. President Obama later asked to do a Facebook Live Town Hall, which turned into a weekly White House broadcast. And now, there is a Facebook Live button on 2 billion profiles around the world.

“I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur when I went out to Silicon Valley. I was a supportive person in marketing, ‘supporting’ the entrepreneurs,” said Zuckerberg. “Every one of us is sitting on that 2 billion button idea. It depends on if you’re encouraged to take risks and not be afraid of failing in pursuit of your idea.”

After her massive “failure” turned into a hit, Zuckerberg did what any successful executive would do … and left her job at Facebook. The reasons, she said, were complicated and included a desire to research how to bring more women to the leadership table at tech companies.

On that front, Zuckerberg created Sue’s Tech Kitchen, a pop-up that aims to get more women and girls interested in tech. She spent time researching the exact moment when girls often lose interest in tech—age 9—and set out to create a dessert café featuring robots, 3D printers, science experiments and more to change their minds. She wanted the kids to play with their food while learning, showing them that tech can bring a family together instead of keeping them apart. The most popular items in the café have been the 3D-printed S’mores and pancakes made by robots.

“We had all these families that hadn’t pursued STEM or tech come, and it opened up opportunities to talk about AI and robotics and skills they need for their careers in a way that feels non-threatening and non-overwhelming,” said Zuckerberg.

The venture is among a huge surge in pop-up experiences—restaurants, stores, photo opportunities. Apart from that trend, Zuckerberg shared four predictions that she said will shape the future of tech: Tech consumers will see everything as media; they will value scarcity and experiences; they will think about their careers differently; and they will want a healthy balance of technology.

“Every one of us is a media company. If you reach even one person inside of your company online with the tools you’re building and communication, you’re a media company,” she said.

The spirit of entrepreneurship, she added, can help bring to fruition that “2 billion button” idea we all have within us—but getting that idea to surface in the first place is something uniquely HR: company culture.

“It depends if you’re in the right atmosphere where you’re encouraged to be creative to let those ideas out.”

—Danielle Westermann King

Companies Shifting HR-Tech Focus to Data

Overall HR-tech spending is increasing, according to the results of Sierra-Cedar’s 2018-2019 HR Systems Survey, which was released during a session at HR Tech.

Stacey Harris, Sierra-Cedar’s vice president of research and analytics, said that increase also comes with more value per dollar.

“In other words,” she said, “more modules, more capabilities per dollar spent per employee.”

(Watch Stacey Harris discuss the latest findings during an HR Tech interview.)

The challenge with that, she noted, is that “we’re also seeing a lot of organizations that are struggling with the skill sets and capabilities inside their companies to use all these assets and tools. So we have a real adoption issue that’s going on in organizations: HR technology outpaces the skill sets of the current technologists or tech roles in many of these organizations.”

The survey found that, in an effort to overcome that challenge, 25 percent of all large organizations plan to add more HR-data-analytics workers, compared to 17 percent of medium-sized companies and 7 percent of small companies.

Harris said the report also highlights a shift in HR tech from a focus on the process and practices of HR to a focus on the data that are required for HR and workforce intelligence.

“And that shift has been a pretty long transition,” she said, “but this year we’re definitely seeing the outcomes of organizations that are starting to make that shift and how they’re changing how they think about their HR systems.”

The 21st annual edition of the survey is the latest installment of the longest-running research effort in the HR industry. It was conducted from April through June 2018 and is based on 1,312 unique organizations representing a total workforce of 17.7 million employees and contingent workers.

According to the report, only 17 percent of surveyed organizations felt their HR systems “always” met their business needs. But for the other 83 percent of organizations, the No. 1 issue identified across all application areas by almost half of organizations was configuration and customization limitations, followed by functionality gaps (44 percent). Internal knowledge and skills were a major gap identified by 24 percent of organizations, giving vendors and system integrators an opportunity to address issues beyond technology.

Among the surprises in the report, Harris cited a 72 percent increase over last year in the number of organizations that had a “rip-and-replace” model in place.

“That shows that if you haven’t made the transition yet or [don’t] have a strategy yet, you’re behind the curve,” she said. “If you haven’t thought about how to update and upgrade your HR technology in some way, you’re no longer going to be at the head of the pack.”

—Michael J. O’Brien

Driving Predictive Talent Planning

How do you decide to invest in different talent trends?

At Accenture, the professional-services company with 449,000 workers in 120 countries and $33 billion in revenue, big data are helping provide the answer to that question, according to Mike Gabour, a next horizon skills lead with the organization.

“Tech is changing at an exponential pace,” he said during a conference session titled “Hiring for the Next Big Thing at Accenture: Big Data Drives Predictive Talent Planning.”

“Gone are the days when you had 10 years to respond to a new tech trend. These days, you’ll be lucky if you get two,” he said. “So we always have to look ahead to stay ahead.”

But what if you could use that same technology to predict those next trends?

About two years ago, Gabour said, Accenture teamed up with researchers at MIT, “dumped a boatload of data on the conference-room table and asked them one question: ‘How do we make sure we don’t miss the next trend?’ ”

After the MIT team looked at job-posting data and talent-pipeline data, they were able to understand those trends markers and successfully be able to predict what was coming up. But they soon realized they were missing a key component: What was happening outside of Accenture’s internal data?

That’s when they turned to Burning Glass Technologies to dive into the larger world of human-capital data to get answers to questions like: How do we validate what we’re seeing internally? How do we make sure we’re not missing what’s happening in the external marketplace? And how do we look to the next one to two years and predict what those future trends will be?

But human-capital data are “super-unstructured and very messy,” said Enrique Cruzalegui, vice president of strategic accounts at Burning Glass, adding that people use the same words to describe completely different concepts, such as “associate” at Walmart versus the same title for someone at McKinsey.

To create order out of all that chaos, Burning Glass collects data from 50,000 sources and has nearly 1 billion jobs in its database going back to 2010.

“What that data contain is essentially very coded job postings from wherever that data live, combined with government data, educational data,” Cruzalegui said, “and we have mapped that to a taxonomy that we have developed internally.”

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This approach allows them to see job skills in context and make appropriate comparisons between two companies in the same industry in order to get an accurate look at the companies’ “talent shape” and evaluate the skills for which the company is hiring.

Through this approach, Cruzalegui said, Burning Glass has defined four different skills categories. Escalators are growing fast and build on existing technology but aren’t “going to shake your world up,” while disruptors “could potentially really change the way you do business.” Stabilizers “might be a type of day-in, day-out skill, such as data manipulation,” while challengers are skills that “you know you’re going to need, but they’re just hard to find, such as data architecture.”

This information is critical for companies like Accenture, Cruzalegui said, because it has to be able to forecast the skill that “hasn’t been invented yet that’s going to revolutionize how you do XYZ.”

But tracking disruptions across multiple dimensions means not only looking at job descriptions but also keeping an eye on “internet chatter,” as well as maintaining a large database of resumes that Burning Glass uses to validate its findings and “see how people are moving across their career pathways,” he added.

Using this information, Gabour said, allows companies like Accenture to identify where those future skills gaps will be and how to invest in learning, as well as where to focus hiring.

Accenture was also able to answer some key questions for its leaders, Gabour said, including: Which skills are growing fastest, faster than expected or declining in the marketplace?

“This information can really help inform our decisions and prioritize those investments we need to make on a quarterly or annual basis,” he said, citing the example that, when working with Accenture Security, the team found cybersecurity skills were far different than information-security skills.

“It’s at this level of specificity that those insights can be actionable,” he said, adding, “without that tangible information, it’s really difficult for a business leader to make those decisions.”

—Michael J. O’Brien

The 2019 HR Technology Conference & Exposition® will be held Oct. 1 through Oct. 4 at the Venetian in Las Vegas.