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Boese: 3 ways the pandemic is fueling HR tech innovation

Steve Boese, HR Tech Conference chair
Steve Boese
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast.

We at HRE and the HR Tech Conference are starting the annual process to determine our Top HR Products of 2021. This is, I believe, the most prestigious award in the entire HR technology industry and has a rich history dating back more than two decades. For readers unfamiliar with the process, it begins with a call for submissions of new products and enhancements to existing products, which, in a typical year, number well over 100. We then spend several days (it truly takes at least a week, to be honest), reviewing all of the submissions and developing the initial list of products we would like to see; from there, we undertake a few rounds of demos and internal discussions to build the final list of winners.

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While the actual product demonstrations provide the information we use to select the winning products, reading, ranking and categorizing the entire list of 100-plus submissions always reveals some interesting HR tech trends. Although we are too early in the process to divulge details on products up for consideration, I thought it would be interesting to share some general observations from the submission review and explore how they could impact your own organization’s thinking about new HR technologies.

Here are 3 key observations:

A focus on talent management is on the rise.

In 2021, we saw a significant increase in solutions submitted that fall into the general category of Talent Management. This was interesting to me in that, traditionally, programming solid content in this category for the HR Tech Conference itself had been kind of difficult, as was finding interesting and innovative solutions for Top HR Products. One of the reasons that I think is fueling the increase is that organizations–followed by the technology providers themselves–are thinking about talent management differently than in the past. For example, rather than structure and architect talent management into its familiar silos of learning, succession planning, compensation management, etc., the conversation and product direction are more about skills analysis and development, coaching, internal mobility and the further integration of AI and machine learning techniques to enhance talent processes and optimize outcomes. So, the category of talent management is undergoing substantial evolution at the moment.

Employee experience is king.

This is probably not going to surprise anyone who follows the marketing and messaging from many of the leading HR technology solution providers, but in a trend that has carried over from, say, 2019 and 2020, it seems like every solution provider is focusing on the concept of employee experience this year. Among the factors driving this trend forward is the continued design and development of workplace technology that looks, feels and works like successful user-centered tools like Netflix, Uber and Amazon. But, more recently, employee experience has expanded from just design, or UX for that matter, and moved more toward the goal of providing better information, decision-making support and feedback to users of HR technology. The really interesting and innovative solutions in this area are thinking not just about HR data and transaction completion–like the update of an employee address in the HR system. Now, the focus on employee experience in HR technology is much more centered on the “journey” that an employee undertakes that leads, eventually, to an update in the HR system. In fact, the “journey” terminology is actually being used by several different leading HR tech companies right now.

Click here to read more insights from Steve Boese.

Talent acquisition innovation continues to persist.

The continuing development of solutions designed to help organizations find, engage and ultimately hire new employees has been kind of remarkable, considering the turmoil in the labor markets beginning in March 2020. It might have been expected that, when so many organizations were forced to furlough or terminate staff, there would be a lasting ripple effect in the demand for (and subsequent investments in the development of) advanced talent acquisition technologies. If that indeed occurred in 2020, these effects were, it seems to me, relatively short-lived, and the release of pent-up demand for new talent acquisition tools for what has quickly become a tight labor market has resulted in another wave of innovation in this market segment. I don’t have the exact figures, but if I had to guess, I’d say almost half of the submissions we received for Top HR Products of 2021 were centered in this space. A few years ago, I heard someone in the talent acquisition technology market say, “We always compare finding the right candidate for a role to finding a needle in a haystack. But for years, most talent acquisition technologies simply served to make the haystack larger, making it even harder to identify the right candidate.” With the latest crop of new talent acquisition technologies, we are finally seeing providers focus on making that best match, often incorporating modern technology approaches like AI and advanced analytics, to make this job faster, easier and better for employers and candidates alike.

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As I am writing this, we are just about to dive into our first round of demos for Top HR Products of 2021, and I, for one, am really excited to learn more about the latest in HR technology innovation. The industry has never been more vibrant and innovative, with both long-time industry leaders as well as emerging players driving results for their customers, and pushing each other–in what is a highly competitive market–to enhance the ability of HR leaders and HR teams to excel in their roles.

Click here to register for HR Tech to learn about all the latest technologies in person in Las Vegas.