Leading the Pack

Welcome, once again, to Human Resource Executive®’s Top HR Products contest. Our annual awards spotlight 10 of the most innovative new solutions on the market that are helping business leaders meet the ever-evolving HR needs of their organizations.

This year’s winning products represent the full gamut of priorities facing HR leaders: from employee financial wellbeing to learning and development to talent analytics. As was the case in the last few years, a number of leading solutions are in the area of talent acquisition and screening. The 2018 winners also illustrate the increasing prominence of artificial intelligence and machine learning in emerging HR technologies.

We once again relied on a combination of staff reviews and selections, and comments from outside experts and analysts, to narrow the list from the many entries we received to the 10 winners. Special thanks go to the following experts for sharing their insights on the 2018 entries: Gerry Crispin, principal and co-founder of CareerXroads; Bill Kutik, HRE’s HR Technology columnist; Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst for Constellation Research; Elaine Orler, CEO and founder of Talent Function and program chair of Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech; and Brian Sommer, CEO and founder of TechVentive Inc.

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Textio Hire
Textio, Seattle

What It Is: Textio Hire is an “augmented-writing” tool designed to ensure that recruiters have a greater chance of getting a reply from emails to targeted candidates. The software uses a predictive engine built to automatically learn from a continuously updated data set of actual emails and their performance metrics, which are used to help recruiters write messages and job descriptions that will resonate with candidates. Textio Hire analyzes messages as they’re being written and flags words or sentences that could be problematic or could potentially turn off candidates and suggests replacements. Every recruiting email written in Textio Hire is assigned a Textio Score, which rates its overall effectiveness, from 0 to 100. Recruiters can use Textio Hire while creating messages in LinkedIn or Gmail via a browser extension; similar capabilities for Microsoft Outlook are planned for an upcoming release.

Why We Like It: Experienced recruiters understand that simply cutting and pasting an existing job description into an email will likely result in zero response. Textio, which made its name with an AI-powered platform that helps recruiters create bias-free job descriptions, created Textio Hire specifically to make this type of outreach more effective. It’s built to understand the words and phrases that resonate with job seekers and those that don’t–such as the word “ninja” when reaching out to female candidates. The product is user-friendly and intuitive and, by letting recruiters access it without having to leave LinkedIn or Gmail, minimizes any potential interruptions to their workflow. Most importantly, because Textio Hire is an AI-enabled product, it’s designed to learn over time so that your messages will continue to get smarter and more persuasive.


Avature Contingent Workforce Management
Avature, New York

What It Is: Avature Contingent Workforce Management is a single-platform solution that tracks contingent workers throughout their employment life cycle. It’s a full talent-acquisition platform through which recruiters can source new talent or engage with previous contractors. Companies can use Avature as a direct-sourcing strategy in which contractors create profiles to highlight their skills, apply for open projects, and update their compensation data and availability. Or, using the Agency Management Portal, employers can keep all communication and activities with outside staffing agencies in one location. The Hiring Manager Portal lets users submit and approve project requisitions, review candidates and schedule interviews, as well as rate contractors on skills and project deliverables at the end of an assignment. There’s also the Avature DNA Social Portal, a social-network platform designed to keep contingent workers engaged and aware of what’s going on at the company. Built into the platform are options for personalized email marketing, sharing jobs on social media and sending “keep-warm reminders” (to remind recruiters to regularly call high-potential candidates).

Why We Like It: With predictions of a 50 percent contingent workforce by 2020, employers will need a total-talent solution to manage gig workers, and Avature CWM has created a talent-acquisition function that traditional vendor-management systems were missing. The tool is intuitive and applicable to all types of contact workers–from staffing agencies that submit workers for open projects to freelancers applying for themselves. A fully customizable platform means that companies can keep their branding consistent at every step in the process. Avature CWM’s DNA Social Portal is among the solution’s most unique offerings. Companies may not want contractors to have access to the company intranet, for instance, but by using DNA Social, employers can create a contractor intranet that updates contingent workers about the latest company news, new jobs and any other relevant information. This helps engage contingent workers and, coupled with targeted marketing strategies, reengages them so that they want to take on more projects with the same company.


AllyO, Sunnyvale, Calif.

What It Is: Cloud-based AllyO uses artificial intelligence to manage traditional inefficiencies and lost job applicants caused by a poor candidate experience, overburdening and menial task-driven recruiting processes (read: costly), and a lack of visibility/control for HR and recruiting leaders. AllyO overcomes those hurdles by using what it calls “deep workflow” and “conversational” AI to completely automate end-to-end recruiting. It engages job candidates via texting over both web and mobile platforms. It is multilingual, offers quick deployment, and integrates and scales with existing HR systems and processes.

Why We Like It: We’ve all heard how AI is transforming HR, especially in the recruiting realm as it relates to enhancing the candidate experience. In other words, the objective is to ensure the application experience is fun, easy and non-frustrating (AllyO uses the word “delightful”). AllyO may be just what the recruiting doctor ordered, as its simple, no-nonsense interface may qualify it as truly transformative technology. Best of all, recruiters and employers can stay compliant without disrupting their current ATS systems, and AllyO works with career pages, job boards and within marketing campaigns. It’s impressive to experience how AllyO can handle the range of recruiting chores, including qualifying candidates for “best fit” roles, and automating interview scheduling and post-interview interactions–all done via AI. With investors including Google and Randstad Innovation Fund on board, HRE isn’t the only one who likes what it sees in AllyO.


EY Navigate and EY TaxChat
EY, New York

What It Is: As part of the EY Personal Finance suite of offerings, EY Navigate and EY TaxChat allow HR leaders to give workers tools aimed at achieving financial wellness. EY Navigate helps employees break down complex financial-planning tasks–such as debt management and retirement planning–and develop personalized action plans. It contains three sections–My Goals, Learning Center and Work with a Planner–and also integrates the employer’s benefits and rewards with an employee’s overall financial picture. EY TaxChat is an on-demand, tax-preparation mobile application that connects employees with EY U.S. professionals in an easy-to-use, secure online environment, making filing personal taxes simpler and faster. After answering a few basic questions, users receive a fixed, low-fee quote to prepare their taxes.

Why We Like It: Not every product that advances HR’s mission needs to be for HR use only. These two offerings give workers the ability to feel more secure about their financial situation, and that can lead to lower stress levels and increases in productivity, personal health and even company loyalty. With an assigned EY financial planner, EY Navigate users can expect continuity every time they have a financial question, and both telephone-based counseling and group-learning options are offered as well. With EY’s proven track record of tax preparation, TaxChat users can take comfort in knowing their tax returns are being prepared correctly, without a face-to-face appointment, paper documents or complicated tax software. We especially like that EY offers independent, objective financial-planning and tax-preparation services, and the company receives no financial incentives based on planning or tax suggestions, thus ensuring workers get objective advice. These products allow employers to better serve their employees’ holistic financial-wellness needs through every stage of their career.


IBM Watson Candidate Assistant
IBM, Armonk, N.Y.

What It Is: IBM Watson Candidate Assistant is designed to match job seekers with an organization’s open positions they’re best qualified for based on their skills and background. Candidate Assistant analyzes a user’s resume and then sifts through job openings, using its job-matching capability to deliver personalized job recommendations. The product’s chatbot function, built on IBM’s Watson cognitive platform, is pre-trained on more than 60 commonly asked questions from job seekers. Clients can modify, add or change the questions based on reports that Candidate Assistant provides and have the option of adding their own custom content to the platform or having IBM help them create it.

Why We Like It: Imagine the ideal job candidate: motivated, a team player, hardworking and eager to learn. The only drawback is that he or she may not be familiar with all the different job categories at your organization for which he or she is qualified. Candidate Assistant can make it easier for such a person to find a perfect match at your company. Consider also the passive candidates organizations are eager to reach–by making it relatively painless for them to see what they’re qualified for, Candidate Assistant can make it easier to reel them in. For companies that are seeking to diversify their ranks and/or hire for hard-to-fill positions, Candidate Assistant is worthy of serious consideration.


Media Cloud (M-Cloud)
Symphony Talent, New York

What It Is: Billed as the industry’s first vertical-technology stack for recruitment media, M-Cloud is a self-contained system driven by Symphony Talent’s AI engine and takes the inefficiencies and guesswork out of recruitment marketing. It allows talent-acquisition leaders to apply programmatic, real-time, results-driven media optimization by focusing on outlets that provide the best fit and highest-quality candidates. It also continually refocuses company efforts on the most important jobs for both active and passive candidates. Campaigns can be geo-targeted to multiple locations and job titles can even be tested for each location. It also works for brand ads such as banners, mobile ads, pre-roll video, native ads, social ads and general search ads such as Google. With M-Cloud, companies only buy those impressions likely to result in quality applications.

Why We Like It: The platform is flexible enough to self-optimize separately for various job categories and different regions of the country or world, providing companies with a solution to streamline and centralize their recruitment-media efforts across job functions and regions. Its versatility also supports on-the-fly changes to hiring needs, and it has the ability to instantly launch new campaigns to accommodate the never-ending shifts in recruitment budgets and goals. Additionally, a set of API integrations is baked into the platform, allowing it to connect seamlessly with all the media channels used to reach candidates. In addition to eliminating the need for media contracts, the platform also positively impacts a company’s bottom line by automatically shifting spending to the jobs that need more traction, rather than the typical over-investing in a job that already has enough applicants. Perhaps best of all, the platform is simple to learn–requiring no more than 15 minutes of training, and all that’s needed to get started are the company’s recruitment goals and budgets.


Businessolver, West Des Moines, Iowa

What It Is: Sofia is a virtual personal-benefits assistant that uses natural-language processing and machine-learning technology to address employees’ benefits questions. Working in conjunction with the company’s benefits-administration system, Sofia builds capabilities and knowledge over time to provide users with more relevant and accurate responses. (Questions she can’t answer are automatically forwarded to a service center.) Responses are then delivered by text or voice (Sofia currently speaks six languages–with many more coming by year’s end). Using sentiment analysis, she’s able to detect emotions behind a call or chat to improve the user experience. Sofia saves transcripts of each conversation to the employee’s benefits-administration record and can be accessed via a computer or mobile app.

Why We Like It: On the road to a better employee experience, few hurdles are more formidable–or time-consuming–than addressing employees’ benefit questions promptly and accurately. But thanks to products like Sofia (“wisdom” in Greek), HR and benefits leaders now have a valuable new tool at their disposal. Users will no doubt appreciate Sofia’s flexibility (she’s available 24/7 and never takes PTO), as well as her ability to deepen her knowledge and skills with each interaction. But we suspect what they will like most about Sofia is the way she frees them up to spend their time on more strategic endeavors.


Swarm Innovation Profiler
Swarm Vision Inc., Los Altos, Calif.

What It Is: Swarm Innovation Profiler is an assessment tool aimed at enabling users to identify the innovative strengths of their workforce. Drawing from four rounds of global research, the tool helps employers determine their own organization’s “culture of innovation” and identify the kinds of talent for which they should be recruiting. It features a dashboard that allows HR and business leaders to view a person’s innovation-related skills (drive, disrupt, create, connect, think) and then use those insights to assign him or her to the right project or team. It can also be used to make smarter retention decisions, as well as to help develop the right kind of innovation training.

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Visier People: Learning
Visier, Vancouver, British Columbia

What It Is: Visier People: Learning was developed to help organizations measure the outcomes of their learning and development programs. The analytics platform allows companies to merge data about their training initiatives with information from talent-management, HR and business systems to provide a comprehensive look at the efficacy of L&D efforts. The solution enables business leaders to analyze the impact of training on everything from retention to engagement to promotions, and to forecast potential pain points, such as expiring certifications. The cloud-enabled platform prepares a primary overview of L&D data, and organizations can then perform their own deep dive into the numbers to generate personalized analyses of the most pertinent business outcomes.

Why We Like It: Companies are spending big bucks on L&D programs, but without meaningful ways to measure their impacts, such initiatives may be time and money wasted. Visier People: Learning provides insights across a wide range of areas in a way that is easily digestible, even for HR and business leaders without a strong background in data analytics. The interface is intuitive, with pre-built questions that offer basic data about the company’s L&D programs. From there, users can click an Explore tab to develop the insights most relevant to their needs, such as comparing L&D participation by members of certain job families or in relation to rewards. Results are generated in seconds and presented in user-friendly charts and graphics. Users can learn more about each metric for which they want to measure in informative pullout boxes, and the platform also provides warnings to guide effective analytics, such as cautioning against comparing sample sizes that are too small. Users can save insights as a PowerPoint or PDF, making the information easily shareable among leaders. Visier People: Learning is an effective tool for business leaders looking to increase their own comfort levels with data analytics while also gaining quick and personalized insights to enhance employee and business outcomes.


Xander by Ultimate Software
Ultimate Software, Weston, Fla.

What It Is: Xander uses natural-language processing and machine learning to help HR leaders and the organization better understand what employees are feeling and thinking; it then uses those insights to prescribe personalized actions. Through the platform, HR can take text-based, open-ended survey responses, performance reviews and more, and break down these inputs into sentiment, emotion and workplace themes. Drawing from these data, managers and business leaders are better able to coach their employees. Xander automatically surfaces more than 70 workplace themes that identify what employees are discussing and more than 100 emotions, all reportedly with around 90 percent accuracy.

Why We Like It: There’s little question AI is going to play a pivotal role in the future of hiring and improving the employee experience. Indeed, Xander is evidence that this is already happening. Its ability to understand free-text responses, including open-ended questions in surveys or performance reviews, is especially impressive, as is its ability to translate those insights into a meaningful action plan. True, we may only be in the early innings when it comes to applying AI to human resources, but with the introduction of Xander, Ultimate Software is already showing the HR profession the kind of powerful impact it can have.