Looking Ahead to HR Tech in 2018

Some initial themes and topics that could find their way into the upcoming HR Tech Conference include creating business value from HR tech, artificial intelligence and digital assistants.

When talking about raising kids, parents sometimes say, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Even when things on any given day might seem tough, time slips by quickly, and before you know it, the kids are all grown up.

I was thinking about that expression recently for two reasons. One, my child has an upcoming birthday which made me wonder, just where has all the time gone? And two, while it seems to many (especially me) that last year’s HR Tech Conference just concluded, I am already knee-deep in the planning process for the next one, coming this September in Las Vegas.

A large part of conference-planning process is thinking, reading, researching and talking to HR and industry leaders about the most important themes and trends in HR, workplaces and HR technology, to ensure we are adequately reflecting these at the conference. While the preparation for the event is still in the early stages, I thought it would be interesting and also helpful to me to try and use this first Inside HR Tech piece of 2018 to explore some initial themes and topics. Hopefully, these will also be helpful for HR leaders to reflect upon as you begin your own HR and workplace technology planning, purchasing or implementation activities this year.

Creating Business Value from HR Technology

I was doing some research recently and was reminded that the first iPhone launched just over 10 years ago. I mention that for a couple of reasons. Just like in the quote about the passage of time for parents, it does seem as though the iPhone and its cousins have been with us forever. And, after a decade-plus of having access to smartphones and similar technologies, we as consumers have become much more educated and demanding, and our expectations for “value” that we require from these devices (which have all gotten more expensive) have increased substantially. When these new technologies were first introduced, we were excited just to have them and we accepted their capability and functionality at face value, mainly because we didn’t know any better, and didn’t have much of a context or framework for comparison.

Now that we are (or believe that we are) expert, discerning and informed consumers of these technologies, our demands from them and the pressure we place on the providers of these tools have both expanded and evolved. That is the case with any maturing technology, as well as with much of the HR and workplace technologies that companies rely upon.

The primary HR and workplace technologies used in most organizations (ATS, HRIS, LMS, payroll, talent management, etc.) are all very mature categories; all of them even pre-date the first iPhone. Certainly, just as the newest iPhone is far superior to the 2007 model, the latest updates to and releases of these HR and workplace solutions are more capable, functionally rich and provide enhanced usability than previous iterations. But in 2018, I don’t think that having “better” HR technology is enough for most organizations. What must be the goal of any workplace technology is not better HR and workplace technology, but rather better business outcomes — and largely I mean “core” business outcomes such as revenue, market share, customer satisfaction and profit, not “HR” results such as retention or faster time to hire.

At the upcoming HR Tech Conference, we will increase the focus on how HR technologies are helping organizations realize these positive business outcomes, showcase tools and technology solutions that are leading in this space and feature industry and business experts who can help HR leaders create the necessary environment and conditions for business success with HR tech. The concept of “customer success” will be one of the most important ones for HR leaders, organizations and HR tech-solution providers alike this year.

AI and Digital Assistants

I follow the news from the annual Consumer Electronics Show each year, as it is the largest and most prominent event dedicated to consumer tech, such as virtual reality, phones, TVs, PCs and even self-driving vehicles. The main reason, aside from being a bit of a tech geek, that I like to follow CES closely, is that, for the last 15 to 20 years there has been a steady stream of innovations in consumer technology working their way into HR and workplace technology. Once many of us become familiar with and adopt a new kind of consumer tech, and find that technology creates value in our personal lives, we look for and start to demand our workplaces figure out how to incorporate these tools and solutions at work. Think smartphones, tablets and even something such as social networking.

The conversation at the just-concluded CES was dominated by what is being dubbed the “Digital Assistant Wars”think Amazon’s Echo products and the Alexa platform, Google’s Home products and the Google Assistant, and competing offerings from the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Samsung. These are some of the largest, most influential technology companies in the world, and they are all placing big bets on digital assistant technology most frequently accessed and enabled with a voice interface.

These tools — and the idea of the “always-on” digital assistant technology embedded into speakers, TVs, appliances, cars and who knows what elsewill fast become a mainstream technology, adopted by millions of people, the same people who are your employees. Amazon’s top-selling single item of the 2017 holiday shopping season was one of its Alexa-powered Echo devices. I have no reason to doubt that, just as with smartphones and tablets before them, more and more employees and company leaders are going to press for similar digital-assistant capability from HR, workplace and workforce-productivity solutions. I may be a little early on this trend, but I would rather be in front of it than behind it. Be on the lookout at HR Tech in September for more on this technology and how the idea of the digital assistant will become an essential tool in the workplace.

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. He can be emailed at sboese@lrp.com.