Steve Boese: What is the theme of HR Tech 2020?

While it might feel like the 2019 HR Technology Conference just ended a week or two ago, as I write this, it has actually been a little over two months since the conclusion of the event. And, as is the case with an event the size, scope and breadth of HR Tech, the planning and programming for HR Tech 2020 is well underway. As an aside, I have been programming and hosting HR Tech long enough to recall when we didn’t begin working on the next event, in earnest anyway, until about the middle of January (as I fondly remember my former end-of-year downtime).

So, with the planning for HR Tech 2020 in progress, I’ve been reviewing feedback from the 2019 conference (our largest and most successful yet, if I don’t mind saying), assessing speaking proposals that have already come in for 2020, thinking about potential changes and taking plenty of phone calls with potential speakers and about topics. And on these calls, I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single person I speak with starts with some version of this question: “What do you think the theme of HR Tech will be in 2020?”

Related: See HRE‘s full coverage HR Tech 2019 here. 

It’s a good question, and I know why it is asked. Prospective speakers are figuring that they’ll have a better chance of getting a proposal selected for the conference if it aligns closely with what I’ve got in mind for overarching themes, trends in HR tech I think are important and specific topics we want to address. That makes sense, and there is probably some truth to the idea. If I tell you in December that at HR Tech I want to focus on, say, the deployment of virtual-reality technologies in HR, then if you have something (intelligent) to say about VR for HR, then your chances of being tapped for HR Tech just went up.

But on these calls–especially this far out from when the conference is actually taking place (Oct. 13-16, 2020)–I try pretty hard not to narrow my focus to one or two current HR-tech trends or technologies. Often, the answer I generally try to give is, I think, a little unsatisfying to the questioners.

Because the answer is, more or less, “If there is one general theme for HR Tech (capital ‘T’) and HR tech (lowercase ‘t’), it is/should be this: ‘Success.’ ” And when I like to talk about success with HR technology, I am really thinking about it in several dimensions. Success in understanding the dynamic and evolving marketplace of HR-technology solutions. Success in navigating the challenge of finding the accurate, reliable and trustworthy information and insights about the market and its providers. Success in making the best technology investments for your organization’s specific and unique set of challenges and opportunities. Success in gaining key insights from some of the world’s leading organizations and HR leaders, and finding ways to apply the lessons from their experience and perspective in your own circumstances. Success with making the connections between the newest, most leading-edge HR-technology innovations and understanding how these might be able to improve your organization’s business and people outcomes. And finally, maybe most importantly, success in opening your mind and imagination in a positive and inspiring manner to help you and your organization succeed in your real goals: creating amazing products and services; delighting customers; establishing and strengthening your organization as one that cares for, supports, challenges and empowers your people; and one that becomes or remains a positive influence in your industry and community.

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That is a lot to chew on, I know. Which is why (sometimes), I give a shorter answer on these HR Tech 2020 planning calls. Sometimes, I will default back to the VR answer I referenced above. Or it could be artificial intelligence or predictive analytics. Or maybe even blockchain. Just a few years ago (really not that long if you think about it), the “hot” trends or buzzwords I may have talked about were cloud, SaaS, mobile or upgrades. And, if I got on a planning call for HR Tech 2020 tomorrow and told a prospective speaker or company that I was really looking at cloud as a major theme this time, they’d think I was nuts. Cloud (while still important) feels very 2012.

But here’s the real point: Just like talking about cloud in 2020 seems kind of foolish, it is pretty likely that talking about VR or AI or blockchain in, say, 2025 will as well. Not because these technologies won’t be interesting, impactful and important in HR and HR tech, but for the same reasons that we don’t talk much about cloud or mobile or SaaS as discrete concepts in 2020. It’s because they’re all just there. We assume them, we expect them and we’ve learned that the distinct technologies themselves are not really what we need to talk about, not if we care–both for me as a conference program chair and for you as an HR leader whose goals are ultimately not the implementation of a specific technology, but rather the “success” goals I talked about above.

You probably are not that interested in the process of how a conference like HR Tech comes together and the discussions I have as chair in the course of developing the content. But I am going to contend that you should care–as HR leaders developing, shaping and executing your organization’s HR-technology strategy–that my focus is really the same as yours. I want to know, to hear, to learn about and to connect with all the ways that modern HR and workplace technologies are enabling HR leaders like you, and the organizations you represent, find and sustain success.

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Thanks for reading in 2019, and happy holidays to all!

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.