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Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday at 8AM Pacific – 11AM Eastern, or catch up on full episodes here.

HR Tech Weekly

Episode: 24
Air Date: June 11, 2015


This Week

This week John and Stacey discuss:

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Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday at 8AM Pacific – 11AM Eastern, or catch up on full episodes here.

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John Sumser:            Good morning, welcome to HR Tech Weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. I’m John Sumser, and we are lucky to have Stacey Harris in the other chair. How are you doing, Stacey?

Stacey Harris:            I’m good. How are you doing, John? I’m doing quite well in sunny Las Vegas today, out here doing some presentations for the OHUG conference. I will have to say that there’s been so many events in Las Vegas this year. If I could put a plug in to everybody that the next couple of years that we do some events out there, I think it would make some of us very happy that have had to go to a lot of them.

John Sumser:            You mean you’re not a chain smoking, cheap liquor guzzling, slot machine mama?

Stacey Harris:            I am not, no. The whole issue of having to walk through all these glitzy, blinging things, just to get to the place where I’m going to be talking about all the business stuff that I’ve got to get done, but I know they’re very cost effective as a venue. There’s wins, and positives and negatives on both sides. I’m still putting my personal request if anybody’s listening.

John Sumser:            Why do you suppose people have all things in Las Vegas? Is it because it’s easy for me to get to?

Stacey Harris:            There’s that, but it’s midway. You can get both East and West Coasts there. I do think it’s probably cheaper. They said that Las Vegas, they were coming out of the recession. They were putting in a lot of investment and getting people to these venues in the last couple of years. They’re [playing  01:53] out. They do have the rooms, the space, and the hotels. You don’t really have to think a whole lot about it. Those would be my top three reasons, I would assume. I’m not an event planner.

John Sumser:            I’m [inaudible 02:28]. I’m not in Las Vegas because I’ve been three times this year, and have several more to report to before the year is done. I agree with you that it would be. We went to a nice thing in New Orleans.

Stacey Harris:            That would be nice.

John Sumser:            New Orleans and San Diego and Seattle. I’m going to something in Portland, Oregon, in July. [crosstalk 02:36] places to go.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. A little bit of diversity helps. Exactly. Yeah, I’m at the [inaudible 02:43] Oracle’s HR user group conference this week. I also did a healthcare users group as well. [inaudible 02:55] there across the street at another venue. I had an opportunity to speak, to present, to both groups about the things that we’re doing in research in the area of HR analytics and the topic of where the market’s heading for healthcare. Those were fun. I got a chance to interact with the groups of people, particularly now as we’re doing some research, gathering data.

In both events, John, you might be intrigued by this, is that the topics I heard in the hallway and at the tables and doing all the little in-between stuff was really about the issues of learning, payroll, and how to get the most out of the tools we had. We’re not ready to make updates to everything yet. We’re only making updates to a few of our things. That was an interesting mix of topics, but that seemed to be the big topic there from everybody I was talking to.

John Sumser:            I’m getting a sense of this in the work that we’re doing [inaudible 04:00], I’m sensing sort of an upgrade fatigue.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah.

John Sumser:            That the idea that vendors are so fond of, which is that everybody should be on the innovation treadmill. Taking a break from innovation is somehow the essence of failure isn’t really playing all that well for people who actually have to work for a living.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. I think [crosstalk 04:32]

John Sumser:            Are you seeing that?

Stacey Harris:            Pure example. It was a large business consulting firm. They do a specific industry of the mining and oil and gas industry as their quote, unquote, audience. She was talking about the fact that they’ve just done all the core [HRMS 04:54] upgrades, for lack of a better term, whether it’s to the latest version of on-premise, or to the various versions of cloud that these various organizations wanted to go to. Now, we have to think about learning because all the vendors are talking about learning.

You could just see the weariness in her eyes. She’s a project manager, and she said, I don’t understand. Now they’re bringing in all this different learning stuff. I just moved to this version of learning on this platform. This definitely is an audience of the people who are doing. They’re the ones who are on the ground, doing the work. I think that weariness sets in a bit more than any at the more senior levels of an organization. Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. The fatigue is there.

John Sumser:            It will be interesting to see if the HR Tech community finds a way to understand what good enough is. This is the conversation that you and I started our friendship with. Are best practices what we’re really after, or is good enough okay?

Stacey Harris:            Yeah, I remember that. Good enough, that was the conversation on analytics, John, that we had in the one event I did. It was the people in the newest technologies aren’t always the ones taking the most advantage of it. A lot of times the people who have settled into their technologies, and have figured out how to use the data, like you were saying earlier about payroll data maybe being the most important data to you and your HR analytics process. Those people who have taken the time to leverage whatever they’re using to the highest extent are doing more analytics than those who are moving right to the newer stuff all the time. I think there’s something in what you’re saying there, yeah.

John Sumser:            I think you remember my story about the vice president of learning at the Discovery Channel. When I was talking with her about buying new software and what that was like, she looked at me strange, and said, “John, you don’t understand. We don’t want new software. What we want is for our company to do well. Here’s how we think about buying software. If there’s a piece of software that we’re interested in, we look at it. We examine it. We get all the information about it. We figure out how much it costs. Once we know how much it costs, we go and see how many new, great state-of-the-art cameras we can buy for that much because we’re the Discovery Channel. Cameras are what make the Discovery Channel work.

If we can buy 30 brand new cameras for the money associated with the software, then we can say, would we rather have great new software in HR, or 30 new cameras for our filmmakers? That’s how we make the decision. We don’t really get very much new software. What we do is we get really good at using old software.”

She said, “We get better value out of our old decrepit software than people who routinely spend money get on their brand new software.“ I was awestruck by that. That’s such a solid, sound way to think about the value of technology, and it’s not something that we hear in our bubble of HR Tech.

Stacey Harris:            I would agree. I think there’s also this line of thinking. It probably needs more conversation, is better way to put it, particularly with the world of consultants, system integrators, whatever you want to call the various managed services groups that are out there now. I think a lot of those organizations are looking at their world and saying, if everybody’s going to cloud we’re not going to get these big upgrades, big implementations that we used to get. In their new world more of a role of providing services to say here’s how to get the most out of what you have. That’s the new role of the consulting world around HR technology. I think that’s a place that would be interesting to explore for people.

Who’s helping us get the most out of our technology? If you outsource, or you’ve gotten rid of most of your IT staff inside, you need to still have somebody helping you do that concept.

John Sumser:            That’s a great area for exploration. I think that if you’re doing implementations, one of the things that you know is the vendor’s whose stuff you’re implementing isn’t do implementations. That means that you are the possessor of all of the information necessary to do development at the vendor shop. One of the services you can start to go back to selling if you’re an implementer is R&D guidance for the vendors whose products you’ve sold.

There’s a very important avenue there, and then if I were [inaudible 10:38], I would be very scared. All of the implementers who have a better hands-on understanding of the processes in organizations are going to be coming to do the work that the blue suit companies have been charging a lot of money for.

Stacey Harris:            The services, yeah. I think it’s going to be an interesting transition to watch. One of the areas that they also put on the list of things to talk about this morning, maybe this kind of gets into that, is about the fact that the OPM, or the office personnel management has noted, I think it was last week or last Thursday, right after we did our last radio show, that there was a breach in the employee data for, I can’t remember what the number was. I didn’t write it down, but it was 4 million people for US employees. I think the breach of the at data and the access to that data was somewhere out in China. Someone had accessed it.

That’s the other side of this conversation that we’re talking about, which is I have all these systems in place, how do I keep that data secure? One of the commentaries that I heard a lot of people talk about when they heard this story was, this is why we shouldn’t be moving to the cloud. I had to stop for a second because I’m not sure. I actually read through all the material. It didn’t say anything in that technology conversation, as far as I can see from the reports, you might know differently, that the OPM breach came through any kind of cloud technology.

Most of my experience working with the US government, a lot of them are still working on a lot of on-premise environments, or at least cloud solutions that are in the private cloud model. What’s your take on that, John? Do you think that’s another area where there’s going to be a lot of services coming up around? Just around this idea security and managing the maintenance side of security?

John Sumser:            Here’s the headline that I have been surprised that I haven’t seen yet. This sort of thing always happens with HR data. That’s a big red arrow pointing at security issues in HR, and it’s just that HR is really good at security issues like confidentiality. HR is really good at security issues that involve discretion. The technical security issues are very difficult to navigate.

I’m tempted to say, I’m not really generally a big fan of the idea that there’s an intelligent conversation to be had about, what they call, moving to the cloud. I’m tempted to say that a vendor is more likely to do a great job of data security than a company is because it’s not a core part of the company’s work, to be good at having security in HR data. To me it sounds like an argument for going to the cloud, but it gets at the definition. If this is a break in whatever software OPM is running, OPM runs distributed networks around the government. We don’t call client server delivery models the cloud.

Stacey Harris:            That’s [inaudible 14:24].

John Sumser:            For all intents and purposes, that’s what it is. It happens on somebody else’s computer. You tap the keys in front of your screen, and the action happens somewhere else. That’s the cloud. Sure, for purposes of positions, differentiation, distancing from the problem that everybody in the contemporary HR Tech vendor [inaudible 14:55] going to say, what they use is the cloud. That distinction is one of those hair-splitting things that doesn’t matter to people who actually do work.

Stacey Harris:            I think the other thing that’s important about what you’re mentioning there, and my experience dealing with what’s happening at [inaudible 15:20] government, maybe about a year or two old, so I’ll make that caveat in my comment, but in the my work that I had done with many organizations and agencies, each agency, each group, has their own technology stack strategy model. There’s no mandated technology model out there.

There’s mandate about what information the OPM wants back and in what format they want it back. As long as whatever technology you’re using can give that back to them in that format, that’s the requirement usually that most agencies are held accountable to. I think …

John Sumser:            That’s at odds with the idea that there was a single piece of software that was hacked, and 4.5 million chunks of information came out of it. I don’t know enough to make sense out of that.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah, I don’t either. I think the point that I was going to make with all that was it’s not also just that whether this technology’s in the cloud or not. It’s where your connectors are at. If all that information is flowing from some place, your two systems can be as locked down and as tight as they could possibly be, but if your connectors and your integrators aren’t locked down very well, or you have things passing through middleware somewhere that’s not locked down effectively, you’ve also got an opening there. It’s a much bigger conversation, I think, than were they cloud or not cloud.

John Sumser:            Right. What’s most important for our universe is that HR is the target for data collection about the individuals in the organization. When a hacker or a group of hackers or some industrial espionage initiative focuses on your organization, they’re going to focus on HR because it’s generally the least well protected, most vulnerable spot.

Stacey Harris:            It’s another [inaudible17:22], I think, for thinking about a services model for a lot of these organizations. It’s an opportunity, I think, for a conversation to start. Every time you get some [inaudible 17:33] that happens it starts a conversation that needs to be addressed. It was an interesting read when I was going through the material. Most of it was the language of shocking, and “I can’t believe that this happened.” My comment was I can’t believe it happen sooner.

John Sumser:            Right.

Stacey Harris:            There’s been a lot of this, yeah. [crosstalk 17:58]

John Sumser:            It’s the government, so it may have happened sooner.

Stacey Harris:            True. I found that whether it’s the government or any other organization dealing with HR technology that we focused a lot on credit card numbers and your financial security. We haven’t spent a lot of time in the industry, I think, talking about the personal data security. I think you’re right. I think what people are going to start to see is, and are already seeing in different ways, that personal information is becoming very valuable.

John Sumser:            Yeah. What else are you seeing out there?

Stacey Harris:            I think the other thing is I think this week that were taking place is Globoforce held their big WorkHuman event. I think you have to mention it just because we got so much publicity. It was one of the top Twitter events yesterday and the week before. It was the first event they had held like this, and it was pretty big. They had some pretty big names speaking at it, Arianna Huffington and Rob Lowe, and things like that.

I thought it was interesting maybe just to touch on for us because I didn’t get a chance to go to that. I don’t know if, did anyone from your team go to it, or yourself at all?

John Sumser:            No.

Stacey Harris:            I had a lot of other friends who had gone to it, and they were talking about the fact that they’re building this big event around the power of changing the work environment. They’re tracks were the power of thanks, humanity, and leadership, and curating culture. It was a pretty big event for their first event.

I guess I had a question when I was looking through all this. Are organizations ready to have this idea that we’re going to change how work is done? That was my question that came out of it when I saw the agenda and the information, [the approach 19:49], is that organizations are generally excited about the topic of employee engagement. They’re generally excited about the topic of changing the work environment so there’s more work-life balance and more humanity in work.

When I was thinking through the organizations that I’ve talked to recently and a lot of the organizations that are just trying to think about their technology strategies, that conversation is definitely separated from the bigger conversation about work is changing in some ways. They’re still trying to, and I think you’ve often said, take how we get work done today and just automate it in some way. There’s a big push that we should be changing how work takes place in the world today.

Do you think we’re ready for that? If we start changing things completely, will that make it easier for HR technology people to maybe scrap some of the old things they’re working on right now?

John Sumser:            How does it work then changing in ways that are disruptive? Haven’t people been promising changes in work in ways that are disruptive for 40 years or so now? This seems like pulling out the old, worn out carpet, vacuuming it up a little bit, and hanging it up and calling it new. I recall in the early ‘80s when the personal computer was going to completely change the way that everybody does work. For 10 years, nothing happened.

In the next 10 years, everybody got a machine on their desk. Guess what they did? [crosstalk 21:39] They did the same old stuff that they did before they had a computer on the desk. Only now, they had a computer on their desk. Then in the 10 years after that, things changed in very interesting ways. You no longer had to remember a bunch of stuff. You did instantaneously asked. This is Google, the truth on a given subject. All of these fantastic [inaudible 22:05]. You could instantaneously get a book delivered to your desk by Amazon. It was an astonishing explosion of benefit and opportunity, but it took 30 years.

My sense is that work is changing. The work that we do today is not the work that we did 30 years ago, but changes in the way we work happen generationally. Human generations, not generationally, technology generations.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. I’m not sure I completely agree with that. I agree with the fact that it’s taken that long to make some of the changes. I do see that as you switch over the generation, they’re more likely to make the changes that we’ve been talking about, which frustrates the previous generation to no end. I laugh a little bit about that because I can remember that when I was coming into the workforce, which is the, we’ve been talking about this, but it’s never going to happen. I didn’t want to do the work the same way they did, so I made it a little bit different. Then there’s some of that that comes in with the process that you’re talking about.

I do think, and I spent a lot of time this week here, at the conference they were doing some usability testing on the Apple watches. I got a chance to work with those a bit, and they were having sessions about what kind notifications do you want? What kind of [approaches 23:38] do you want? The number one thing that kept coming up to me as I’m testing the watch and thinking about how I might use it for HR is, don’t tell me to do anything on this watch that isn’t absolutely urgent, that doesn’t have to be done within the next hour. Otherwise, I’m not interested in something you’re going to give me an update on that I have to go back to my desk and do in a day or two.

I do think there is going to be some changes because of all the data people are going to have, not just in their phones anymore and not even just in their watches, but available in general. Whether or not that’s a good change or bad change, there’s going to be changes because I think there’s more data than we’ve ever seen available.

John Sumser:            I have two words for you. Google Glass. Those are my two works on this subject. I don’t know if you remember, but I wore my goofy pair of Google Glasses around for a year.

Stacey Harris:            You did.

John Sumser:            I kept waiting for them to do something interesting. Anything. You know what? Mostly people just stared at me and hated me, and so I stopped wearing them. The watch is much the same thing. I don’t know if you noticed yesterday, but it doesn’t do a very good job of telling time. If you’re lying down, and you have the Apple watch on, and you go to look at it, it doesn’t turn on.

Stacey Harris:            Yes, you’ve got to hit the button to do that.

John Sumser:            Yeah, so you can’t just look at your watch and find out what time it is. That’s not a watch. It’s not a watch.

Stacey Harris:            Yes, I agree.

John Sumser:            At least with Google Glass you could still see. If it was on your ankle, people would know that you had a DUI and they weren’t going to put you in jail. They were going to keep you around the house [inaudible 25:57]. Instead, you wear it on your wrist, and it’s a luxury item. It’s the same thing. It’s a monitoring device, and its first uses are going to be all about somebody else monitoring you.

Stacey Harris:            Oh, I completely get that. I’m not disagreeing that that is going to be something great for the people who are using it and wearing it. What I’m saying is the changes it’s going to be making in the workforce, I truly mean that there’s more data available. That means more data about whoever is using this. If it’s is a status piece, having the watch, everybody’s going to want it. Then there’s going to become the question now, who gets the data, and what are they allowed to do with it?

John Sumser:            Next week, I’m going to be doing my part of this show from the Quantified Self conference. I am a big advocate of measurement and quantification as a way to move the universe forwards. I’ve got to tell you. Apple, had the big worldwide development conference this week. They’re not releasing sales figures on the watch.

Stacey Harris:            No.

John Sumser:            They’re not releasing sales figures on the watch because nobody wants it. People like you and me [inaudible 27:19], but I still occasionally think about getting one, but I won’t. Not until it tells time, and you don’t have to take it off so you can’t measure your sleep. Jeez. You have to not wear the stupid thing 8 hours a day? What good is that?

Stacey Harris:            It has its limitations, like all technology. I completely agree.

John Sumser:            It has its limitations. Do you have Apple stock?

Stacey Harris:            I know. I’m not saying I – All right. If I’m honest, I had fun playing with it, okay? Let me have fun with my little gadgets.

John Sumser:            That’s great. I am so glad to hear that. That’s the playing with it part, is where all the innovation will come from.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. It’s funny you mention the Apple conference. I went in and looked in at the streaming live walk-throughs of what was being done in the conference. I was quite surprised. I felt everything was a [me, too 28:30]. Even the watch stuff was somewhat [me, too 28:32]. It’s, okay, so it can do the stuff your phone can do, in a little bit better way. I do think that right now the innovation is not quite coming from the places that we saw in last years, which generally happens.

The innovation is probably coming more so and will be coming more so at out areas like the biotech area and the human and technology mixture area, which I think definitely is the place that we’re not seeing every day yet, but will be coming soon. That’s a whole other side of the quantified self conversation.

Before we log off, I know we just have a minute or so, John, I think it might be also important. We talking about this gathering data stuff, to just gently touch on what’s happening with ADP and Zenefits. I think that’s a conversation that falls into the same realm that we’ve just been talking about, which is who owns the data? What is the data, and who has the right to all of the data?

John Sumser:            Right.

Stacey Harris:            My understanding is that there’s a bit of a tiff between Zenefits that does benefits management and some other HR process management, and ADP in their [run 29:45] technologies. Some of the clients who have both of those technologies are finding that the two aren’t working together very well. You might know more about what Zenefits is saying. I do know that ADP has basically said that we were worried about the way they were getting data, and they didn’t come to us and talk to us about how they were going to get that data. They just started pulling it from our system. It created some security issues. They felt it created some security issues, so they locked everything down and wouldn’t let them have access to it on our technology.

Is that the same thing you’re hearing? Are you hearing a little bit more from what Zenefits is saying about what’s happening? Is this a bigger issue that’s going to come out?

John Sumser:            To me, this is theater. This is just theater. Of course, David or Zenefits is going to accuse Goliath of being a big guy who won’t fall down when you hit him with a slingshot. This is a time-honored way to grow a small little firm. Zenefits, with all of the extraordinary success that it’s had, it’s still a footnote in the marketplace. It’s had a very interesting run, but it’s a footnote.

This is a publicity move on their part, whether or not there’s a foundation. For Zenefits to be making the claim that a competitor should act like public utility, this is a highly financed, Silicon Valley libertarian operation, and they’re saying, “We want somebody who’s earned their place in the ecosystem to have to open their doors to us because we say so.” Wow. That’s not what I expect out of Silicon Valley companies.

They’re able to prey on. There’s this thing. Oracle has it. ADP has it. Most really big companies have a soft underbelly of loud, negative criticism from a subset from their customers. It’s part of being a large successful company. They’re just capitalizing on that.

Were I any of the other large partners whom I’d be looking at Zenefits, I’d probably have my eye on the fact that this is how these guys play ball.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. It was a little surprising to see from the data. I think for me the biggest question in all of that is, and you probably know more the various things that happen in Silicon Valley there and have been around with the vendors a little bit longer on some of these conversations, I thought it was interesting that there was a dialogue about who owned the data. I thought, at this point in time anyways, as a way we’ve set up the model, ADP owns that data. At least, they own [a connectors 33:05] to get to that data. To your point, this idea that everything should be open and available is a bit of a question mark in the market.

John Sumser:            Yeah. You have to applaud Zenefits for being aggressive in the market. You have to applaud them [with 33:28] that. You have to wonder what it is that we don’t know about what’s going on because we’re in the middle of a press release war. Their press release says this. No, our press release says that.

Stacey Harris:            Our press release says that. Yes.

John Sumser:            Oh. Oh, good. I can’t imagine that anybody in that process is going to put out a press release that says, you know what? Those other guys were actually right. Somebody has started a war that doesn’t have a conclusion.

Stacey Harris:            Yeah. [crosstalk 34:04]

John Sumser:            That’s bad planning.

Stacey Harris:            Probably not real great, but I’m sure somewhere along the lines they’ll come to some answer and agreement on all this. In the next week’s conversation, we can maybe give an update on what’s happening with that. I think this all just came out in the last day or so. Maybe we can delve a little deeper into the conversation we were talking about with who owns the data, and where does that data belong, and the other topics that we’ll find in this next week, John.

John Sumser:            Yeah, that’s great. I’m looking forward to being with you next week, and it’s been great to have you on today. It’s been great to have this conversation.

Stacey Harris:            Thanks, John.

John Sumser:            We will see you next week. Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. Thanks for being here, Stacey.

Stacey Harris:            Thanks, John. Thanks, everyone.

John Sumser:            Have a great weekend.


End transcript


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