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Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday or catch up on full episodes with transcriptions here.

HR Tech Weekly

Episode: 283
Air Date: September 10, 2020





Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.

SPEAKERS: Stacey Harris and John Sumser


John Sumser 0:14
Good morning and welcome to HR Tech Weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. Hi Stacey.


Stacey Harris 0:21
Good morning John. How are you doing?


John Sumser 0:24
I am on top of the world if you could be on top of the world when the outside looks like the apocalypse is right over the hill.


Stacey Harris 0:32
Yeah. And you guys are still in the midst of it, aren’t you over there? Fires I think are still going, the smoke is still hanging in the air. You guys are safe though now, right? You are Heather are in a location that is safe, but still the air isn’t breathable?


John Sumser 0:47
Th airs unbreathable and it’s worse because there’s so many fires on the West Coast that it was as dark as the middle of the night till 930 in the morning yesterday. And the sky itself is that color the sky gets before a Tornado, when you know something really bad is gonna happen and it’s been like that for three days. So, we’re hoping for some blue sky.


Stacey Harris 1:12
Yeah, well, we’ll send some wishes for some clean, fresh air your way, Colorado’s way. And you’re dealing with them and pretty much the entire West beyond Mississippi, right? We’re seeing smoke hanging in the air for everyone. We’re on the East Coast here on the other side dealing with various forms of thunderstorms and possible hurricanes coming up the coast. But I think we’re heading into the fall one way or another we will get through the natural disaster season of August and into September and start to hit cold season again. Here in North Carolina, we’re doing fairly well. The temperatures have dropped. I think like everybody else here we went from, you know, 90 plus degree weather, 100 plus degree weather down to I think we’re in the 70s this week, which is just completely unusual for this time of year, but can’t complain. We’ve got some sunshine and we can see this sky. So, in a little bit better position than you are John. So sorry, but you’re more than welcome to come this way at some point if you need to.


John Sumser 2:06
There you go. We may be there tomorrow.


Stacey Harris 2:08


John Sumser 2:09
The question is, how’s the processing of all the information going? You must be peeking through that?


Stacey Harris 2:16
Yeah. So, you’re probably hearing a little gruff this morning. I definitely have been putting in a lot of late nights doing data crunching and cleaning and analysis. For those of you who who sort of know the work that I do, we do The Annual Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey now under Sapient Insights Group, which is our new company. And it’s been fascinating to see the data, we already got some some interesting data that we’ll probably be launching a little bit early on some of the questions we asked about COVID-19. And the direction organizations are taking. Some of it, I think is assumed, some of it will be interesting and new insights about the kind of missing data organizations needed and didn’t have for the COVID-19 crisis. So that’ll be coming out a little bit sooner than the rest of the data sets.


But really, I’m always fascinated when I do the data cleaning to really understand how many, well really, how different each individual company is in their HR technology stack. I think we, as analysts, oftentimes kind of lump together these categories of people who are, you know, they all have this type of technology, or they’re all innovative, or they’re all on older platforms. But there’s such a wide mix in reality that I’m always fascinated to see how that kind of plays out and the things that organizations are able to do both from an HR perspective and from a business perspective. So we’ll be having some data this year that shows did your systems that you had in place have an impact on some of the decisions you made from a HR perspective or managing the pandemic crisis, or did the systems that you have in place have an impact on your resiliency and being able to see better outcomes over this year then other organizations in your industries, and, it’s very industry driven. So, those are the kind of analysis that I’m starting to get into. So, it’s fun, but I will say a lot of late nights and spreadsheets. If I have missed an email or if you’ve emailed me recently and I haven’t responded, please know it’s just because my head’s buried in spreadsheets right now.


And how about you, John? Are you, I mean, usually you have a big report coming out around HR Tech as well. Are you in the midst of diving deep into any one topic right now?


John Sumser 4:16
Well, to tell you the truth, I am focused quite heavily on a couple of projects. And this year’s report is going to be significantly smaller than usual. And that’s because everybody moved to solve, it’s like, there are many things that this is going to be true of, but everybody moved over to solve the COVID problem set. And, the AI stuff languished and got more interesting at the same time. But it’s pretty simple, really, what happened and that is, when all of the historical data ceased to mean anything, in March, people started really rethinking what was going to be important about intelligence and it turned out to be a move towards more conversational and search oriented things and awayfrom the predictive stuff in ML. And so,


Stacey Harris 5:07


John Sumser 5:08
So that’s the sort of user base evolution and thinking in the marketplace evolution, is that, you can’t really do machine learning on small sample sizes. Although lord knows, plenty of fools out there who are trying to. But, you need a lot of data. 10 data points or 100 data points isn’t adequate. But you can do some pretty interesting things with language. And so, for my money, the shift has been pretty straightforward. And the number of people who are doing sophisticated things with language beyond the sort of an automated phone answering system for recruiting, they’re not very many of those things yet, and they look more like VR and information management, and knowledge management but they look like other things. And so,


Stacey Harris 6:02


John Sumser 6:03
it’s gonna be interesting. I don’t know that anybody who is busy trying to figure out whether or not their doors are going to be open next week, is really going to be thinking all that hard about their next AI system. And so my guess is that next year things will really take a very different turn as a result of all this.


Stacey Harris 6:23


John Sumser 6:24
Because, we’re all gonna get to try to catch back up again next year.


Stacey Harris 6:29
Yeah, and it’ll be interesting. I think, you know, if the emphasis on language, because we have seen a lot of even articles about the diversity of language and the and the type of database you have for that language conversation and understanding conversational languages, and categorizing those languages, doing a better job of sorting through data. You know, that I think that’s the kind of stuff that you’re talking about. It’ll be interesting to see if the shift towards that gives us maybe a better path forward for how artificial intelligence can have an impact on human lives. I think so much of artificial intelligence previously was focused on giving you an answer. A better answer or a more sophisticated answer to something like a selection or something like, you know whether someone might stay in the organization. But, if we shift towards this language conversation you’re talking about, it might actually be that we can do a better job as individuals seeing how that data is useful to us. Right, it’s more categorized, more valuable, because there’s spent more time sort of understanding how the system can interact with humans. Am I understanding that correctly?


John Sumser 7:31
Yeah, you’re exactly right. And there’s sort of two levels to it, too. I have a friend who says, The biggest problem with HR really is that none of the software has good search capability. So you can’t find anything. If you’re in HR, it’s a pain find anything because none of the none of the vendors are really Search Appliance manufacturers in the big search. appliance manufacturers are all consumer oriented so they don’t understand the narrow categorization of business. The business transactions, right? There’s a kind of a depth thing that consumer services meant. And you can solve that you can make everything much more searchable or much more intelligible so that the interface between the human being in the data is more lively and more complex. And you can start to see behavior inside of the organization by just understanding its language. And so that’s one thing is the search aspect. And the other thing is the integration aspect. I think I believe that there are about 10,000 questions that are asked and answers. And it’s a finite number of questions, whatever it is, and you can have the company’s answer for each one of those things. And you can have it in a way that solves the problem of all of the conflicting revisions of crap that are stuck in SharePoint archives all over the place.


Stacey Harris 8:56


John Sumser 8:57
When you go look for an answer,


Stacey Harris 8:59
The dreaded SharePoint drive, yeah.


John Sumser 9:01
People get 10 answers. And you can consolidate that down to a single voice of the customer, of the organization.


Stacey Harris 9:09
This will be fascinating. So, it will be exciting to see where it goes next year. I’m more excited about that kind of AI, than I think I was about the answering question kind of AI where it was, no, I’m gonna give you an answer and you kind of have to move it. Because so much of that was about judgment calls that if you didn’t understand the language, the judgment calls could have been very far off, right? So, I like this. This will be good. We’ll see where it goes. Yeah.


John Sumser 9:32
So that really takes us in the news list. Visier has added a bunch of new functionality. But Visier is really becoming a solid citizen and the heart of people analytics. I wonder if they understand that people analytics is going to go from hard data to squeezing nuance out of text. It’d be interesting to talk to them about that.


Stacey Harris 9:58
I think you know, based off of the thing they said that they’re going to do that in this new release, they probably do. Because they’re adding more what I would say is, text based elements, into their analysis work, it looks like. So, they’ve got an email push, so email connections from an analysis that they got a cohort analysis, which is comparing different types of groups inside the organizations, and more “What if” models which require more cataloging? So possibly, we’ll see.


John Sumser 10:24
Yeah, yeah, I think this is, you know, there are some search products out in the recruiting world where you can tune search results with, you know, maybe 10 variables. So you can control control distance from the plant or ranking in the system or relative level of qualification. You can tune all of those things so that you get the ability to search the entirety of the database rather than a little bit of it. And that’ll come everywhere, right? Then you’ll be able to do that with employee records and Then you can start to see the patterns inside of the text data. That’s the holy grail, I think.


Stacey Harris 11:07
Yeah, it’s definitely a place where I think the analytics packages haven’t invested a ton of time. Workday has done their storytelling component, which to which does a bit of that. We’ve definitely seen One Source has tried to do a little bit in this tech space as well. But, we’ve seen I think more of that coming out of the recruiting application areas, tech CEOs, those kind of guys, Burning Glass. And it’ll be interesting to see if we can build that into the analytics applications, because it’s generally been a separate sort of analysis you run outside of your sort of hard data analysis.


John Sumser 11:44
Yeah, I think the only way it gets into the sort of standard enterprise stuff is if the enterprise providers begin to understand that the asset that is HR’s data and HR’s documentation isn’t anything like fully exploited in the organization, because it’s so hard to find anything. Right, you go back to that, it’s so hard to find stuff. And it’s like you got this big garage full of HR data, and you got to go in and clean it and put shelves in and stuff. But once you get the shelves, once you get the basic infrastructure in, you can do all sorts of things, because now you can find stuff. And that’s, I think that’s the next horizon in HR is making things easier to find and extracting insight from text.


Stacey Harris 12:33
Yeah, I think in general, anytime the software helps make our lives easier, that’s where we’re seeing, I think, the more higher levels of adoption and that’s the real conversation about this. Because,, all the good technology in the world, all the AI, isn’t valuable if you are continuously feeding it if you weren’t continuously using it, if you’re not making it a part of how you do your work.


Another example of that this week is Salesforce launched a new AI powered product for their field service workers. The idea in general is that it’s a suite of machine learning powered tools that will help highlight where and when field service workers should set up their appointments and do their scheduling and optimize their interaction with customers. It’s been positioned much more as a customer tool set. But, what is interesting is if you really look at it, its workforce management scheduling and time optimization tool as well. And it has intelligent scheduling and intelligent prioritization of jobs, which is a big part of human management capacity conversation, and a lot of time is spent with service workers on the scheduling aspect of this thing. I think you had a reaction to this is that this is going to create an environment where the service individuals are going to be automated, maybe at a level that seems a little bit big brother ish, which is a possible likelihood with something like this as well. But the idea is that this is a tool that should make things easier for the service professionals, but at least figure out what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis.


John Sumser 14:01
I think this is how Amazon manages its fleet. But every package has a timeline. You’ve have 30 seconds to get to the door and back. And every transaction is scheduled and measured and reported. And it’s wonderful as a consumer to have access to that. It’s brutal to work there. And so this is sort of big brother as a bully. And I think that’s what’s coming. I think a lot of people work in jobs where the fundamental management technique is bullying. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that that’s what we automated first because it’s way easier to automate that then it is to automate something that’s effective.


Stacey Harris 14:45
Well now that you’ve made us all feel pretty horrible about our time management tools, but I get it, yeah [laughing]. The reality is [laughing] that these kind of dynamic automating tools can automate really bad behavior inside organizations. And you’re right, you know, I think anybody who has gone through the process of automating a workforce, from a scheduling perspective, they’re calling it dynamic priority setting, or priority perspective, knows that it’s really easy to cross that line of being a totalitarian boss.


On the other hand, when done with the employee in mind, there is also ways for employees to input things that matter to them. Locations they’re going to be, the fact that they’ve got to pick up their child by three o’clock so they want to have everything that they’re doing near that particular location. The opportunity maybe to deal with the more difficult kind of situations earlier in the day versus in a latter part of the day. Not saying that this tool does that by any means, haven’t looked at it in detail. But, I think the end vision if this is done right, is to make these tools work for both the companies, the customers, and the employees. Those are some of the things that you know, we’re starting to see come out a little bit of the Uber technology and Lyft technology as those work forces to start to push back on what they’re willing to do, and what they’re willing to spend time on. Right? It will take time. And we’re probably going to go very far in the wrong direction before we get there. But that’s my hope of some of these tools and technology. So, I get it.


John Sumser 16:18
That’s such a great vision. That is such a great vision. You should start talking about that. The idea, the idea that automation creates a world with greater flexibility for people is – that’s awesome! That’s just awesome. That’s awesome. I’d like it to work out that way.


Stacey Harris 16:36
My hope, yeah. It would, it would, I would love it to work out that way too. I have a hope that someday we’ll all live in the Star Trek world that I, you know, envisioned when I was a child, so that’s where we’re at.


But we’re still here in this day-to-day environment as we’re in today. And there’s still a lot of other, I mean, besides that kind of stuff, we still have some of the basic things going on in the HR Tech space.


There was an announcement this week that PeopleFluent LMS is enhancing their user experience and reporting capabilities. And I think this one sort of hit me a little bit with, oh, another upgrade to your user experience and reporting capabilities, seems so far away from all the AI stuff we were just talking about. Like our basic systems are still struggling. PeopleFluent’s a tough one, because you kind of have to wonder which LMS are they talking about? LTG, which is the parent company for PeopleFluent, acquired, Early Days, [unintelligible] Point, they acquired Net Dimensions, they acquired Blackboard’s open LMS platform. So there’s multiple types of technology inside there, as well as the learning platform by Rustici Software called Watershed, which is more of a learning repository. I’m not exactly sure what’s been updated based off of reading this. It sounds like they’ve basically just improved maybe some of the integration and the overlays on it. But it sort of just set me you know, sort of reading it back the fact that as much as we all want to talk about where the future is taking us more than 50%, more than 50% of the organizations that I survey are still on pretty old technology that’s really just being sort of minimally updated right now to improve the experience.


John Sumser 18:06


Stacey Harris 18:07
It’s interesting to see it continue to happen.


John Sumser 18:09
That’s, I’m dying for you to finish your work, because I’d love to know how that investment in technology runs across industries. That’d be fascinating. And geographies would probably be good to see as well. So, what you’re telling me here is that PeopleFluent is still alive. That’s great! That’s great news. We don’t hear much from them any longer. And so this release is an interesting pulse from a part of the economy that I didn’t know was still operating.


Stacey Harris 18:41
Yeah, with quite a number of customers still. Yeah, so I think, you know, we saw a lot of these organizations Sum Total, and Skillsoft is another one that aggregated up a lot of little players in the Learning and Performance space from the early days and they’re still limping along and what’s nice to see is that, you know, they are trying to figure out how they build a more cohesive experience for their users, which means that, you know, people are less likely to jump automatically to new product right away. Like you said, still alive, still out there.


John Sumser 19:10
Good. What else is in the news? Let’s do a couple more.


Stacey Harris 19:13
Well, you know, obviously, we have take a little bit of notice, you know, if we’re continuing on the learning space there is, I’m not sure I terribly love their name, but it’s called the eLearning brothers. But, it’s an authoring tool for virtual reality training environments. And they’ve just launched a 3D modeling basically allowing you to insert 3D modeling into your virtual reality environments. Probably the interesting thing about that is that we’re seeing more and more of this kind of rethinking the idea of what virtual reality and 3D can do for the training space, but we’re also seeing some interesting stuff come out of the COVID, you know, conversation. Which is, we had our tech startup, launching a company called Salarium has launched and HR solution for their COVID-free workplace. Again, not surprising. It’s called Facecast. Which is basically a new time clock system that makes sure that your temperatures check to make sure that you are getting checked in without touching anything. But they’ve now added the additional item that you can’t actually clock in unless you’re wearing a mask in certain environments. So, sort of for that added additional idea that we’re going to continue to automate safety inside of organizations.


And we obviously can’t wrap up today without mentioning what’s going on on the front of social reforms, diversity and inclusion conversations. Workday had a great announcement this week, where they are launching what they’re calling their new Vibe solution, which is a value inclusion belonging an equity product in this environment. So lots of good news there countering some of the news we’re hearing this week about how diversity training may be being cut in the federal agencies and those kind of things. I think the market is starting to see companies trying and step up in certain places where we may not be taking that step in other areas of our community. So a couple of new things. Is there any one of those topics you want to chat about before we wrap up today?


John Sumser 21:01
Well, you know, we probably can’t close this out without seriously noticing that the fundamental thing that I was trained that America was about, which is equal opportunity for everybody, has been declared unpatriotic by the President of the country. Jesus Christ!


Stacey Harris 21:23
It’s a little hard to take. I will admit, I wasn’t quite sure how to talk about it this morning. And, you know, I really enjoyed seeing what Workday was doing. I was like, Oh, this is great news. It just fell on the back of a really hard memo to read about a workplace environment that hundreds of thousands of employees across the world work in and the training that they’re either allowed or not allowed to have access to. So yeah, you just feel like you’re living in sort of a split reality sometimes. Right?


John Sumser 21:48
Yeah. It’s like it really is as gloomy and doomy as it is out my window this morning. Eeek! Thank you Workday.


Stacey Harris 21:57
Workday has definitely put up a little bit of light on that topic. I don’t know if they picked this week to launch specifically or prior to knowing what was going to happen in the government. But, they definitely, I think what was nice to see about the Workday announcement was that they took a very measured approach to this conversation. And we saw a lot of organizations early days and early timeframes around these conversations, rush out with announcements about what they were going to do from an action perspective and how they were going to address it. There is a real need inside of our organizations to have a conversation about equity and fairness, but also about the fact that there was a need to have a conversation about what was happening in the Black Lives Matter community. And so we saw a lot of organizations take those steps, some in good ways, and some in not so good ways. Workday took their own steps. But I think, you know, they also took a step back and said, what can we as an organization do to ensure that we are making this a continued conversation in our organization, which I appreciate. Of course, there’s work that they’re promising to do that we wish they would have done earlier. So they’ve got some details in here about the fact that they are, along with launching this product Vibe, along with enhancing their internal technology to ensure that it has an index around things like belonging and equity, beyond just diversity numbers.


John Sumser 23:16
That’s good. We’re running right up against our time Stace.


So, good on Workday! Nice job.


Stacey Harris 23:23


John Sumser 23:25
Thanks again for doing this remarkable conversation, as always. And thanks, everybody for tuning in. You’ve been listening to HR Tech Weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. See you back here next week. Bye Bye now.


Stacey Harris 23:40
Thanks, everyone. Bye

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