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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: 287
Air Date: October 8, 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. Stacey, how are you?

Stacey Harris 0:21
Morning John, how you doing?

John Sumser 0:23
Oh, you know what, you can breathe the air here in California. It’s a good day.

Stacey Harris 0:28
Well that’s good. It’s always good to be able to breathe the air in!

That’s the saddest thing, that that’s the way we have to open up the show, right? Yeah, I will say North Carolina’s got some sunshine, we’re back up to 80 degrees for a little bit of nice weather, we’ll probably get back down to 60 soon. But we do have a hurricane coming possibly in the next couple of days. So we’re not going to get out of our own troubles. But we can breathe the air. So I am sorry to hear – is the haze, I mean, are you still looking through the yellow haze as well?

John Sumser 0:55
There’s some actual blue sky, the air is still chunky, and there’s still soot falling from the sky. But, the hardest thing about that is the best part of Northern California is the sweet ocean air. And we haven’t had any of that for a while.

Stacey Harris 1:09
That is very sad because I do remember that every time I go to visit I will say, I’ve missed my trips to San Francisco. I remember, up by the area where you guys lived at there’s just so much more of it as well it’s just much fresher coming off that. So…

John Sumser 1:22
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, it’s a busy, crazy time. Everybody is in the midst of the fall, what used to be the fall tradeshow season, and everybody is doing everything for the first time. It’s a quite chaotic moment in the industry. What do you seeing?

Stacey Harris 1:39
Well, it’s definitely been a very, very busy week from a news perspective. And there is a ton of things going on. But like you said, it’s a little bit on the odd side, because it’s a lot of new stuff to a lot of virtual conferences, a lot of going to videotape and hotels so that you can, that did not sound good. No, that’s not what I meant. But they’re now taking us to locations so we can videotape virtual events is what’s happening. So I did that yesterday for a conference up that’s gonna be out there in California. And it’s just been interesting to kind of see the different approaches organizations are taking to try and create some level of connection with an audience that is not there in person. And so you know, we’ve got SAP has got their event going on this week, the last couple of weeks, we had Oracle have their event, sort of user conference, as you might say, and they’re, you know, I will have to say I don’t feel like I know as much as I normally know, at this point in time in the season about what’s going on with all the vendors, I’m trying to keep up on it. But it’s just seems to be a lot harder. I don’t know about you?

John Sumser 2:46
Well, I think this is exactly the problem that we’re facing with remote work. And that is you can you know, I have I have sat through sadly, more than 100 hours of badly rought, product oriented video from HR tech vendors, and it is, oh man, it is, you have to appreciate them for the valient effort. But it’s like going to the dentist. This is not a good way to absorb information. And so, so I think what we’re seeing is that, trying to take what we used to do, and immediately overlay it on a new way of doing things doesn’t get you a high quality output. And it takes making those mistakes yourself to start to understand what might work. But it’s been it’s been an awful time this year. And I feel as out of touch as you do. Because the way we used to spend our time was in complex interactions with live human beings. And now we spend our time in simple interactions through scripted human beings. And the two are not equal.

Stacey Harris 4:00
Well, but I do think that people are figuring out different ways to do this, right? Like I’m, you know, I do think the technology is trying to sort of meet the different needs. We’re seeing some interesting, I think crowdsourcing technology come up, I know, you’re looking at some new video technology, we talked Microsoft’s trying to do that now. I know I’m seeing some new tools that allow people to act like you’re in sessions so that you can have like a group of people that you’re sitting next to and have a back channel conversation with.

I think if we can figure it out, what might be an unexpected outcome from this process, right, is that we’re going to find out that there is a lot more that happens, I guess, in the hallways and between the sessions and and as you’re sitting in the back room, having that conversation about the presentation than we expected. And if we can capture some of that, there might be some opportunity to make more out of it in this new environment. But yeah, it’s gonna take I think, much more than just a six month so we’re talking a couple of years of innovation probably and getting back kind of feeling and getting that kind of experience, I would say.

John Sumser 5:04
So when farmers left the farm and went to work in the factory, which is what happened in the 19th century, depending on how you count, it took us years to make that transition to three or four full human generations to make the transition from agriculture to industrial economy. We tried to do that transition overnight on the 11th of March. And it’s gonna take us a long time, because the new is not the old plus video. The new is a very, very different thing. And we are so early on in that process that that the idea that we would start to get it right is kind of silly. And we would be very fortunate to get some things right right now, but but we don’t know the simplest things like, where does the organization end. Where’s the boundary between the organization and the rest of the employees life. And it looks like dogs and cats are coming across that barrier at a pretty rapid pace, as are kids and spouses and all sorts of things are coming across that boundary, but you can’t really manage something until you can tell where its boundary is. And we don’t have that simple answer yet. Right? And that simple answer is the foundation for all sorts of things, right? I’m thinking hard about safety, health, development of AI. And it’s hard to figure out what workplace safety means when workplaces distributed. Where’s the responsibility begin then? And it isn’t a cut and dry conversation. Because if the if the organization doesn’t pay attention to mental health in the distributed workplace, and I don’t mean some bullshit wellness thing. I mean, I mean, the people who manage the interface that crosses into people’s houses, need to understand what mental illness looks like. And they need to be able to say, oh, oh, John, is a lot crankier than usual than usual. He might be suffering from anxiety. What do we do here?

Stacey Harris 7:19

John Sumser 7:19
You know,and that’s not part of the [unintelligible] yet.

Stacey Harris 7:23
And in all honesty, I think, although a lot of things seep over into our work environment, from a from a mental health and a personal health issue on many levels, I think oftentimes, employees in particular, work very hard to hide what’s going on in the environment at home. It’s interesting, my father was a school teacher for many, many years. And children aren’t quite that good at that, right. Children are much, and even young adults, as teenagers are much more, you know, that just kind of bluntly tell you what’s going on in their lives, oftentimes, unless they’ve been had too many times where that has not worked out for them. And I think what we’re experiencing in the offices right now is a kind of a rude awakening to really understanding what goes on in people’s worlds and lives, whether or not you’re working in a work office environment, where you’re doing zoom and work from home things, or even if you are working with frontline employees who have to come in, but now don’t have childcare or don’t have the kind of healthcare they need or things like that, right. That kind of stuff is crossing lines, we oftentimes didn’t have to think about as much and work. And so this, I think, is ramping up the need for HR to think much more broadly about their role. And what level of role did they should they have with managing their employees or helping is probably a better word, helping their employees through those situations. And it really comes down to what the employees want as well, you may not want someone having that conversation with you. And it’s a very different dialogue. But it reminds me a lot of some of the things my dad went through in the first couple years he went teaching.

John Sumser 8:55
Well, you may not want the company to have the conversation with him. But if you think the employment contract means you can come however you are. And we have to accept that. That’s, that’s a long way from the reality of needing performance and continuance and collaboration and so on. And so mental health isn’t just a private thing that we hide from each other. It’s a, it’s a public good as well. And part of what changes in this new workplace is a definition of what’s public and what’s private. And the world when you have your office in your house, the world is a more public place. I have to I have to in the morning when I get up I have to think about how are we going to look on TV. Just as does everybody who’s on a zoom conversation.

Stacey Harris 9:48
Yeah, and if you’re someone like me who has their office right now in her bedroom, because that’s the only location I have because I have family members here with me. Then I have to think about what’s behind me Did I leave a lot Have a basket of dirty laundry behind me Do I have to push it out of the visual? Those are, what doors are open that, you know, I don’t want people to see behind all kinds of stuff that we’re hearing that people are struggling with.

John Sumser 10:10
Yeah, and if this is just a transition phase, it’s just a transition phase. But it is not. It is not black and white about about what’s going to be successful and what is successful. So we have a pile of interesting news.

Stacey Harris 10:27
We do, we do. On top of all of the things I think that were that are coming out in the news around working from home and dealing with what’s going on this fall, as we sort of actually see a lot more people sort of heading back to work. Yeah, a lot of news coming out of what’s going on in HR. Real quickly, just a quick rundown, and then maybe we’ll talk about a few of them.

For those of you who follow sort of the events schedules are usually around this time, there is a conference in Europe called Unleash, they also have conferences in the U.S. and in London that really covers the HR technology space, as well as some of the other broader topics in that space. That organization has basically launched their new online digital environment. And at the same time they have, it looks like we think they’ve acquired that seems the light might be the right language acquired a good friend of ours, George LaRocque’s company called HR Wins. And it looks like they have hired George to become a senior vice president of insights for the organization. So I think we’re gonna see more content from them some more opportunities to videos, interviews, that kind of thing online, a lot of the stuff we’re seeing a lot of the organizations doing, who are trying to figure out what the new business model is. So there’s a little bit of that going on.

Also, this week, we’re seeing in the news, if anybody’s following it. Oracle and Google have a “copyright case of the century,” people are calling it. Which has to do with API’s. And if you are in any kind of technology, you know what an API is, and you know how important it is. And there’s some interesting copyright cases around that.

There’s also in the kind of the compliance side of things the U.S. Congress has called for antitrust reforms for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google again, will have a big impact on applications that we all touch and work with for our customers and employees.

And then, if we get a little time today, it’d be well worth talking about the new top HR products of 2020 that have been put out by HR Executive Magazine. So this is a combination of what looks like was the Innovation Awards that we saw at the HR Technology Conference every year as well as HRE’s Online HR Technology, top products. And so there’s some really interesting winners in that and a process they went through for that to sort of pick some exciting new technologies to talk about.

SAP launched some updates about their organization as they’re going into having their conference this week, including that they hit 4,000 customers. And then we do have some money this week that we didn’t get talked about last week, the workforce management company Legion raised $22 million. Interesting thing is that they’re being supported by Workday’s investor program.

Visier also ported an open technology platform that you think is worth talking about because Visier is an analytics platform in the HR space.

And then if we get a little bit of time, Slack is redesigning the way you work from home. Again, one of those companies that had to rethink if everybody sort of distanced and all the little chatter’s not quite getting out what I need. They’re adding, it sounds like video and audio conferencing, which is a little bit against their original model.

So, it’s been a busy week, lots of our work technology and lots of the companies that we work with John had been doing some interesting things. Any of these particular topics interest you, you know, that you think are as well worth our audience are knowing a little bit more about this week?

John Sumser 13:26
Oh, I think you should pick this. There’s all sorts of interesting stuff there. Why don’t we start with Visier? What, what’s the Visier news?

Stacey Harris 13:35
Okay. So, for those who don’t know, Visier, it is a analytics platform, particularly an HR analytics platform. They’re probably one of the best known, I would say it’s, I think I can honestly say that. For large organizations who want to create a sort of separate platform, they’re not sort of buying it from their core HRMS or someone else, but a separate platform where they sort of collect all of their data and analyze it and share it. If I understand what they’re saying they are going to open up their platform and allow partners to build applications in their environment, maybe not quite a platform as a service plate. It sounds like it might be a little bit different than that. But the idea is that they want to work more with their partners, it seems and release side by side products, pre build analysis, pre built tools, maybe some integration tools. I mean, john, you talked to a lot of organizations who do predictive analytics, and they’ve got tools embedded in their applications that they’re selling, how many of them feel like they need to take the data outside of the system to do a good analysis on it.

John Sumser 14:37
I have yet to encounter a vendor who thinks that they need to do anything playing with others unless they’re forced to. But the people in the trenches live in a world of spreadsheets that are often in variable revisions. And so the people in the trenches are hungry for tools that can Standard report outputs. And so this isn’t this isn’t good idea. Fisher is really making a difference in the advancement of people analytics, that’s the thing to pay attention to here is this is almost single handedly inventing the people analytics market as a vendor thing, the practitioners are years ahead of the vendors in this, you know, there are there are things like both Microsoft and Facebook have these massive people analytics operations, hundreds of people in people analytics in each company. And so they’re they’re looking at things in extremely sophisticated ways that will leak out through things like this Visier arrangement, and, but it’s the, it’s the actual practitioners who are doing the innovation.

Stacey Harris 15:48
Yeah. And that’s definitely what I’m seeing as well. I mean, I think when you look at where the best analytics, and I mean, the best, I mean, the ones that are having the the outcomes that are being achieved by organizations, generally, we see that they are aggregating data from a lot of different sources and putting into something else to have that analysis done, then their individual HR applications, now we’re seeing some of that change a little bit with some of the new products bought by some of the vendors, you know, SAP Oracle, both have their own cloud analytics platforms, workday had picked up product doing that as well, this I think is is allowing visier to compete on that level. And, you know, as I said, this doesn’t feel like it’s completely an open environment right now. But it looks like that’s the direction they’re heading the CEO, actually, Ryan Wong said, this is the stepping stone to offering Vizier cloud as a complete open ecosystem. Which means because the big thing is you want to be able to kind of develop and build your own tools, sets, on many cases, not just reports, but different algorithms, different things that can be run different ways of pulling data and cleaning it in one environment. And it’s really hard to do usually in any one single platform. But if you can kind of build on top of one you might be able to get there. So this will be interesting to see.

John Sumser 16:57
Yeah, no, I think it’s, it’s worth saying that this is sort of the introductory level to where we’re going to be. So when I talk to the vendors that are doing the most interesting stuff in intelligent tools, they talk about having 10s of thousands of models operating at any given time. And in order to manage 10s of thousands of models operating at any given time, you need to have some sort of overlay that allows you to understand the status of the entire sort of farm of models, and be able to identify models that are failing, because one of the basic truths about AI is the bottles were out the bottles fall out of tolerance that drift, and we have to be able to monitor that. And so the current view of people analytics is very transactional. And the next layer of the view of people analytics is going to be exponentially different. Because Because we are slowly but surely, if you look at like work there, I think they have 50 different places in their human capital stack where they’ve applied Artificial Intelligence Service now has a similar level of artificial intelligence and their stuff I’m sure that Oracle and SAP do as well. And you can’t make sense out of that, unless you’ve got a visibility overlay on it.

Stacey Harris 18:23
Yeah. And that’s the important piece is that no matter how good any one technology is, if you can’t make sense out of it, it doesn’t matter. Right. And that’s a lot of what Visier is trying to do here. Yeah.

John Sumser 18:34
That’s right. That’s right. So I think this is a big deal.

Stacey Harris 18:37

Speaking of, you’d mentioned SAP and some of the larger guys, one of the things that this week hit me, as SAP put out SAP success factors, I should say, put out their number that they had 4,000 customers, they just hit 4,000 customers on Employee Central. Now most of the large vendors, at least for the last probably six months to a year have been sort of in that 3,000 or 4,000 range. That’s the Workday’s the Oracles with their new cloud technologies, right. Ultimate was in that range. And then once they end up getting merged with Kronos, that number jumped up…

John Sumser 19:10

Stacey Harris 19:11
…Dramatically, yeah. So, at the same time that we saw sort of them announce that, they didn’t what what caught me is they didn’t announce any new applications around diversity and inclusion, as we saw both Oracle and workday do no new applications around analytics, like they didn’t have any other big announcements yet. But that I’ve seen here where we had seen those just come out from the the workday and the Oracle environment, which would be their primary competitors, at least in the HCM space right now. What do you think about does the number of customers mean that much when you’re trying to deal with this idea that we now have these cloud products they aggregated data is a value it was a surprising thing for me that they came up with that as being their big announcement this week. Does that surprise you? Or do you think that is something that we all have to watch it’s how many customers any one vendor has

John Sumser 19:57
I think 2020 will be remembered as the year where products didn’t really develop. Because what we were doing, if you look at the Workday and ServiceNow offerings for bringing the workplace back online, they’ve invested tons of development time and money and energy trying to figure out how to deal with safety in the workplace. And that means that their roadmapping vision for the future may have come to a grinding halt. But you can’t really put that in a press release right now, we’ve been busy helping our customers keep their doors open isn’t nearly as sexy as some new jivas technology thing. But but I think I think that all of the enterprise companies have varying degrees of success been engaged in the question of how to keep their companies and how they keep their customers in business. So in that context, growth in the customer count is a big deal. And the question of when are we going to get back on track for interesting moves forward is, is a fascinating one. Because, you know, I think your data shows that the investment in the plan investment in enterprise level software is falling, while the HR technology budget is growing. And so that means that everybody’s attention is focused away from moving forward and on to treading water.

Stacey Harris 21:30
Yeah, and treading water and rethinking the idea of what is is considered technology. That’s that’s workforce support, right, which I think we’ve talked a lot about. And maybe I guess that’s probably a good segue into the conversation about the top HR products. Now, these are awards, you know, that organizations get I think HR Executive Magazine has done a nice job sort of rethinking this new brand around their awards program, 110 submissions, they have a panel had reviewed each one in a narrow, narrow the list, watch the demos and pick them. But what I thought was interesting is if you look at who they’ve gotten some of the big categories like for HR, we’re not seeing some of the large names that we just mentioned, we’re seeing Ceridian dayforce, Wallet for Ceridian. We’re seeing next generation pay from ADP and paychecks flex remote workforce enablement. So for core HR, we’re seeing some of the vendors who really meet the needs of the smallest organizations, in some cases, get some of these top awards. There’s obviously some interesting vendors in the talent management space as well. We’re seeing Cornerstone there pi metrics, Willis towers Watson some names we would expect, we’re also seeing in the in the talent acquisition space, someone you wouldn’t expect pay comm with their manager on the go, as well as icims. And hacker rank learning has a company called go fluent in it. And we’re seeing in the experience group, look at work human and workday there. What do you think about this, that these awards again, we know, they’re all sort of picked by people. So there’s a human component to it, but that we’re seeing SMB products sort of make this top list this year.

John Sumser 23:00
I’m not sure I read it that way. So if you look at core HR, Dayforce, ADP, and Paychex, I think ADP and Paychex constitute the largest by customer count vendors in our space, right? ADP has 700,000 customers and they’re a lot of really big ones. And so when they introduce something like next generation pay, it affects a quarter of the economy, that’s a big, big, thing. Paychex’s footprint is nearly as big, and Dayfoce, you know, I think if you could read the mind of the top executive team at Dayforce, what they dream about is 10 years from now being the next ADP. And so, that seems to me like a game of Titans there. And the fact that Ceridian is on the list means they’ve crossed an interesting threshold. If you go into the sort of the more marginal stuff like employee experience, or the there’s a bunch of stuff in here about skills management and the gig marketplace, it’ll be interesting to see if that stuff actually holds. There’s an emerging theory that all of those things are based on the idea that skills are complicated. And there is an emerging school of thought that says that skills are simple, and that it’s the context. That’s complicated. And so we’ll see if these things, these things hang out. There’s a lot of good marketing that’s gone into some of these awards.

Stacey Harris 24:34
Yeah. And that is one of the challenges right, sort of pulling apart the marketing from the the interesting things. But I do think you’re right there is the context will become the next conversation around skills. And that’s where you start to see the connection between things like scheduling and on the job environments and embedded learning and things right, that gives you context for skills, and we don’t see as much of that as I think we should be thin in some cases. And so it would be interesting to see next year if that starts to show up. So, great conversation.

John Sumser 25:06
Yeah. What’s interesting about this skills conversation that’s emerging is I don’t know of a single skills oriented company that’s able to actually tell you, what are the precise levels of skills needed for a specific job?

Stacey Harris 25:24

John Sumser 25:25
And it turns out that that’s way more complicated and way more context sensitive than the sort of mechanical view of a skill, which is that you either have it or you don’t.

Stacey Harris 25:35

John Sumser 25:36
So, I think over time, we’re going to see a lot of evolution in this particular segment of that. So, you were but you were about to shut down before I interrupted you. It has been a good conversation.

Stacey Harris 25:47
Well, only because I know we were heading into our 30 minutes. But it’s an important topic. I mean, me and you have talked for a long time. But the biggest issue with the skills and talent management conversation is it’s not tied to what’s actually happening in any work environment. So, where the change will come is if they can get that kind of leveling, because they’re in the work environment, and they’re capturing what’s happening there. That’s what has to happen. It’s a really hard thing to do. But it can be done now with Internet of Things. It can be done now in a world where we capture information that’s more than just something you type in, right, and so we just have to figure out how to do it.

John Sumser 26:20
Yep. Yep. So, great conversation. Thanks as always for doing this Stacey. You’ve been listening to HR Tech Weekly, One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. We will see you back here next week. Bye, bye now.

Stacey Harris 26:35
Thanks, everyone. Bye.

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