What Happens in Las Vegas - HR ExaminerIf Bill Kutik were Neil Young, HRTech would be his Bridge School Benefit. The annual conversation marathon, now headed for its fifteenth year, is ground zero for the universe of people who think that technology ought to be at the heart of HR. In Vegas for the first time (after years in Chicago), the LRP team (which includes Kutik and HRExecutive editor David Shadovitz), jammed the festivalwith content and the opportunity for discovery. With conversations led by Naomi Bloom, Jim Holincheck, and Jason Averbrook, the halls were full of the kinds of influential luminaries who show up to jam on the Bridge School Stage.

There is something Fellini-esque about the pace, the content and the intensity of the partying. China Gorman captures it well when she says this is the best conference for HR folks who want to do business. Kutik and co have created a dynamic self-sustaining environment for the exchange of ideas, business cards and opportunities. This is the one place where you can see how it all fits together.

This year, things got started with a Vegas-ready version of HREvolution. In some ways, the start was the high point. HREvolution is the brainchild of a group of next-generation HR Leaders who have a knack for organizing and thinking about the coming game. They warmed up the space on Sunday and led an alternative session on Wednesday. Most notable of the HREvolution offerings was the brilliant ‘Talent Anarchy Hacklab’, a radical (and effective) new approach for instituting organizational change pioneered by Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen.

In general, there was a shortage of new ideas and innovation from the vendors at the conference. The primary themes could be easily summarized as:

  • Rebranding: If it doesn’t move, paint it. There were a significant number of rebrandings and repositionings. They all seemed to have an eerie similarity.
  • Innovation 1: Social Media. Fully 1/3 of the vendors were offering some form of social product. For the most part, it was data intensive and not social at all.
  • Innovation 2: Square Rectangles from Apple. Someone has persuaded an army of intelligent people that a lot of work is going to be done from mobile phones. Lots of vendors and presentations shouted enthusiastically about the prospect. Little real value was in evidence.

It’s been four long years of economic downturn. Even the brightest vendors with the smartest offerings have been feeling the pinch. The paucity of new initiatives is clearly related to the lack of Research and Development. We’ve turned the corner on the era where the government and the military supplied our new ideas. Now, they emerge from the consumer markets. We’re not good at harvesting those ideas yet. And, for the most part, we haven’t adjusted to the fact that it’s more expensive to convert consumer stuff into enterprise tools than it is to take them from the government.

There were some gems. You had to wade through the propaganda to find them. It seems like the vendors might not actually know which of their new ideas are keepers. Besides the aforementioned ‘Hacklab‘, these things caught my eye:

  • HRMarketer quietly introduced its SocialEars. Focused on vendor needs, the tool takes the idea of influence measurement to the next level. By tracking a huge number of bloggers, journalists, commentators and others, HRMarketer is able to present an idea of the pulse of the conversation on specific keywords.
  • Lumesse is defying the market’s logic and delivering both SaaS and On-Premise functionality. In the rest of the world, both Oracle and Salesforce.com are headed in this direction.
  • There was a ton of talk about improving performance management. Sonar6 offered really interesting visualizations of organizational performance. CubeVibe was hovering in the background with a more instantaneous view of the problem. Rypple is pointing in a similar direction. The basic idea is that performance evaluation already is a 24×7 process. It’s the systems and reporting that are out of synch.
  • The CandE awards barely overshadowed the fact that Elaine Orler’s Talent Function is rapidly becoming the preeminent source of recruitment campaign design and technology implementation.
  • There are a ton of companies offering tools with which to integrate social data into a form that supplements the resume. Veechi, thesocialcv and TalentBin all make interesting products. So far, none of the vendors goes beyond the parlor tricks that are possible with scraped data. Still, these are companies to watch as they grapple with explosive volumes of personnel information.
  • Charles Jones is, hands down, the folksiest and most approachable CEO in the industry (with the possible exception of Patersons’ Andrew Pearson). You just want to trust him with your business. It’s a surprisingly scarce commodity. You get the immediate sense that the friendliness is the frosting on a high-performance no-nonsense culture. The company was showcasing a sexy data layer. The real story is the powerful integration going on behind the scenes.
  • SHL is exploring the combination of visualization and the amazing treasure trove of data they’ve built over the years. There must have been 30 vendors who were trumpeting their ability to do ‘benchmarking across the customer base’. That’s easy in a SaaS environment and hard if you don’t presume that people have to share a platform.
  • When you meet the folks from TALX, you start rooting for them before you start the conversation.
  • Monster is reinventing itself from the inside out. BeKnown and SeeMore are the next genration of products. The team is fresh and open to experimentation.
  • Ceridian‘s expansion of its relationship with DayForce suggests a real change in the integrated workforce management world is afoot.
  • HumanConcepts sold off the SMB portion of their business earlier this year. Fleshing out an enterprise quality team, Martin Sacks is assembling a powerhouse. The product enables you to visualize and execute organizational agility.
  • OneWire was making the rounds talking about their New York based talent tools. They prove the point that HR and Recruiting are local sports.

There were deeper stories being told. Everyone knows that the emerging problem involves changing mindsets. Immediate data, flowing from every imaginable orifice, is the future of all organizations. HR’s mission is rapidly evolving to become ‘optimizing the network that is the organization’. Meanwhile measurements of things that could never before be measured will swamp us with stuff that needs to be effectively visualized.

Kudos to Jeanne Achille and the Devon Group. I could have never navigated the schedule without their help. Thanks.

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