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Amid a boom of new cloud-based software, human resources professionals are preparing to converge in Chicago for the world's largest HR technology and services expo.
The annual HR Technology Conference and Exposition, scheduled for Oct. 4 to 7, will showcase advances in predictive software, data analytics, machine learning, video for training and applications for frequent feedback on work performance, analysts said. The conference will also include new software tools centered on employee engagement, with mobile and consumer-type interfaces.
The conference, which drew about 8,500 people last year, is a must for professionals seeking demonstrations of products at the cutting edge of HR technology trends or advice on establishing plans and procedures for using the software, analysts said. The event will draw in excess of 400 companies demonstrating their wares and services on the expo floor, including more than 40 startups, as well as numerous sessions with advice by users and vendors.
Artificial intelligence is a hot space
Jason Averbook, an analyst and consultant, said the conference offers "huge learning opportunities" for people who are facing fast changes in technology. "The reason to attend is to keep learning and keep your eye sharp on what the market is doing, and get some ideas about what you might be doing down the road," he said.
Katherine Jones, director of talent research and partner at Mercer LLC, based in New York, said areas such as machine thinking and artificial intelligence are important HR technology trends that will be on display. "Vendors have figured out how to do the bread and butter of managing people. Where can they go next?"
As an example, Jones referred to new capabilities by SAP SuccessFactors HCM Suite that use text mining and machine learning to detect gender bias in job postings, performance reviews and succession planning. The software would identify potentially discriminatory terms and recommend changes.
User interfaces resemble consumer devices
Jones said HR technology is at a key turning point, where it is becoming smarter and more like a consumer application.
More and more, employees are using their smartphones for HR functions, such as giving each other feedback, participating in wellness programs, clocking in at work or viewing their paychecks and benefits.
Brian Sommer, founder of research firm Vital Analysis in Batavia, Ill., said HR leaders should look for second-generation cloud HR and talent management systems, such as the type already offered by Workday. This software comes with Hadoop open storage for processing very large data files, web content or emails, for example, into insights and synthesized business opportunities -- all of which is happening in memory instead of on disk drives, he said.
HR eager to know fate of LinkedIn
This year's HR Technology Conference is coming in the wake of a massive takeover in the industry.
In June, Microsoft agreed to purchase LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, and the deal is expected to close this year. With more than 400 million registered users, LinkedIn is an important site for people to obtain jobs and for HR to recruit professionals.
LinkedIn gives Microsoft a significant presence in social media for hiring and in HR applications, especially in recruiting.
While LinkedIn is a thriving social network and a good recruiting tool, it has also struggled in some ways, said Kyle Lagunas, research manager at IDC for emerging trends in talent acquisition and staffing. The cost of acquiring talent through LinkedIn has increased, response rates to InMail have gone down and a lot of technology talent is hiding from recruiters because they are weary of being spammed, he said.
LinkedIn has also been particular about providing data and APIs, which secure interfaces between different applications and help users share data and services, he said.
He does not know what will be the result of the takeover, but he said he hopes LinkedIn becomes more open and a green space for innovation once it is folded into the Microsoft ecosystem.
"People are curious to see what is going to happen. It is an interesting pairing."
HR technology trends in predictive analytics
That type of architecture allows for crunching weather data for forecasting staffing levels, for example, or for examining social media to measure the sentiment of employees.
New tools are designed to make sense of data from outside a company, no matter the structure of that data, he said.
Some professionals in human resources analytics are trying to operate with data from inside the four walls of HR, not bringing in external information in a major way, he said. "They can't take advantage of big data because they are using old 2005 or 2007 vintage cloud architecture that is not designed for big data."
Sommer said the conference will also likely include new-generation predictive analytics that could warn of the root cause of talent possibly leaving a company.
New analytics would be able to signal a year or two in advance of the risk of a top employee planning to quit a job by flagging a milestone event, such as a person turning 40, or another critical turning point, like lack of a promotion while peers are advancing, he said.
Current flight-risk software by key vendors focuses too heavily on short-term indicators, such as an employee updating their profile on LinkedIn, cashing in stock options or a moving to another community, he said. Intervention won't work at that time because it comes too late, he said.
Employees get greater say
According to Kyle Lagunas, research manager at IDC for emerging trends in talent acquisition and staffing, a lot of software at the conference will center on ways to empower employees, hiring managers and candidates.
"Systems of engagement are something we are seeing across the HR lifecycle -- in performance management, talent acquisition and learning. We are trying to do more than document interactions and manage content and employee records. Now, we are trying to actively engage the workforce."
Lagunas said candidate relationship management software is becoming important to supplement traditional applicant tracking systems. With candidate relationship management, for example, software can automate the process of contacting job hopefuls if they are not initially hired, for example, and consistently engage applicants.
"Very few of us have ever gotten the follow-up email six months later that we were told to expect. That never happened before."
Lagunas said HR Tech provides the best opportunity for HR leaders to tap into the latest in human capital management, including best practices and strategy, but it also is good for rubbing elbows and making contacts.
"It also offers fantastic networking opportunities," he said. "It is one of the big reasons why I make time for it every year."
Video learning sparks interest
Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president of Constellation Research Inc., said hot HR technology trends are in performance management, video for learning and analytics.
"It's the only place where the whole industry comes together," he said. "It's busy, but it is the one conference where you can get the complete view of what is going on."
Mueller said performance management is broken. Many software companies are selling applications for more frequent suggestions and feedback, sometimes anonymously, among employees.
In learning management, both Oracle and Workday last year unveiled cloud-based software to allow employees to create and share content via video, PDF and PowerPoint over mobile devices and laptops.
Mueller said the conference comes at a time when the HR technology industry is doing well. Venture capital is streaming into the industry, creating more innovation, investment and competition than ever before, he said.
"Enterprises realize they need to get more from their highest spend category -- personnel. And, finally, vendors have acknowledged that some things don't work, such as performance management," he said. "It's a creative time to find solutions."
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