The Cloud Descends Upon Chicago – a HR Tech 2012 Wrap-Up

Hard to believe, but yet another HR Technology Conference is over and this year’s conference was the best yet. In what was the last stop in Chicago before moving back to Las Vegas for the foreseeable future, Conference Co-Chair Bill Kutik and the team from LRP Magazine Group pulled out all the stops to make 2012 a memorable experience for all.

The Highlights

This year’s conference was clearly the biggest yet.  With  approximately 4600 people at the conference between vendors, press, analysts, presenters and conference attendees, the show continues to grow larger every year.

This year was the first year the conference was located in the newer McCormick Place West building and nearly filled the space to capacity.  The facilities were top notch, a broad diversity of speakers brought a wide array of perspective that applied to not only larger companies but mid-sized and smaller firms as well.  WiFi was pervasive throughout the facility, enabling attendees to stay connected back at the office while participating in the show.

While walking the exposition hall floor it was clear that the unofficial theme of the conference was The Cloud.  Whether it was called SaaS, Subscription, OnDemand, or another variation of cloud computing it was well represented in nearly every booth and in the majority of the sessions I attended.

In addition to cloud, mobile was top of mind for all vendors.  As Josh Bersin correctly highlighted in his conference wrap-up the term mobile is a bit of a misnomer.  What historically has been thought of as lightweight user experiences for limited bandwidth connections on devices with tiny screens is no more.  The typical smart phone is 4″ in size and growing, tablets are becoming more pervasive, as is high-speed data connections via 4G networks.  As a result, the “mobile” experience is quickly becoming more feature-rich and equally (if not more) engaging than the traditional browser experience.  We’re quickly moving to the reality of a ubiquitous experience.

As buyers walked the show floor, they were bombarded with messaging regarding the benefits of the cloud –  frequent updates, rapid innovation, lower cost, and escape from reliance on internal IT.  There’s no denying the impact that Software as a Service has had on the Human Capital Management software market – as, HR was one of the early adopters of cloud computing along with their sales counterparts.

Amongst the numerous press releases and product announcements the central themes to be found were mobile, social, big data and cloud.  Recruiting, Talent, Payroll, and HR administration solution providers all focused on these two themes.  Even the largest non-software vendor announcement at the conference was about the cloud – Knowledge Infusion being acquired by Appirio to create the world’s largest cloud-powered HCM consultancy.

Oracle’s co-president, Mark Hurd was the featured speaker Wednesday morning – a big get so to speak, representing the senior-most executive from a large software company to ever speak at the event.   While Oracle has always maintained a strong presence at the conference, on the heels of several acquisitions in the HR domain (Taleo and SelectMinds) they demonstrated an even stronger commitment to the market.  Clearly they’re gearing up for a long, protracted battle with emerging vendors like Workday and others.

In Summary

After many years in Chicago, consuming multiple venues in town (including three different buildings at McCormick Place) the conference is moving on.   Next year will be in Las Vegas, its new home.

With record attendance, terrific facilities, and reasonable weather (by Chicago standards) this truly was the best HR Technology Conference to date.  With the bar raised extremely high, I’m looking forward to seeing how the show can top 2012.

Between now and next October the conference continues virtually on LinkedIn where the HR Technology Conference Group maintains an extremely active and lively virtual conversation.  Additionally for those on twitter, you can also follow along by searching on the hashtag #HRTechConf and following the @HRTechConf twitter handle.

Kudos to Bill and the rest of the team on another job well done.

Experience Matters!

Technology when you want it, people when you don’t

Several years ago the US-Based internet car insurance company Esurance launched an advertising campaign which highlighted the benefits of their service delivery model – a model based entirely upon choices.  The campaign had the tagline of “technology when you want it, people when you don’t” to emphasize the fact that everyone has a different optimal service experience and they weren’t purely a self-service organization.  With this campaign Esurance focused on the customer experience over the price of the coverage, the breadth of their geographic footprint, or other traditional points of emphasis in insurance advertising.

The concept of choice in a service delivery experience makes perfect sense in a consumer-based model, but does that same thought process apply in how HR services are delivered to an organization?    Over the years I’ve seen a variety of HR service delivery models which are generally predicated upon efficiencies gained by way of automating routine inquiries and transactions.  Broad-based assumptions are made which impact financial modelling, assuming upwards of 80-85% of all inquires can be accommodated by way of self-service.

After all the number crunching and analysis, there often remains large barriers to achieving the desired levels of utilization based largely upon the overall user experience of the technology and supporting capabilities.  This isn’t purely a technical issue, although the technical user experience is a large contributor to the experience. 

The Service Experience

Service experience is defined by technology, process design, logical structure to system data, the manner in which systems are accessed by users, the structure of the support model – phone, portal, in-person, etc.

A well designed service experience becomes an enabler of transformed business operations. Conversely, a poorly designed service experience can not only be a critical point of failure in the service delivery model but ultimately result in less efficient operations.

Getting to the Point!

When working to design new systems, processes, and/or operating models, maintaining a customer-centric (employee or manager) mindset in the design becomes one of the most critical success factors.  In order to deliver this optimal experience, keep in mind the following items:

  1. Include non-HR stakeholders in the overall design process by way of focus groups at a minimum.  Ideally you have business stakeholders embedded into the design team to help ensure the needs of the customer remain front and center.
  2. View efficiency gains not just from a HR perspective, but from the perspective of the employee and/or manager
  3. Design system values such as job codes, department codes, locations, etc to be meaningful to the primary user (which isn’t HR).  Use of “smart codes” should be avoided at all costs
  4. Make all solution design decisions as holistic as possible and replicate values across related systems.  This means that finance and HR have the same definition of items such as headcount, organizational structures, etc.
  5. Think about the future when designing processes and systems – be sure that design decisions don’t limit you in the future.

In the end success lies not in making something technically work, but in enabling the desired outcomes.  In order to drive user adoption experience matters.