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.

Revisiting the HR Technology Conference

Last December, following the 2009 HR Technology Conference & Exposition I drafted an open letter to Conference Co-Chairman Bill Kutik with some changes that I thought would help to enhance his annual conference.  The post itself generated a fair bit of discussion in the industry as to additional ways to optimize the conference attendee’s experience.

Having just returned from the 2010 event, I am glad to report this year’s conference delivered tremendous value and information but also incorporated many of the suggestions posed by countless individuals who participated in the dialogue in the LinkedIn discussion. 

There were twice the usual number of shootouts, seven panel discussions, twitterstream boards all over the conference site, a social media session track, free WiFi, an extremely well attended welcoming reception, and an official Friday morning tweet-up.  Having access to more experts, more topics, and more networking helped me get more out of the conference.  In speaking with various attendees over the last few days I can say that they all agreed with my assessment as well.

Highlights from the 2010 Conference:

There’s an App for that (or one coming soon)

It’s been a long time coming, but the market has shifted towards mobile access to applications.  Whether this is through a mobile-optimized solution, emails formatted for today’s smart phones or apps that can be downloaded to a smart phone or tablet PC, the beginning of the end of the desktop PC is being felt.  Countless vendors either had or will be shortly introducing capabilities to enable productive access to their applications from a mobile device.  Examples of this are; time entry & approval, online vacation balance inquires, brief performance updates, and job interview feedback forms.  The list potential opportunities for mobile applications is seemingly endless.  Putting information in the hands of managers wherever they are can only enhance productivity – assuming the functions enabled via mobile applications are of value to those users.   

While WAP or mobile-optimized websites have been available for some time, there is a substantial shift towards more feature-rich Apps which could be downloaded to a smartphone like an iPhone or Android device.   The outstanding question I have is how mobile applications will operate in an “app-centric” world alongside customized, premise-based enterprise solutions.  I’ll dive deeper into this in a blog post in the future.

SaaS Reigns Supreme

As has been the trend the last five or so years, more and more vendors are shifting their solutions to the cloud and offering On-Demand capabilities.  Regardless of the type of SaaS solution being deployed (Single Tenant, Multi-Tenant), a delivery model which effectively controls the level of customization possible helps to enable the solution to extend to mobile devices.    SaaS-based solutions have enabled HR buyers to “jump to the front of the line” when it comes to technology-based initiatives given HR’s difficulties in gaining IT support for initiatives in favor of revenue-generating / customer-facing projects.  What started out as a delivery model to help get HR moving forward, has quickly gained acceptance not only for “point solutions” but is quickly gaining adoption within the Core HRMS domain as well. 

Consolidation Can be Good

I’ve often declared 2010 as the year of the acquisition – and it’s living up to the name.  In the month leading up to the conference there were three fairly large acquisitions and an IPO filing.  The talent management market is so fractured, and consolidation can only help to bring clarity to the market.   The real beneficiary is the HR buyer, as the consolidation has enabled them to focus on less options and eliminate some of the existing risk of their chosen buyer getting bought. 

Since the last HR Technology conference, there have been a number of companies that have been bought, sold, merged, etc.  The conference is a great place to learn about those changes, and how they can impact you and your business.

With all these good changes I only wish that I was able to sit in more of the sessions, meet more people, and speak with more vendors on the exposition floor.  I look forward to the opportunity to do just that next year at the conference when it moves to Las Vegas after a fairly long tenure in my home town of Chicago.

See you all in Las Vegas next October.

Positions, Talent, and Oracle Fusion HCM – an OHUG Wrap-up

As much as I would have liked to have posted this entry earlier, I’ve been trying to catch up after three quick days in Vegas for the Oracle HCM Users Group conference at the Mirage Hotel.  This was the second year in a row that I’ve had an opportunity to attend OHUG and continue to be impressed with what I learn and who I meet at the event.  I’m happy to report that I returned back to Chicago without any scandal, situation, or anything else that if it happened in Vegas I wouldn’t be able to talk about  – oh, and I escaped with my wallet fully intact (actually up a few bucks but nothing worth bragging about).

First and foremost I wanted to share a quick update on Fusion Talent Management On-Demand which was demonstrated again this year.  Oracle VP of Fusion HCM Strategy, Gretchen Alarcon, and Clive Swan Group VP of  Application Development demonstrated several features of Fusion Talent Management which have not been demonstrated at the last three major Oracle events where Fusion was shown.  This year Gretchen and Clive demonstrated some very impressive features of the yet-to-be-released product which rival many of the leading best-of-breed vendors including a highly dynamic 9-box tool for talent review and calibration which permitted you to not only graph your talent pool on a grid of performance and potential (or two other dimensions), but layer on top data points such as risk of loss impact of loss for each individual.  Moreover, there is a feature to perform aggregation of talent on the grid by business unit, manager, location, etc in order to review trends and other talent data at a macro-level.  I can honestly say that I can think of a million and one different ways of analyzing talent data using this tool.

In addition to the dynamic 9-box, Oracle demonstrated their network-at-work tool, a corporate version of a facebook-like social network tool but with a very business focus.  Rather than trying to out-facebook Facebook, Oracle has chosen to take full advantage of the rich data that is housed within its own applications and layer on analytics to deliver a rich user experience to help employees create collaborate groups, find individuals who are similar to them for networking opportunities, search for people in roles that they aspire to reach at some point in the future, etc.  While much of this has been done by other vendors, the breadth and depth of the data housed in Oracle’s applications provide the opportunity to hone in on greater connections than one might find with some best-of-breed applications.

While the functional demonstration of Fusion Talent Management was very well received, what I think is the most brilliant move by Oracle is that Fusion Talent Management can be deployed in a stand-alone environment, layered on top of a client’s existing PeopleSoft HCM or Oracle EBusiness Suite solution, not requiring a full-suite upgrade to deploy Fusion.  While in the past Fusion had been positioned as a future path for PeopleSoft and EBS customers (and still can be), Oracle has changed their positioning such that Fusion and the current PS/EBS applications can co-exist, much to the relief of many IT departments who feared an upgrade would be necessary to deliver the richer user experience that their internal customers.  Rather than Oracle defending its own territory against attack from best-of-breed vendors, My making the Fusion suite more modularized they’ve gone on the offensive and are preparing to deliver something that can not only match the best-of-breed on a features and functions perspective, but can do so without requiring HR to do battle with their IT organizations to venture outside of the Oracle product footprint.  Well done Oracle!

As was so aptly highlighted by industry analyst Naomi Bloom of Bloom & Wallace in response to my live tweeting of the event, there remains a number of outstanding questions regarding how Fusion would actually work for existing customers.  Naomi and I agree on a many things related to HRM data and the use of Position Management for talent management purposes is one of them.  Without getting into too much detail, Position Management is both a set of functionality in PeopleSoft that is largely misunderstood and a business concept that historically has been rooted in budgetary processes more than anything else.  Many PeopleSoft customers shied away from deploying position management because the concept was viewed as being too structured for their dynamic business or their implementation partner didn’t understand the functionality either and steered their customers away from using position management.  Regardless of the reason, Position Management offers most PeopleSoft customers something that they are lacking – data quality and flexibility on role definition without approaching a 1:1 ratio of job codes to active employees.

At OHUG I had the opportunity to co-present with PeopleSoft customer CDW on how we’ve managed to harness the capabilities of position management in a way which has dramatically improved their ability to effectively leverage their automated talent management tools, and cut inaccurate data in PeopleSoft by half.  We had a great audience and some great discussions on the various creative ways that position management can help not only provide budgetary controls but the seemingly vast ways in which it can enhance your talent management initiatives far beyond the norm.

Overall OHUG was a great event.  It was proof positive that not only is the Oracle/PeopleSoft customer community is still very much alive and thriving but that Oracle still has a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to HR Technology.

Shameless Self Promotion – I’ll be at Oracle HCM Users Group

Just a quick note to my readers to invite you to find me if you’ll be at the Oracle HCM Users Group in Las Vegas next week. I along with two incredibly talented individuals from CDW will be presenting on how to use PeopleSoft’s position management functionality to help better enable talent management processes.

Our session is scheduled Wednesday, June 13th at 10:30 am. If you’re planning on being in Las Vegas next week, please be sure to stop by and introduce yourself.  I hope to see you there

The top 5 reasons why I’m attending HRevolution 2010

I’m not sure what you’re doing on May 7th and 8th, but I can assure you that I will be in downtown Chicago on those dates.  The second installment of HRevolution will be held at Catalyst Ranch, Chicago’s most unique meeting space and a great location for such a unique event.

Before I list the top 5 reasons why I’ll be attending, it makes sense to first tell everyone what HRevolution is.  Quite simply HRevolution is a unique combination of some of the most progressive HR thinkers, social media rockstars, and technology thought-leaders brought together in an unconference format for discussion on a host of topics of interest to HR.  Think HR Woodstock without the music, drugs, or anarchy – it will be a defining moment for the HR domain.

Why I’m planning on attending HRevolution 2010:

1.  It’s in Chicago – For those traveling from other parts of the country and the world Chicago is centrally located, easily reached by direct flight from just about every major airport in the world.  While travel to Chicago is fairly simple, it’s also an amazing place to visit.  Come see the Magnificent Mile, State Street, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and some of the finest modern architecture in the country.  The conference hotel is within steps from world class dining, some of the hottest nightlife, as well as being adjacent to Chicago’s Theatre District.  As important as all this is, for me the location provides very easy access because it’s 45 minutes from my house.

2.  Its unlike the other HR/Tech Conferences – Whether you typically attend the annual SHRM conference, HR Technology, IHRIM, or any other standard HR-themed conference, they all have something in common – similar content, themes, and speakers.  While each of these events serve a well established purpose and should continue doing so, they lack the one thing that HRevolution promises – full interaction.  The unconference format provides attendees with the ability to not only learn from a host of great leaders but also participate in the discussion and learning in ways not possible in a more traditional conference format.  Speakers are simply facilitators of the discussion rather than pontificating from a stage.  No powerpoint, no panels of analysts/experts, and no sales pitches – just straight talk from folks who have been there and done it.   I see this as not a replacement for the traditional conferences, but a great addition to some already outstanding events.

3.  Its a great value – Unlike a traditional conference which can cost upwards of $500 per day, HRevolution is only $100, little more than a dinner out on the town.  In a time of tight budgets and people’s reduced ability to attend a conferences, this offers a great opportunity to learn without breaking the bank.  Many are attending on their own dime – further demonstrating the value that is seen in the event.

4.  Meet great people – The conference is being organized and attended by some of the most well known HR bloggers and twitter personalities.  Its a great opportunity meet some of the top online HR influencers, bloggers, consultants, and practitioners.

5.  The Conference is ALL ABOUT YOU! - Hard to imagine that after the previous four reasons you still need more, but if you are still on the fence think about this; The conference is all about you.  If you don’t attend, the conference will be different – really.  Since this is an unconference, attendees and speakers alike shape the discussion, the content and the learnings.  If you don’t attend, not only will you miss an opportunity to learn from others but you’ll also eliminate the opportunity for others to learn from you as well.  After all, an unconference is only as good as you’re willing to make it.

I hope to see you in Chicago on May 7th and 8th at HRevolution 2010.  It will be a great event and is limited to 100 attendees, so if you haven’t registered yet please do so while tickets are still available.  To register, click here.

An Open Letter to Bill Kutik

Do you know who this man is? If not, you should – he’s one of the most highly influential individuals in the HR technology space.  His name is Bill Kutik.

In addition to having a plethora of knowledge on all things HR technology, he’s also the Co-Chairman of the annual HR Technology® Conference & Expo held each of the last 12 years.  He also is an industry analyst, technology columnist for HR Executive® magazine, and host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show®..

I’ve attended Bill’s HR Technology Conference & Expo for the past six years – and it is his show.   Additionally, I have had the pleasure of being a panelist both two and three years ago, as well as an exhibitor last year.  Speaking from a multi-faceted perspective I wanted to share an open letter to Bill with the rest of the HR Technology Conference community.

Dear Bill;

First and foremost I wanted to take a brief moment to thank you for your efforts over the last 12+ years as the godfather of HR technology.  Your efforts to create the largest, most successful conference focused exclusively upon HR Technology are appreciated by individuals such as myself who have been able to enjoy successful careers in that space largely due to you and others carving out this specialized niche.  I cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done for the industry.

As much as the HR Technology Conference has been wildly successful, I believe that there are opportunities to make this conference even better in the future.  As such I wanted to take advantage of this letter to share with you some of my wish list for enhancements to the conference in coming years.  My wish list is as follows:

Mid-Market track
All too often the focus at the HR Technology conference is on the larger vendors, and the needs of the enterprise.  I believe the attendees would be well served by providing a series of sessions related specifically to the needs of mid-market organizations (1000- 5000 employees).  These organizations while aspiring grow into an Oracle, SAP, Lawson, or Workday type of HR technology solution often end up with mid-tier solutions.

Having sessions focused on how mid-sized employers can build the business case for an enterprise-sized solution, supporting more with less, and enabling talent management strategies for mid-market would be of tremendous value to the attendees.  Additionally with many of the exposition booths occupied by vendors with a mid-market focus, this represents a win-win situation for all. 

Increased focus on networking
While there are lunches and ample amounts of time allocated in the schedule to permit attendees to roam the expo floor, there are not many opportunities for formal networking.  In years past I’ve made some terrific connections at the conference – even landed a job as a result of my attendance.  I cannot over-estimate the value of the professional connections I’ve made at the conference.

Other conferences can boast similar sessions as those at HR Technology, but very few can actually bring together the wealth of industry talent in a single location.  How can this opportunity be leveraged for incremental benefit?  At the 2009 HR Technology Conference there were several successful tweet-ups where individuals who had not physically met before had a chance to make personal contact with one another – cementing long-term professional relationships; albeit, online.  More tweet-ups are good.

In addition to tweet-ups, having formal special interest groups meet during the show would be helpful as well.  Gathering professionals from similar backgrounds with similar interests such as Global Recruitment, or PeopleSoft users help to round out the experience that people have at the conference and create connections which last far beyond the event itself.

More Panel Discussions

Blogger Mark Stelzner wrote of his experience here – highlighting the desire for more panel discussions.  The panel discussions at HR Technology are nothing short of terrific, and more of this can’t be a bad thing.  While there might be a point where too many panel discussions may be too much to handle, that’s a problem to consider when you get to that point.

More Singing and Dancing (just no KC & The Sunshine Band)

While we would gladly welcome another performance by Naomi Lee Bloom, the key here is finding a way to weave in a formal social event into the conference.  This is yet another way to help build the community and provide another opportunity for more networking.  I’m not sure you need to outdo some of the parties from software vendors like Lawson and SAP, but having something social is a great value.

Free Wi-Fi
While I’m not sure exactly what the logistical issues might be with getting this setup for all conference attendees at McCormick Place, but having access to reliable wireless internet would help make the conference more productive for all.  Having Wi-Fi will better enable interactive presentations like the one that Jason Averbook and Jason Corsello conducted last year to whatever might happen in future years (more live tweeting of sessions?).  Not having access to wireless is a big drawback.

I’m confident that this has been evaluated before, but if for some reason it has not this represents a terrific sponsorship opportunity and would enhance the conference experience for many.

I believe these subtle changes can help to dramatically enhance the attendee experience and help raise the bar for future conferences.  In addition to my various wishes, I would like to invite others to add onto the wish list through comments on this blog post and/or on the HR Technology Conference LinkedIn group page.

Thank you again for all that you have done for the industry.  I forward to working with you in the future and to a wildly successful HR Technology Conference & Expo starting September 29, 2010.

Best Regards,

Bryon Abramowitz