Reflections on HR Tech Europe in Amsterdam

HR Tech Europe AmsterdamLast couple of days saw the HR Tech team pull into Amsterdam with a packed program. 2147 delegates, 156 speakers and a host of suppliers (including 20 startups) got together in the RAI convention centre to meet and share. I was asked to join as speaker on behalf of Rabobank and had a 25 minute talk on our ecology of learning services. I will be coming back to that presentation in a separate post. First some observations from the two days I spent listening to speeches and talking to people in the industry.

A who-is-who of HR Technology

The Amsterdam event was packed with amazing people. Keynotes by Yves Morieux of BCG, David McCandles on the beauty of information, Robert Hohman of Glassdoor, Ray Wang of Constellation Research and Gary Hamel (who I had to miss unfortunately) and many others. Breakout sessions galore, with demo’s of all the major vendors and thought leaders. You could run into Josh Bersin, Charles Jennings, Dan Pontrefact and many other big names in the industry. Press coverage was done by a selection of some fine bloggers in the field, so expect to see more details from your favorite bloggers (check Frederic Williquet‘s great visual impressions).

Although the subject is broader than the ASTD, HR Tech has the same vibe. Pretty impressive after just three years! I was surprised at the investment vendors had made in creating their elaborate booths. Workday, Successfactors, Saba, IBM, Cornerstone and Oracle all had big booths and generated huge traffic. Google build a mini-house and was also present on stage. The only big absentee was Microsoft. A missed opportunity in my view, because I saw a demo of their Delve technology the other day and was really impressed. Especially on the impact they could have in informal and social learning.

We’re all confused

Confusion. I think that is the main feeling radiating throughout the conference. Changes are happening at an alarming pace. Economic fluctuation, 5 generations in the workplace, social unrest. One thing is for sure; doing HR the way we have always done will not cut it. Employee engagement is plummeting, to the point that ‘active disengagement’ within companies can reach 20%. Think about it; 1 in 5 employees is actively doing things that are contrary to the company’s interest… How is that for alarming news! It doesn’t help either that the discussion is on generations within your organisation. The idea that digital natives reside only in the generations now entering the workplace is a fallacy. Everybody is looking for answers. No magic bullets exist. And even the keynote speakers have only hints and ideas.Vendors seem to have two strategies to increase speed of change; either by moving all their functionality to the cloud (the big firms that have all functionality available), or to generate simple, often mobile solutions (the startups). A classic tale of an industry ready for disruption.

Now don’t get me wrong. Personally I am not alarmed by this. It just increases the energy to come up with novel solutions and allows for experiments. HR is on the page of the biggest challenges of most CEO’s. Those with an open mindset ran around the conference feeling there was so much to do and so many new possibilities. Especially the use of big data opens up many new ways to use technology to tackle the rapidly changing demands in the HR realm. Exciting times!

Bersin by Deloite and eLearnity radar images of the foreseeable future

In all honesty, I haven’t heard that much new information. Reading blogs and news sites on the industry will provide you with most of the insights. I was impressed though by the insights of both Josh Bersin and his colleagues and the eLearnity team. They try to see beyond the hypes and use sound data to base their insights on. Josh has recently written a great blog and whitepaper on the HR trends you need to be aware of (ignore them at your own peril!). The bottom line of Bersin’s insights; ‘tomorrow’s HR solutions will be radically different’. ‘Winning vendors will likely embrace these disruptions and deliver products that feel like consumer apps, yet have the data analysis, network integration, and compelling user experiences of Apple, for example.’ I fully agree on Bersin’s assessment, although – as I discussed with Bersin’s staff – I disagree with the role of xAPI in all of this. I believe it’s hype will be shortlived and superceded by next generation analytics based on big, informal datasets. This is because I do not believe employees will be persuaded by going through lists of activities to select those they can mark as learning points if there are services available that do this for them. A radical new way of designing and developing HR services is needed.

This is also voiced by eLearnity. In David Wilson‘s presentation he presented the atrocious figures in their European research. Employees in their research think HR systems stink. HR as a department is oldschool thinking and should be replaced by hr services that are useful and damn right sexy. The reputation of HR is as bad as IT departments. Which is probably even worse for HR Tech.

Cool, smart stuff is the demand. At hand when we need it on our mobile devices, making things easy that are now hard. This is not what most booths on the show presented. There is much to do.

[note: check out this great overview of key learnings by @majamaastricht]

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