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Reporter's Notebook: HR Technology Conference & Expo

By Aliah D. Wright  10/2/2009
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Day Three: Conference Ends with Optimistic Look Toward the Future

CHICAGO—The vendors have all packed up and the third and final day of HR Executive’s 12th Annual Technology Conference & Exposition here wrapped up with sessions on workforce analytics, recruiting technologies, and talent management programs, among others. On Thursday night, Oct. 1, 2009, hundreds of conference attendees voted the winner of the annual Talent Management Shootout, in which four companies—Lawson, SAP, Plateau, and—used demos to unveil how their systems offered solutions to three scenarios related to employee and career development, performance ratings and compensation, and competency evaluation for succession planning purposes.

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Technology and HR Management Special Expertise Panel member Elaine Orler, president of Talent Function, highlighted the future technologies HR should take advantage of as they endeavor to find and keep talent.

“What’s coming into play?” she asked. “Succession planning, workforce planning and performance management—you’re going to start to see products that bridge these areas.” She added that predictive analytics and social media are part of the equation.

“Video is here to stay. Mobile is also going to stay, and I would encourage you [to make sure] your jobs or career pages are formatted or optimized for mobile devices.”

Not everyone has a computer, she pointed out, but nearly everyone texts. “From a global perspective, the ability to have portability” will be critical. “It will allow people to get access to your jobs faster,” she added.

There were several clear messages during the conference, Naomi Lee Bloom, managing partner, Bloom & Wallace, pointed out during her closing keynote address Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, which was more pep rally than address for HR professionals dealing with job losses and the after-effects of a reduced workforce.

In light of the recession, hundreds of HR technology professionals came to the conference looking for “analytics, talent management systems, and really good self-service,” she said.

“We need a lot of things, and we have no money to pay for them.” She urged conference attendees to “turn off the things in your HR management systems that aren’t serving you well, and put that money into something else.”

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Day Two: HR Outsourcing’s Not Dead Yet; Vendors to Duke it Out

CHICAGO—Whether they were milling about the extensive exposition center populated with dozens and dozens of vendors or attending sessions on workforce management, recruiting, building benefit portals, HR outsourcing or many other related topics, there was something for almost anyone curious about HR technology on day two of Human Resource Executive’s 12th Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition here Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009.

Lowell Williams, executive director of EquaTerra’s Global HR Services, had a full crowd during his session on HR outsourcing, where he said despite the slowdown in the economy, “rumors of the death of comprehensive HR outsourcing are greatly exaggerated.”

He said there are a number of functions that continue to be outsourced, but the No.1 process is HR strategy, followed by organizational development, succession planning, performance management, labor and employee relations, policy and legal compliance, compensation, employee communication, and mergers and acquisitions, among other things.

“These are things that are tremendously outsourced,” he said.

Highlighting how an employee in Frankfurt, Germany, can apply for a pension request and then have that request get routed to four different destinations—Prague (in a call center); Bangalore (for verification), Atlanta (for benefit fund registration), back to Prague (for an employee joint annuitant discussion), and then on to Frankfurt (for payment), he said that “workflow is something every HR professional in the world has a duty to understand.”

While the early part of Thursday was spent discussing industry trends and predictions, the big news of the day will come late in the evening when two of the industry’s biggest operators of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems—Lawson and SAP— will participate in the 13th annual Talent Management Shootout. Each vendor will undertake a scripted set of issues—much like the ones managers and employees contend with daily—and then demonstrate in real time how their software can help solve those problems.

Day One: Who Are These Digital Natives?  

CHICAGO—Hundreds of people streamed into the first day of Human Resource Executive’s 12th Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition here Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009, where the early focus was sharply on employees’ usage of emerging technologies. Don Tapscott, author of “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing the World” (McGraw-Hill; $27.95), said employers need to embrace digital natives (young people) and the way they use the web—on their terms—if they intend to hire the best and brightest employees and keep them working in their companies. 

Who are these digital natives? Teen-agers and those in their 20s who are growing up online and texting, chatting, watching TV shows, surfing YouTube and sing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and thousands of other social networking sites—sometimes simultaneously.

“This is the new norm,” Tapscott said of their use of these technologies as well as blogs, RSS feeds, wikis and the like. “Their culture is the new culture of work,” he said, and they fully expect to be able to work, collaborate, learn and have fun, which they see as interchangeable. If not, they’re out the door.

Picking up on Tapscott’s point, Knowledge Infusion CEO Jason Averbook, and Jason Corsello, vice president of Knowledge Infusion’s Center of Excellence, said in a session titled “Great New Technologies” that LinkedIn and Facebook, while huge, are old hat compared to Twitter. Calling Twitter ubiquitous, interactional, promotional, searchable and viral, they said it’s time for HR to embrace this technology and issue social networking guidelines, rather than trying to curb its usage, fearing it will keep employees from being productive.

After all, Averbook said, “they’re doing it right here,” he said, holding up his iPhone. Eighty-percent of those who use Twitter access it from a smart phone,. What’s more, Twitter use has grown by 800 percent in the past year, Corsello pointed out.

The afternoon found hundreds of conference attendees filling the Expo Hall, shown here in a twitpic, as they awaited sessions on talent management and finding vendors for workforce planning.

Aliah D. Wright is an editor/manager for SHRM online.

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