Over 8,000 attendees swarmed into Mandalay Bay in Vegas for the 2014 HR Tech Conference & Exposition. They came with tablets in hand to get schooled on what companies are doing, in concert with their HR Tech vendors, to deliver business value for their employers.
In its 17th year, the event not only had their largest turnout ever, it also sold out the expo hall two months in advance with over 300 exhibitors hawking their wares for just over two days. I’ve been attending since LRP’s first event in Philly, missing only two over the years. If you’re in HR Tech, this is the one event you cannot afford to miss each year.
The conference had a new co-chair this year, Steve Boese, who left HR behind to take over for 16 year veteran Bill Kutik. Steve joins 17 year co-chair David Shadovitz in the duties of vetting over 300 presentation applications to pick speakers and panelists. With 10 tracks showcasing 100’s of speakers, it was a huge effort for the dozens of people on the LRP Publications team who ran the conference. The breakout sessions alone totaled up almost 60 hours of content in only two and one half days.
The best session I attended was “Awesome New Startups” which consisted of six different startup vendors showcasing their solutions on the big stage to 1,000 early risers (8am on the last day of the four day event).
One presenting company, Fuel50 from New Zealand, couches themselves as a “LinkedIn” for the workforce. Fuel50 enables employees to gain a line of sight into career opportunities across the business, promoting improved engagement, retention and even increased revenue per employee. Useful for mid-sized companies on up, this internal visibility has been sorely ignored and it’s thrilling to see a simple yet powerful tool emerge to address this head on without the need of a full talent management suite.
In the 10 whole minutes they each had to present, some were daring enough to show their products live but only one had a noticeable hiccup and the audience was very forgiving. I liked the live demos much better than slideware since “seeing is believing”, especially for new products.
Jason Seiden used his time on stage to not only show his brand new BrandAmp solution, but to officially launch the product! Jason’s new company and offering is designed to help HR and marketing measure their employer brand via employee feedback. To showcase their solution he used Steve Boese as their example employee. Although this worked well overall, it felt like some serious brown nosing, even though it wasn’t because there was no judging going on.
Improving social recruiting was the main platform for QUEsocial, another presenter. QUEsocial does a nice job of blending and distributing brand content with gamification and analytics for continuous improvement of social recruiting campaigns.
Two were clearly riding the “big data” wave showing tools that simplified data into visual diagrams, with drill downs and “connectedness” type relational mapping features. Data Morphosis showcased its latest module, “Talent Scan” – software designed to take talent strategy into the boardroom, by using data visualization. BlackbookHR presented its new Network Insights product called RNA. The solution provides an interactive visualization of the informational and relational networks in an organization. Their tool is designed to drive talent optimization, change management and leadership effectiveness. Both did a nice job of taking gobs of data and making it a lot easier than ever before to make sense of it in a way HR can help drive the business.
Competition to get on this stage was fierce. During a pre-conference webinar, Steve Boese said “I reviewed over 200 applications, watched over 80 product demos and somehow managed to narrow it down to six presenters.” Some of these startups are pre-revenue, but not Zenefits. They not only have revenue, but since launching early 2013 have raised $83.6 Million from investors. Their product is slick, clearly they’re using their money wisely. Zenefits provides a platform to manage core HR like payroll, benefits, compliance, etc.
The expo hall is where I spent most of my time. I learned a lot during mini-briefings, met up with clients, future clients plus former colleagues and friends. Being my 15th HR Tech it continues to impress me more every year. The vibe on the expo floor this year was one of continued optimism as most HR Tech companies continue to outpace the average S&P 500 companies.
Three of the hottest trends this year were #bigdata, #analytics and #mobile. Jibe is one of the industry leaders helping to make recruiting analytics clear, relevant, and actionable for all the steps in talent acquisition. “HR Tech in Vegas showed us that analytics is top of mind for
talent acquisition and that the marketplace is responding by saturating the field.” shared Chris Cho, head of product for Jibe.
One thing that never changes is the constant change in the HR Tech industry. iCIMS chief marketing officer Susan Vitale shared “Recruitment technology is changing fast and people are taking notice. At our booth we talked to many talent acquisition leaders who are embracing these changes, who I predict will help pave the way for many in this new era of recruiting.” Another thing that never changes is the slightly creepy, but usually fun gifts that turn up in our hotel rooms while we’re attending sessions.
This year, besides clever brochures from several vendors, iCIMS dropped thousands of gift bags with their mascot bird “Ike” themed slippers and an eye mask inside. A bundled brochure prompted the recipient to tweet a photo
out on the #HRTechConf twitter channel where they promised to pick a winner for a prize. Sadly I didn’t win but their smart marketing helped make the conference more fun. This helped the conference hashtag trend on Twitter with over 10,000 tweets before the show ended on Friday morning.
This year again it was hot for HR Tech tools sharpened to find and hire top talent, especially in the high tech industries. “We’ve been on HR Tech’s trade show floor for years, but this year in particular we noticed tremendous energy — especially around our “A team” themed booth,” said Kimberley Kasper, cmo at Jobvite. “It’s a competitive job market and unlike years past, we saw recruiters really latch on to the fact that they need a multi-channel approach to build an A team, because in recruiting, there is no plan B.”
Many exhibitors were there to connect with the other suppliers, reinforcing partnerships and forging new alliances. Joe Stubblebine, vice president of alliances & outreach at Beyond.com explained this phenomena “At this year’s HR Tech, I was struck by the deep cooperation in this space. For Beyond, HR Tech wasn’t necessarily about selling directly to others, but to get a pulse on the industry and to build peer-to-peer partnerships that advance our business goals.”
Despite always being hosted in the United States, the conference attracts people from all over the world. “With many of the top HR minds across the world in attendance, this year’s HR Tech examined the trends and technologies that are innovating and disrupting the entire HR industry. Globoforce showcased its latest product, Service Timelines™, which is modernizing traditional service anniversaries into powerful moments of inspiration for all employees.” shared Charlie Ungashick, chief marketing officer for Globoforce.
Like many exhibitors, their booth was designed to make the event fun and memorable, taking photos of visitors wearing boas and hats and sunglasses in front of the “Welcome to Vegas” sign, merged with the magic of green screen.
Some exhibitors invested $200,000 or more to help get the attention of HR Tech shoppers with booths ranging from 10’x10’ to 50’x50’. Many of the large booth vendors like Kenexa, Taleo and Lawson have all but disappeared as they are now assimilated into their new parent companies. Of course they’ve been replaced with the likes of Indeed, Findly, iCIMS, Avature and HRCloud.com. Originally from New Zealand, Findly set up shop in the states to expand their market share and has found HR Tech a great investment. “HR Technology allowed us to give potential customers hands-on experience of our new mobile apply technology. Many of them agreed for follow up meetings on the spot.” according to Ian Christie, cmo for Findly.
New this year was the “Startup Pavilion”, a small area crammed with pub tables where twenty interesting startups vied for attention in the shadows of the giant booths. Many of them were rolling out new tech designed to make HR processes less burdensome. One of the startups, 7Geese, is offering a new type of 360 review – it’s a social performance tool for continuous feedback, coaching, recognition, and goal tracking that doesn’t rely on performance reviews. Like many of the startups, @7Geese tweeted for attention “Come visit us in the startup pavilion at HR Tech and tell us the number one thing you hate about annual performance appraisals.”
Other Startup Pavilion participants were: 10Rule, BlackbookHR, Celpax Engagement Solutions, English3, Glean Talent, GoalRecorder, Great Hires, jobFig, Mosaic Track, PeopleDoc, Persona Labs, PlanDo, Pymetrics, Rallyteam, RelatedMatters, Wonolo and Xperiocity. Some were brand new and some, like PeopleDoc, were simply new to the US market, expanding into the US market from France. PeopleDoc is a software service designed for large enterprises to aggregate what is typically a hodge-podge of payroll, policy and other paper and digital file systems into secure master files accessible via the cloud.
In my view most of the innovation is coming from the HR Tech startups who don’t have large systems to support and typically much larger client bases to service. However, many of the flagship vendors were also flaunting new tech with Ceridian continuing its innovation of its flagship platform Dayforce HCM. Jayson Saba, vp of strategy for Ceridian put a new stake in the ground “we showed Dayforce Wear, making Ceridian the first to the HCM market in wearables.” Makes me wonder who will be the first to put HR Tech on a chip that gets implanted in our brain; it’s not if, but when!
Many use this annual event as a place to launch new products like Globoforce did. Others launching new offerings included ClearCompany’s svp of sales Brian Campbell who exclaimed “We were thrilled to unveil our patent-pending solution for continuous talent improvement on the expo floor! We had a great time – the highlights were the in-depth, strategic conversations we had with booth visitors about using our solution to convert inevitable employee turnover into an opportunity to continuously improve talent.”
If you’re going to HR Tech next year, look for me in the aisles of the expo hall and in the startup pavillion, for that is where you’ll learn about the latest innovations in the industry. There’s lots to learn, but whatever you learn don’t let it “stay in Vegas” – use it to make HR the strategic business partner it deserves to be.
Addendum: What about the fun? Hard as I tried I could not make it to every party… but it was fun trying! Note to the gracious sponsors of the parties – next year please schedule a few for the second night!