Enterprise hits and misses - AI sparks a no-collar work debate, HR tech week gets a critical review, and hybrid work disrupts real estate

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 23, 2023
This week - AI is changing work, but are we headed to a no-collar work future? And: do we need an AI Bill of Materials? HR Tech week is over - time to review. AI disrupts outsourcing firms - or vice versa? Bonus: I blow gaskets on AI co-pilots, and blockchain-gone-awry.


Lead story - HR Technology Conference hits and misses

Brian did Vegas so many times this fall he was on a first name basis with the bellhops, but the trips yielded content-a-plenty.

In part one of his HR Tech review, Brian airs out the highs and the lows, with payroll and HRMS "swept aside," and AI hogging center stage, giving HR analytics a big push in the process. But what do buyers think? And how does this impact their HR tech evaluations? Brian reflects:

These buyers are a savvy lot and one item regarding AI has solidified their thinking in one key area - they will buy and implement a large suite of HRMS and related software if at all possible.

Customers might not be jumping into generative AI with risk-be-damned abandon, but they certainly understand the implications:

That represents a big change for this firm, which has previously bought a number of HR sub-suites (e.g., payroll, HRMS, recruiting, etc.). Why did this happen? These buyers realized that AI capabilities will be the core of future HR applications and that these applications need data, lots of data, to work well. Getting all manner of HR data in one system, one database/cloud, etc means fewer data integration activities and cleansing work would be needed to power up and maintain AI tools. They are absolutely correct in this observation.

Meanwhile, Madeline wrote about Qualtrics' views on "employee listening" applications in Employee listening programs are vital to having happy customers, but first you need trust - and that's the tricky bit. I'm more bullish on this area of HR tech than Brian, but I do concede the perils of such apps. As per Madeline, if you're "listening," you've just amped up the pressure to act on employee feedback. How many firms are ready for that? Note: Brian and I also hit on the perils/potentials of AI-for-HR in our Enterprise Month in Review video show, with special guests (and snarky audience members) spicing things up.

Diginomica picks - my top stories on diginomica this week

The impact of AI on outsourcing - Cath and Stuart examined how AI is disrupting the outsourcing industry, and what outsources are doing about it. Start with Cath's How might generative AI impact outsourcing as buyers look for value realization over labor arbitrage?  She quotes David Morton of HGS UK:

AI and generative AI are part of the mix in terms of digital transformation but they’re also the straw that broke the camel’s back. They’re on the worry list of every CTO these days as they’re all being asked what they’re doing about it and how it’s going to change the market and the business.

Stuart's review of the outsourcing players finds them in a (publicly) upbeat mood about these changes: Generative AI and the passage from India - how TCS, Wipro, Infosys and HCLTech perceive gen AI's opportunities. However, we should not miss Stuart's important end note: "TCS COO N G Subramaniam says that the revenue situation is “neutral” at present." Why? He quotes Subramaniam: "I think we are in an investment cycle like our clients."

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. Here's my three top choices from our vendor coverage:

SuiteWorld 2023 coverage - Phil was on the ground at SuiteWorld in Las Vegas, taking the pulse on customer views, and parsing the AI news (Brian was also there, and will issue his roundup soon). Here's one news bite from Phil that jumped out to me as underrated:

Finally, it's good to see NetSuite joining the ranks of SaaS vendors that offer peer benchmarking based on all of the invaluable data they hold across their customer base.

A few more vendor picks - notable customer use cases:

Jon's grab bag - Mark Chillingworth posted an interesting profile of a recruiting/tech/services firm in transition: Nash Squared CIO plans to join up acquisition dots. Madeline addressed important topics in How to get more Black workers in tech? Why networking opens as many doors as a degree. Derek shared a transformation-in-progress story, BT’s Chief Digital and Innovation Officer on AI biases and the next generation of skills. Finally, Chris authored the provocatively-titled AI will drive 300 years of change by 2026 as blue and white-collar workers vanish, says Avanade.

Those who assume by the title that Avanade is predicting massive job losses should read further. Instead, Avanade is predicting AI-enabled "no collar" jobs. Personally, I find Avanade's "no collar" phrase bothersome. Blue collar/physical movement jobs are likely to be impacted by robotics, which is on its own innovation timeline from generative AI. I also fundamentally reject "co-pilot" terminology, which implies if you are busy, your co-pilot can grab the wheel with faux intelligence fly your workaday plane for a bit. Have fun with that.

What's coming next? No, not the hyperbolic "co-pilot," but role-specific digital assistants (sorry if that sounds boring as heck, but I find most customers evaluating AI prefer semantic accuracy). Yes, this next generation of digital assistants will be very helpful, but their effectiveness will be tied to their job context (example: assisting a customer support agent). On the plus side, this clash of ideas led to one of Chris' best AI pieces yet. He presses issues with AI vendors are well as anyone I track online.

Meanwhile, as noted, less than half (and falling) of business and IT leaders say their organization has put in place responsible AI guidelines.  Set in the context of most medium to large enterprises (92% of them, in Avanade’s research) moving to an ‘AI-first’ approach in the immediate future, this suggests that many business and IT leaders are locked into troubling herd-like behaviour, with too little consideration of the internal – and external – impacts.

Best of the enterprise web

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer

My top seven

  • The future of real estate in a hybrid world - A notable McKinsey piece on the changes in real estate brought about by the pressure for (and against) office-bound employment. What happens when the office is no longer the center of white collar production?
  • GenAI will need a whole new look at Data Governance! IBM's Vijay Vijayasankar on the pitfalls of data quality, just when we need it the most. As I said on (X) Twitter: "To what extent can "AI" create/clean/curate quality data for itself is one of the pressing questions."
  • Hackers Hit The IT Industry: 12 Companies Targeted In 2023 - I selected this piece after reading about Okta's stock woes (more on that in the whiffs section), and wondering how secure any of us are - when the tech companies with the most resources find themselves in such articles.
  • Battered by Fierce Winds. Will E2open Survive? - Lora Cecere takes a hard look at the promise and predicaments of E2open, a cloud-based supply chain vendor now dealing with the awesome fun of activist investors.
  • 10 Pitfalls to Keep in Mind with AI Software Development - via The New Stack, an informed view of the pros/cons of gen AI for coders - with mitigating code quality risk as a top gotcha.
  • Introducing the AI Bill of Materials - RedMonk's James Governor weighs in on how we'll arrive at AI project validation (and regulatory compliance): "The AIBOM will need to consider and clarify transparency, reproducibility, accountability and Ethical AI considerations."
  • Musings - Debunking your vendor's Generative AI Hype - Holger Mueller's musings are back, and just in time for a crucially important topic. Mueller covers some crucial ground here, but when he asked if I'd add anything, I had a few more:

    That led to the usual spirited banter. I'll see Mueller at Constellation's Connected Enterprise event in San Fran shortly, perhaps something publishable will come out of this.

Overworked businessman


Speaking of Okta, it's not much fun to be their Chief Security Officer right about now:

Vijay Vijayasankar added salt:

Meanwhile, 23AndMe is doing a bang-up job of looking after their customers - well, if getting your DNA exposed on the dark web counts: Hackers Selling Stolen Customer DNA Data From 23AndMe. Does this warrant a corporate name change? 23andMeandTheDarkWeb is a bit of a mouthful, but maybe 23andMeandEveryone works?

Clive Boulton is right, this does whiff a bit: Polkadot workers endured ‘Hunger Games’ retreat after getting news of mass layoffs, employees. Granted the "retreat" was changed to opt-in, and these employees were from Polkadot's sister company Parity, but the bigger whiff is the struggle to redeem the extravagant blockchain promises the so-called "Web 3 Revolution" will supposedly be built upon. The shame of it? The agenda of Polkadot (and Parity in particular) was to resolve some of blockchain's core issues (e.g. problems of performance/scale). Instead a soggy trip into VC indulgence obscures whether this apparent failure of Parity was technical, managerial, fiduciary, or all of the above. (and yes, Polkadot's market cap is still $5 billion, so redemption cannot be ruled out, one can hope, but this is one heck of a bump in the road for a prior market cap of $54 billion). I'll go out on a limb and say that getting your corporate retreat compared to Hunger Games isn't a sign you are on the right track...

If you find an #ensw piece that qualifies for hits and misses - in a good or bad way - let me know in the comments as Clive (almost) always does. Most Enterprise hits and misses articles are selected from my curated @jonerpnewsfeed.

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