Reflections on HR Tech Las Vegas 2018

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer November 14, 2018
In the spirit of better late than sorry, Brian offers up his belated summary of almost two dozen HR products to cross his gaze as well as some of the bigger, macro themes at play.

HR Tech
I take a perverse pleasure in attending the annual HR Technology Conference event. I qualify that statement as it usually is a blur to me. I might do a panel or a speaking session and then I’m swamped with vendor briefings for two days. If I’m really lucky, I get to spend time on the show floor and catch a couple of sessions.

Overall themes

This year wasn’t much different as I got to meet with about 20 vendors and their executives. Through it all, I observed these major focus areas for HR technology vendors:

  • Improving productivity for recruiters
  • Removing bias from recruiting decisions
  • Improving employee engagement and, hopefully, stem job losses
  • Apply AI and/or machine learning everywhere you can
  • Achieve more gender equality
  • Use robotic process automation/chatbots to handle non-value added HR tasks

But when you cut right through it, what was really going on were:

  • Businesses still aren’t winning the war for talent and labor shortages are troubling a lot of HR software buyers
  • New HR tools may not help users materially grow their work force. This is a major issue as boards of directors are demanding companies grow well beyond inflation rate or GDP growth rates. If HR teams can’t fill their existing open positions, they very well can’t support out-sized growth.
  • Software buyers haven’t got a clue which new technologies (e.g., ML, analytics, natural language processing, chatbots, etc.) they should implement and how to fund these.

What no attendee shared with me was how HR leaders are going to fund these new technologies or get the headcount to manage these new solutions. I suspect HR leaders aren’t going to get more budget or headcount. HR technology vendors will have help buyers work the numbers and develop plans for these initiatives.

Vendors updates

Specific to the vendors (and in no particular order), here’s what I learned:

EquifaxEquifax has had a tough time of late due to a spectacular data breach in their credit reporting business. (Full disclosure: I, my wife and children were all affected). While I appreciated Equifax bringing one of their top security people to our briefing, I said that I didn’t need to use our short time discussing the breach and its aftermath. I said that the market might let them get past this event IF they take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I took that position as there’s an awful lot more to Equifax than just the credit business. They have a big workforce solutions business, employment and pay verification businesses and more. And, since I hadn’t been briefed on these in a while, I wanted to hear about the new stuff.

Re: Workforce Solutions, the Equifax I-9 verification business continues to pile up market acceptance. They also provide employment history verification, help companies identify Work Opportunity Tax Credits, and ensure new state hire and tax forms are being used by customers. Equifax can also help manage unemployment costs. Employment verification is an interesting service as it is used by both HR departments (to validate application or resume data) and lenders as part of a loan underwriting effort. These services are important as more workers are geographically distributed, more interviewing is done virtually, state compliance form changes are more frequent and, items like I-9 forms, are frequently incomplete or incorrectly completed by job seekers. If your HR department wants to stay out of the compliance dog-box, it needs great processes and great data/tools.

Equifax also has Affordable Care Act compliance solutions. They can verify benefit eligibility, distribute requisite IRS forms, and more.

Appcast – Lately, I’ve been getting requests from companies to help them re-imagine key HR processes. One of the firms I’ll likely present in the next re-imagining project will be Appcast.

Appcast applies a lot of the same thinking that media and advertising companies use in placing ads, measuring ad effectiveness (e.g., A/B testing, response rates via different media, etc.) and more. So, if your firm spends a lot on job boards, how do you know which ones are showing great promise (within hours or days of first listing the position)? How do you know if one ad’s copy is doing a better/worse job of attracting applicants? Can you dynamically and programmatically adjust your spending and deployment of job ads so that you maximize the return on all your job board spending?

No one would be surprised to learn that subtle changes in copy and placement can have a pronounced impact on results. Hence, a solution like Appcast is a smart deal for large volume employers.

Appcast copies another idea from Internet and television advertising technologies where companies dynamically bid to acquire ad space and pay for the performance of the ads.

Appcast has grown from $4,000 in revenue 3 years ago to over $25 million today. The software also tracks the lifecycle of the position from initial ad placement to ATS to the candidate getting an offer. As such, its metrics can identify where bottlenecks in the process occur and how those could be adversely impacting hiring campaigns. For example, it could identify whether your online application process is too time consuming for jobseekers and causes too much drop off of interest.

Recruiters really need to check this out (and bring one of your best Marketing people to the demo!).

Sage Business Cloud People (nee Fairsail) Fairsail is now part of Sage Group PLC. Right around the time they acquired Fairsail, Sage also acquired mid-market financial accounting software vendor Intacct, too. Together, these two products make for a formidable mid-market combo with Fairsail also possessing a lot of continental Europe presence and Intacct being very strong in North America.

Fairsail’s built on the Salesforce architecture. This makes it one of the few HR solutions on that platform (Lumesse is another. Recently, Lumesse was acquired by Saba/Halogen (see below)). My briefing with Sage did indicate some big news will happen soon re: the Fairsail HR products but alas I must wait for the NDA to expire first. I will be at Intacct’s confab later this month and maybe more news will be available then.

Saba/HalogenSaba and Halogen did the merger dance a while back (May 1, 2017) and they seem to be moving through the post-merger matters well with synergies in cross-selling and further geographic sales penetration occurring. Executives told me last year that they believed the cultures of the two firms to be similar. Now, they tell me the cultures are somewhat different (in subtle ways) but are, nonetheless simpatico.

Halogen’s TalentSpace is doing well in the mid-market and Saba Cloud is doing equally well in large enterprises. Some functionality, like Performance Management is moving across product lines. New integration connectors with Ultimate and Workday were announced.

Intrepid Learning/Vital Source – Intrepid Learning provides LMS content to the K-12 and higher education markets in a slew of countries. The company is now targeting G2000 firms for its immersive, collaborative training solutions.

SmashFlySmashFly’s done a solid job of evangelizing the need and value of candidate relationship marketing (i.e., the other CRM). It’s such a welcome and humanizing approach to recruiting that I wish more firms understood and embraced. Imagine how different recruiting would be if firms identified the talent they might want days, months or years in advance of the need and then spent time trying to woo you to their firm. Employers would proactively communicate with you (not ignore you). If you can’t see the value in this, quit reading now – I can’t help you.

SmashFly’s user conference is coming back. It was a virtual event the last year or so. If you want to rub shoulders with the best/brightest in recruiting, get a ticket to it. The speakers have been some of the most progressive people in corporate recruiting.

Entelo – Like SmashFly and Appcast, Entelo is a firm to know if you’re serious about re-imagining recruiting. Entelo initially started out as a provider of big data to feed the top of recruiter funnel. They’ve a number of capabilities since then. One of these even helps firms avoid recruiting bias. Entelo also added Coupa CEO Rob Rob Bernshteyn to its advisory board. Entelo recently partnered with Beamery (see below).

PageUp People – I’ve had a lot of dealings with the PageUp People folks over the years (and in Australia, too!). The product line for PageUp has grown over the years with modules now for: talent management, recruiting, learning, performance management, succession planning and analytics. With that broader functional footprint, the company now has a lot of connectors to facilitate integration with numerous payroll systems. These are also partners and connectors for other HR-related tech in areas like video interviewing, job boards, etc. Higher Education and health care appear to be verticals in which PageUp is getting a lot of traction lately.

AllyOAllyO was a pleasant surprise for me. AllyO helps eliminate some of the really low/no value added activity in recruiting. Specifically, it has an AI-powered chat bot technology that helps job seekers get interviews scheduled with the company’s recruiters. The bots review schedules for openings, create the calendar entries for both the recruiter and the job seeker without consuming any of the recruiters’ time. The value in this is that recruiters spend time dealing with jobseekers on items that matter not trivialities. AllyO is getting traction with employees that hire many people for a set number of roles (e.g., think retail, hospitality, etc.).

Ceridian – Hot on the heels of their successful IPO, Ceridian had the whole gang at the HR Technology Conference. I spoke with gobs of them at an analyst mixer they had one evening. Because I’m conflicted out for their user conference, I was glad to catch them while I could.

Because global payroll is the hot thing these days, I got this update from Ceridian. Ceridian’s UK payroll is now available. At a recent marketing event they held in the UK, 100 prospect firms attended.

The Docebo (Learning) relationship also appears to be a success.

Viventium – Here’s a payroll provider that started out in Brooklyn and now, after new ownership in 2014, is expanding its service across the US. Viventium targets mid-market U.S. firms currently. Their customers often have multiple locations and pay employees in several tax jurisdictions. When I asked about their top value proposition items, they mentioned high customer retention rate and excellent service. I suspect this may be Viventium’s coming out party/debutante ball. We’ll need to see how much growth the company has in 2019.

OleeoOleeo helps firms recruit a more diverse workforce. The company’s solutions help drive diversity in campus, job fair and other recruiting channels. A surprisingly large number of Oleeo customers also use Workday software. Apparently, Oleeo can scan applicant resumes/applications and remove/replace words that might indicate one’s race, gender, etc. The software looks at some 120 data points before releasing a resume to operational or HR executives. The company is growing nicely these days.

Visier – I’ve tracked HR analytics vendor Visier for years. I’ve always admired the way they researched their approach to new analytic applications. In our quick meeting, I heard about their new talent acquisition analytics. They have something called “Career Journeys.” These provide an interactive discussion tool to visually show the career paths others have pioneered previously to get to new roles/positions within the firm. This tool shows the frequency this path is taken as well as the quickest paths some have taken. Visier also has new CEO pay ratio stats, learning analytics and what-if capabilities.

Mercer – As one of the largest and most professional HR software and services firms out there, a meeting with Mercer always brings out the old Big 4/6/8 partner in me. Mercer executives see the bigger picture, structural forces impacting the workforce today and they position their solutions and services accordingly. It’s a refreshing departure from the speeds, feeds and HR gadgetry I get pitched by so many HR vendors.

In a recent study by Mercer, they determined several differences between digital (U.S.) organizations and their more traditional competitors. These firms reported higher scores for change agility and see HR as an advisor on human capital risks.

Two-thirds of employees judge their employers based on how advanced their technology is vis-à-vis the technologies that employees use when at home or away from work. Seriously, who wants to work for a firm still using old green screen technology or their grandpa’s ERP? My own channel checks show college grads have little love or tolerance for employers with antiquated technology.

Mercer’s new HR technology now includes a new chatbot (Ask Debbie), career development, employee engagement and other solutions.

Mercer now has some 600 Workday and/or ServiceNow customers. This reflects the technology focus of their practice. 70% of their revenues are now technology driven.

As I was running out of steam at this show, I still managed to get in one other brief meeting.

Montage - Montage is a video interviewing solution provider that is now using AI/Chatbot technology to help facilitate jobseekers schedule screening interviews with recruiters. AI and other capabilities are also being used to assess the desirability of recruits. Many of Montage’s innovations are designed to accomplish three goals:

  • Speed up time to hire
  • Reduce friction within the recruiting process
  • Shift HR/Recruiter activities into more value-added tasks

Other vendors of note

The HR Tech show producers asked me to a judge some of the new products being considered for Top HR Product Awards. I was honored to do so. You can read about the winners here.

There were quite a number of potential winners and while I managed to pick some of the eventual winners, I also thought you’d also like to know some of the other vendors I ranked highly in this regard:

Swarm Innovation Profiler – Swarm Vision Inc. – identifies innovation capability in your workforce

Beamery – Beamery – Recruitment Marketing

Career Place – MDG2 Technologies – bias removal

IBM Watson Recruitment – IBM – efficient resume review

IBM Watson Career Coach – IBM – facilitates career mobility

iWorkGlobal My Vista – iWorkGlobal – real-time global workforce management

Media Cloud (M-Cloud) – Symphony Talent – applies AI to recruitment marketing

Final thought

It was a great event and, like previous shows, gave me (and several clients) a great update on the HR space.