HR Technology Conference & Expo - four themes that should be discussed but probably won't

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer October 8, 2017
Things to watch out for and discuss as you tour the HR Technology Conference halls this week. Bad vendor behavior, Alexa and all things AI, ageism, and M&A impacts.

HR Tech
The annual HR Technology Conference & Expo (HR Tech) show in Las Vegas is a go-to event for HR professionals, software vendors and integrators. Usually, there are 250-300 vendors exhibiting, thousands of side meetings, great vendor parties/dinners, etc. to make the three or so days go by well.

I will not be there this year but am filing a pre-emptive report on what should be covered, the topics that should be discussed and some of the vendors that people should meet with.

Here are four macro themes you should keep as top of mind as you attend the show.

Macro Themes

Given how much of the HR Tech show revenues are dependent on vendor monies, I doubt you’ll hear much on these points from the main stage.

Bad vendor behavior - Let’s get this bit of tough news out of the way right now. Every HR executive at this show should be taking the leadership of many software vendors to task for the cumulative, unabashed greed and customer-unfriendly actions they’ve undertaken the last couple of years. This problem is not just confined to old, large vendors either.

Specifically, we’ve seen vendors suing their own customers for ‘indirect access’ to their own data. Some vendors have been especially aggressive in auditing customers. One major vendor reportedly changed their online contract terms and conditions over 100 times in the last five months.

Even SaaS vendors have been caught over-reaching (or shale-fracking their customers’ wallets) with stunts like:

  • Asking for subscription renewals at materially higher prices even though the customer’s business is unchanged
  • Asking for major price increases at renewal simply because they’ve raised their prices (although Amazon AWS has dropped their pricing 50 times in a row)
  • Wanting customers to prepay three or more years of a subscription service upfront
  • Agreeing to deals where subscriber counts can be increased but never decreased

Do not reward such vendors with your continued patronage. Tell them you’re at HR Tech to seek out true love elsewhere. Bad behavior must not be rewarded.

Alexa, how many AI demos will we see at HR Tech? -  Almost every vendor this year has an Alexa/Luis/Echo/etc. pitch to share with you. My psychic powers predict that you’ll see dozens of these in the expo hall and breakout rooms. I’m sure lots of vendors will be giving one or more away at their booths.

The problem is that these demonstrations will only provide you a glimpse of what might someday, possibly become a reality. It’s not ready for prime time and won’t be for years.

Don’t believe me? I’m still waiting for all of those incredible analytic applications we were supposed to be seeing in HR by now. What’s happened? It turns out that analytic apps are tough to create, often involve piles of custom work at each client and need a number of one-off integrations just to get one analytic app going at one customer. They don’t scale.

Worse, every vendor with a flight risk analytic (the most common HCM analytic app out there) has a different approach and theory around what predicts flight risk. How can there be so much variability on something that should be fairly similar from company to company? It seems that vendors are creating analytic apps with the data they have access to and not with data that performs the analysis correctly or accurately.  In other words, vendors are building some pretty sketchy or low scale analytic apps. It's a classic case of asking the right question with the wrong assumptions in mind based upon what is seen, not what matters.

If, after all this time, analytics are still a pipedream, how can these vendors think we’ll accept their AI/Big Data demos as near term proofs of concept of future capability? Their credibility in delivering cutting edge technology versus traditional transaction applications is low.

When you see these ‘demos’, push the vendor for details. Ask questions like:

  • When will they be production ready?
  • Who will create all the needed logic, workflow, etc. for these solutions?
  • How long before these apps are relatively robust?

Fasten your seat belt as this hype cycle could produce a long, bumpy ride.

An OLD issue that gets no discussion – Age discrimination is a real, pernicious problem in HR and it will likely get no discussion in the meetings or from technology vendors at HR Tech.  That’s really sad.

With all the talk in HR about companies that can’t find enough qualified talent (while firms still cling to average workforce ages of 29!), how come no one wants to create HCM tools that:

  • Make it hard for recruiters to discriminate by age
  • Analyze recruiter and executive hiring decisions to determine how much age bias exists in the firm and its hiring decisions
  • Look at more of a jobseeker’s resume than the first couple of lines
  • Examine the totality of a jobseeker’s experience not just the very last role
  • Assess the intrinsic skills a jobseeker possesses
  • Determine whether the outbound communications of an employer (e.g., job descriptions) contain language that masks an age bias

In dozens of briefings I’ve conducted this year, only one vendor seems to have an interest in this. Attendees should hold all vendors accountable on this issue. Here is your primer on workplace ageism in, of all places, technology companies, from no less a luminary than Lexy Martin.

Leaves aren’t the only thing changing this time of year – A number of HCM vendors have or will soon change hands. Recently, we’ve seen Oracle acquire NetSuite. Sage has acquired Fairsail and Finance vendor Intacct. Two major HCM vendors are either up for sale currently or will soon be as their equity backers are looking for an exit.

But, as I’ve written before, material changes of control may be great for the investors of a software company but rarely are for the customers. Post-sale, a software company could change its R&D funding, raise prices, alter its product roadmap, etc. Yet, vendors are loathe to protect customer interests in their contracts with them.

When you meet with vendors at HR Tech, see which ones would genuinely work with your firm to protect your firm’s interests and not just their own.

Bottom line:  Vendors won’t change unless you demand changes from them.  Sometimes it takes some tough love on the part of customers/prospects for them to alter their business practices. And, vendors will continue to tease prospects with way out, futuristic capabilities if you’re so inclined to be spellbound by them.  Bring some market reality to the HR Tech show and to the vendors there.

Click here (Den Insert Link) to go to Part I where we look at vendors you should meet with at the HR Tech show.