HR Technology Conference hits and misses – part two

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer October 24, 2023
Summary:
Meetings, meetings, meetings - a digest of some of the encounters from HR Technology Conference.

HR Tech

This final event round-up covers a number of the vendors I met with at the recent annual HR Technology Conference. These companies ran the gamut from small pre-seed funding startups to well-established firms. And, as a consequence, the items we discussed ran the gamut, too. Here are some of the notable points.

Note: There were approximately 500 vendors exhibiting at this show. No one, myself included, could meet with even a fraction of them all. So, if your favorite vendor wasn’t mentioned below, that’s likely due to time constraints and nothing more. I’ve added a couple of links at the end to other analysts’ posts to help you glean a more complete picture.  

meQuilibrium

My first HRTech briefing was with Pam Boiros CMO of MeQ aka MeQuilibrium.   The company’s focus is  all about creating more resilient workforces. It’s attracted a number of interesting investors, advisors, etc. to the firm (e.g., Esther Dyson). 

MeQ exists to help firms better prepare and equip their workforces for change. That sounds simple but it’s actually a multi-faceted, thorny challenge that may require specialized and/or personalized training, planning, surveys, counseling and more. And while people may ‘feel’ or think that change is linear and comes in measured, constant increments, it happens in more exponential or logarithmic jumps instead. Just look at the demand for workers and where workers were needed (i.e., by vertical, by location (office/remote), etc.) before, during and after the pandemic.  Throw in an acquisition, divestiture, new product launch, new office opening, etc. and you’ll likely have stressed out workers and declines in productivity. 

If your firm’s not winning the war for talent, you might want to investigate MeQ’s offerings for some insights and the potential to drive a step change improvement in your firm’s workforce. The software is very AI-savvy and can glean insights from employee’s performance reviews and other data sources. It can predict turnover and burnout risks and should help employees and leaders develop new habits to better navigate change. 

Clovers.AI

Next up was Scot Sessions, an old friend I have known from his HireVue days. Sessions is now with Clovers.AI.  

Clovers is an AI-powered talent acquisition firm. It tries to make the recruiting process a joy for applicants/jobseekers, speeds up the entire process, makes the process fairer so that companies can have a more diverse and inclusive workforce and even does a nice job of coaching/training people to be better recruiters and leaders. The software does more than just help generate job descriptions. It can suggest alternative verbiage that will have a more positive impact on jobseekers and support greater inclusivity. Their AI-based job description generator tool (which mainstream ERP/HRMS vendors want to charge an additional 30% upcharge for) is a Chrome browser plug-in. 

The software will even create or improve a recruiter’s interview questions to ensure a more optimal interview process.

The DNA behind Clovers is pretty solid. Besides Sessions (who came to Clovers via TalVista), there’s Adam Miller (former Cornerstone CEO), Elaine Orler (also of TalVista), and many others. The company has a number of venture backers and already possesses partnerships with several large recruiting and HRMS vendors. 

Nice stuff.

Harri

Harri was, to me, the surprise star or sleeper vendor of the show. Unquestionably, this company had the strongest story to tell but was the lowest-key player I encountered. I thought that they were underplaying their hand more than any other vendor. 

Harri is all about the hospitality industry – an industry with chronic War for Talent woes. Any vendor that can drive positive change in that vertical can probably do wonders in others. Their solution already touches over 4 million employees across the US and UK. 

Given the short retention levels of employees in the hospitality and retail verticals, Harri has rethought a number of HR practices to make them more relevant and valuable. For example, they rethought what employee engagement looks like in an industry where many people don’t stick around even 90 days from the date they were hired. 

Harri has three channels: a direct to customer channel, partnerships and a white label channel. What that does is allow Harri to conserve scarce capital by having others identify leads, close deals, etc. while Harri focuses on product development and direct sales. As a result, Harri’s list of logo customers is phenomenal. 

They’ve got strong capital reserves (including a recent $43 million capital raise), a great solution and more going for them. And yet they seem to have done all of this under the radar. 

Going forward, I’d expect we’ll be hearing a lot about them and we’ll likely find more non-hospitality companies joining their customer ranks.

Plum

I’ve been running into talent acquisition, assessment and retention solution vendor Plum.io for over a year now.  Plum looks at the entirety of a person’s employment to best align their skills, capabilities, desires, etc. with the company’s current and future needs. According to Plum, their solution: “makes it possible to quantify job fit, improve quality of hire, identify potential, provide personalized insights and create high-performing teams faster through a single solution.”

We had a short conversation at the HR Tech show about: the marketing of HR solutions and ESG.  We’ll be doing a more robust briefing at the end of the month. Relative to ESG, we discussed all of the data elements that HR should be taking the lead in collecting, reporting, and ultimately, helping change for the better. 

SeekOut

SeekOut was one of the few vendors with innovative marketing spend. They found that many employers won’t provide travel or conference expense budget monies to HR leaders. Those HR leaders can’t see what’s the art of the possible. So, SeekOut has been doing a number of road shows around the US and taking their innovations in AI and talent acquisition to the prospects.  I applaud that. 

I also have a note that SeekOut is targeting the aerospace & defense industries.

SeekOut has four main capabilities:

  • SeekOut Assist – an AI-capable recruiting/talent acquisition toolset
  • Pipeline Insights – a set of strategic tools and data to help business leaders understand how their War for Talent efforts are faring
  • SeekOut Grow – AI career coaching and retention tools to hang on to the talent you worked so hard to find
  • Responsible AI – A set of principles, guidance, etc. to keep a company well-within appropriate AI guardrails

 Seekout uses those capabilities to deliver these outcomes:

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Virgil HR

Not every vendor I meet at HR Tech is a galaxy-sized mega-vendor. I gladly accept briefings from all-new and up-and-coming vendors because they have some of the most interesting perspectives, challenges and sound-bites. Think small but inspiring.

Virgil HR (think of Virgil’s Aeneid) is a very new HR player. Like the protagonist Aeneas in the Aeneid, Virgil HR is on a mission to create something new. In Virgil HR’s case it’s all about better governance in HR – something that continues to grow in importance as:

  • Firms do more business across country boundaries 
  • Local governmental entities enact additional regulations and laws that must be complied with
  • AI’s footprint expands 
  • Etc.

In that continuously evolving and ever more complicated business world, firms will want more guidance to supplement their (often limited) in-house expertise. Rather than just dump pages and pages of regulations, policies, etc. on a user, Virgil intends to offer guidance in a step-by-step, digestible fashion. (Note: Having just finished a book on ESG, that assistance would have been much appreciated in that space.) 

Virgil offers a lot and I’d recommend you check out their website: https://virgilhr.com/  

Fortay.co

Fortay.co  is helping companies create better work environments, achieve greater culture fit in their new hires, improve the employee experience, and, make better and more inclusive leaders a reality.   

According to Fortay: 

Fortay rapidly evolved into a platform with a new people-first approach where values alignment and DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, & belonging) are the core focus because they are imperative.

Fortay’s products are purpose-built for people leaders by people leaders to drive culture health and team success for ultimate business impact.

Culture fit is definitely an important people/HR focus area. And more so today as more firms are starting to tackle the role that management has in this discipline. This is especially true when one needs more empathetic leaders especially those that possess an EQ that’s more aligned with the desired culture. So, if culture mattered before, it really does now. 

Empyrean

Empyrean is solving a couple of interesting problems that frankly I hadn’t given much thought to previously nor have I seen these capabilities before.

Empyrean is using AI and mobile technology to reimagine how benefits can add more value to employees. In short, this software helps employees make better decisions regarding their benefits at both the time they elect them AND when they are trying to use them. For example, an employee may be struggling to decide whether to use FSA, HSA or their own money to pay for certain health care costs. Empyrean can help them with these kinds of issues. Likewise, the software can help a person determine if they are over or under-insured based on a number of personal or aggregated data points. 

This solution is helping employees better use their health benefits (a huge cost line item for them) and simultaneously help drive up employee satisfaction with their benefits (thus helping the employer’s recruiting brand). 

Empyrean’s capabilities are mobile-enabled.

Namely

Namely (part of Vensure) is an HR vendor with a substantial product footprint. But the most interesting thing I learned was that they have single pricing model unlike most in the HR space. It’s $9/user/month. That’s it. They have brought a degree of simplicity to the HR space like Zoho also brought to a broad application suite. Kudos to Namely for that.

The Namely conversation was also welcome as they didn’t once discuss AI. Instead, we talked about items like their Namely Plus People service wherein they can backfill a customer’s loss of an employee. 

Vensure’s a big firm.  It serves over 95,000 businesses and has over $130 billion in annual payroll processing. The company’s 4200 employees serve customers in 17 countries. The company has grown organically (via new markets, products, etc.) and inorganically (via acquisitions). Early next year, the company will launch NamelyX while it also expands into larger, mid-market accounts. 

Vensure sells both direct and via partners. 

Retrain.AI

The War for Talent is one of those HR issues that never seems to get solved. A big part of the problem is that there is a finite number of potential jobseekers and employees out there with some them having way more or way less of the critical skills your firm needs. Retrain.AI uses AI to help understand your potential workforce and the most optimal way to utilize them. 

Retrain.AI is using AI to identify the best people for a given job opening. It doesn’t matter if the person is already an employee or is a jobseeker. The software attempts to optimize the potential workforce with the needs of the business. Along the way, the software can recommend multiple career paths for people including some non-traditional or unexpected ones. 

This type of solution is especially valuable in firms where some managers hide their best people so that other managers don’t recruit them away for their part of the organization. It’s also helpful in companies where some leaders deny training or advancement opportunities to their ‘team’ just so the manager can hoard their scarce skills. That strategy is always flawed and will drive up unplanned attrition if allowed to continue. 

Retrain.AI also has the ability to create a  skills taxonomy for each employee and/or jobseeker. Some additional skills can be inferred based on the person’s career level or other factors. 

Firms with chronic skills or people shortages need something like Retrain.ai.

FAMA.IO

Hire enough people and your firm will eventually hire some PUREs (previously undetected recruiting errors). Great employers do all they can to keep the PUREs to a minimum. And the best firms are able to articulate and live their values. Your firm can’t maintain its values if it has workers that might sabotage those values. 

FAMA.IO helps companies spot jobseekers who might trigger future workplace misconduct. They look at a number of background sources (including a jobseeker’s social media posts). FAMA.IO tries to improve the quality of hires while also reducing its customers legal and other costs.  Check out this link to see how FAMA.IO can detect misconduct. 

FAMA.IO acquired their largest competitor last year: Social Intelligence. 

FAMA.IO is a well-capitalized firm. They have around 2500 customers. 

RemoteBridge

The briefing from RemoteBridge was different. While I get lots of talent acquisition and onboarding briefings, this one got my attention. According to RemoteBridge:

RemoteBridge helps HR and TA leaders connect remote teams using immersive 3D (i.e., avatars running around a virtual world) and all without goggles or downloads. While we’re building a great business, we’re excited to be bringing joy into the world, one backflip at a time.

RemoteBridge has been rethinking onboarding as it can be quite boring if not outright off-putting to new hires. Research I’ve read indicates that new hires that have a poor day one experience are more inclined to leave their new employer sooner than new hires with positive on-boarding experiences. In fact, companies that ask new hires to wait around in unattractive lobbies or spend time in bland, tacky or dirty training rooms are likely to leave their employer quite quickly. RemoteBridge is “trying to bring joy” to onboarding. 

In my conversation with a RemoteBridge executive, it was clear that the company was hitting on something that is troubling several employers. RemoteBridge already has 19 Fortune 500 customers. It probably wouldn’t hurt a lot of firms to take an inward look at their onboarding processes to see how a jobseeker would find them. They might need RemoteBridge after all.

Confirm

This conversation was interesting as I had not realized how little performance reviews had changed since my days of doing dozens and dozens of these annually at Accenture a couple of decades ago. 

More specifically, people have changed a lot in the intervening years as did technology and the nature of work, itself. Yet, performance reviews have remained a pretty consistent standard-bearer for old processes. 

Confirm is trying to use advanced technologies to make the completion of performance reviews not just quicker but actually more positive, more constructive and more relevant to more workers. Confirm can also pull in all kinds of other information to paint a more complete picture of what an employee is actually doing (e.g., delighting a customer) even if their supervisor isn’t necessarily there to witness it. Confirm is also looking more broadly at where else an employee can add value to the firm, the kinds of skills they possess that are under-appreciated, the soft and not just hard skills they have, etc. 

Errata

I did miss seeing several people and a couple of planned meetings at this show. I feel quite bad that I missed a couple of briefings due to scheduling or other problems. At the end of the day though I still made about 28 out of 30 scheduled meetings. My hand is still cramped up a bit from note taking. 

There were also some colleagues from past events that weren’t at this year’s show. I missed running into the likes of Lexy Martin, Bill Kutik and Naomi Bloom who, while now retired, were fixtures at prior events. I hope they were doing something fun that week and were miles away from Las Vegas. 

For more insights

I’d recommend you check out the following HR Tech show write-ups from analyst Kyle Lagunas and me. He covered several vendors I couldn’t cover due to time constraints:

  1. (1) HR Tech 2023: Enter the Year of Utility Over Novelty | LinkedIn
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/kylelagunas_wowza-hr-technology-conference-exposition-activity-7117943362476761088-Z8DT?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop 

Here are other pieces I penned that you might like:

  1. HR Technology Conference hits and misses - part one (diginomica.com) my 2023 part 1 review
  2. HR Tech 2022 in review - the state of HR and HR technology (diginomica.com)  my 2022 review part 1 
  3. https://diginomica.com/state-hr-tech-part-two-how-much-are-hr-vendors-really-advancing my second part from 2022
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