HR Tech conference season is in full swing at Thomsons. Each year whenever this time comes around, I look forward to the opportunity to catch up with our contemporaries, and see the latest innovations in HR tech first-hand. This year, HR Tech Conference in Vegas was a month earlier, giving a good amount of time for reflection before we head to UNLEASH conference in Amsterdam at the end of this month. It will be interesting to see if like last year, the level of innovation and substance in the solutions provided by European companies is still greater than in the US.

I always find that HR Tech Conference is a great opportunity to talk to fellow passionate people in the HR tech space – whether that be analysts, customers, or fellow tech companies.  Where I like to spend as much time as possible is at the edge of the hall with the start-ups. That’s where you find the raw energy pushing our industry forward, and where I tend to have the most future-gazing conversations.

And some of the companies that were on the edge of the hall a few years ago have started moving into the centre.  These are the companies that have been built in the public cloud from day one, with open API’s, a mobile first and analytics built in from day one.  These are the companies that are now targeting the old new. Companies that were set up 10 plus years ago. As a consequence - and as is often the way - what was once considered ground-breaking, may soon be seen as past its prime. The more established players are reaching stages five and six of Ray Kurzweils’ Technology Lifecycle[1], where new technology threatens to ‘eclipse the older technology’, disrupting the established order and eventually ‘rendering the original technology to the stage of obsolescence’. So, the guys who were setting up in the garage (including Thomsons), now need to really innovate and differentiate, so as not to be eaten by the guys who set up in their garages five years ago.  There will be some fascinating future case studies about how the first established Cloud platforms succeed or don’t in the face of new tech.

There didn’t seem to be a vendor in Vegas who wasn’t talking about AI.  It seems to be everywhere. A lot of exhibitors were discussing its potential impact, or alluding to how it will revolutionize the space. However, I am not sure how much of what I saw is really AI and how much is simply pre-programmed chat bots or basic analytics. It will be interesting to see if anyone in Amsterdam has moved the needle beyond this. I am also concerned about the compliance aspects of these new technologies. In this increasingly litigious world that we live in, will these companies need to share the algorithms and thought processes that are, for example, screening out candidates during the application process. And have we fully explored the impacts of machine-learned bias? After all, machines only learn what they are taught, and there have been many examples of how this has led to unintended and often dangerous results.  

Last of all, a striking difference this year compared to previous years is the number of organisations that are now describing themselves as global providers, as opposed to purely North American solutions. I suspect (bolstered with some insights from trusted friends) that this is largely in response to requests from customers who increasingly want standardisation across their business, with strong controls in place. Delivering global solutions is very tough (I know, I’ve been doing it for 15 years!), it requires heavy localisation and support. I hope that all of the companies who are promising global presence, know what they are getting into. And I hope that for those looking at purchasing a global solution, they properly test the validity of the promises being made and are buyer aware.

As we move towards UNLEASH Amsterdam it will be interesting to see how the European market has shifted in response to the same prevailing market trends as the US, and whether they are still leading the way!