I've been wanting to attend HR Tech Europe for the last few years and I finally got my chance this year. It was a whirlwind two days of sessions, expo time, networking, and, of course, parties. In between all that, I managed to experience and walk through most of Amsterdam with coffee in hand as I waited for my jet lag to pass.
If you've never gone, it's a very different event from the (unassociated) HR Technology conference held every year in the US. While HR Tech in the US is over the top as far as the size and feel, HR Tech Europe is more intimate. They've programmed it like a big conference though, so it always feels like you might be missing a session.
Speaking of missing something, the layout of the sponsor area left... well, a lot to be desired. A maze of cooridors and levels meant organizers had to get creative with the space. While it was nice to have conference space with natural light and a beautiful auditorium for the main sessions, finding the rest of the rooms and exhibitors was a chore. I almost missed my favorite — and one of the most popular outside of the big ERP players — the Google at Work booth.
One thing that has been an improvement over almost every conference I've been to was the treatment of startups. Dedicated space and booths, along with a stage where people could demo throughout the day was great. They even got a sponsor — Cornerstone OnDemand — and two great hosts in Jerome Ternynck and Jason Corsello.
As for the parties, let's just say that The Starr Conspiracy needs to be involved next year.
But let's talk about big trends I saw at the conference. Four big ones:
- The gap is closing - Before this conference, I heard that outside of talent acquisition, the EMEA region was often painfully out of date with leading HR practices. While there were a few instances where I was wondering why we were talking about a particular issue, most of it felt very familiar to other HR technology issues in the states.
- Global players are getting smaller - A few vendors exhibiting had presence throughout both hemispheres, even with less than 100 employees. And smaller buyers are demanding global capabilities for their organization's software purchases. SMB buyers and vendors are finding unique solutions to builidng a global business which can't distribute costs across thousands of employees.
- Sponsors need to step up their content - As seems to be the norm at tech conferences, there were parts of the agenda that were driven by vendor sessions. There were only a handful of those sessions I heard positive things about, though. If you get stage time at a conference like this, make the most out of it. The vendors who did saw some big success.
- Global conferences are a big opportunity - HR Tech in the US is seen as the top event in the space. That probably won't change any time soon. But, HR Tech Europe is moving to Paris and hoping to double their attendees, which would at least put them in the same conversation as the event in the US. Likewise, there's unmet demand for an HR tech-like show in many global regions.
As I mentioned, next year HR Tech Europe moves to Paris and they are calling it the HR Tech World Congress. It's tough to grow a conference, especially as aggressively as the folks at HRN Europe are envisioning but there's a thirst for events like this — especially for the folks that can't make the trek to Vegas.