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Wrapup: 3 things left unsaid at HR Tech 2014

[ Updated: Oct. 15, 2014 at 11:45 a.m. ]

In the aftermath of the 2014 HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, the industry has a lot to be excited about. Enterprise technology developers seem to be catching up after years of being beat up as laggards behind innovators in consumer technology. User interfaces are getting better. You’re seeing more technologies incorporate algorithms that connect people and information faster — whether you’re talking about predictive analytics or recommendation engines that function much like Amazon or Netflix. Also, the arrival of learning and development at the center of the talent stack is clear. Expect to see more L&D technologies at the show in future years.

There are plenty of breakdowns on the exciting new technology developments at this year’s show. However, three things went unsaid that I think are worth highlighting:


1. It was a watershed moment for the event

There was lots of discussion about Steve Boese taking over as the HR Tech conference chair, and he certainly came out with a robust program chock full of great content. However, what may have been less noticed than the agenda was what went on in the Expo Hall: More buyers were there than in years past.

This year, buyers came informed, asked pointed questions, and were ready to buy. Almost all of the vendors I spoke to reported an increase in booth traffic from qualified buyers and quality sales conversations. One LMS vendor I spoke to reported four buyers showing up in the booth immediately after the Expo opened. There was definitely a crackle in the air and glee among many at expectations being exceeded.

HR Tech is the bellwether show for a market with a lot of green-field opportunities for solution providers to reach small and midsized firms, many of which still execute HR and talent processes manually. However, the next-generation solutions were clearly on display at HR Tech. At The Starr Conspiracy, we see more informed, demanding buyers and higher expectations fueling the hunger for innovation. We see a noticeable shift in emphasis around what technology brings to HR and the workforce as the workplace is being redefined in what HR Tech keynote speaker Andrew McAfee calls “the second machine age.”

2. Changing of the guard

With the retirement of Bill KutikNaomi Bloom, and Lexy Martin, some of the key analysts and thought leaders who quite literally defined the market for HCM technology have begun to move off center stage. (Update: Naomi Bloom scaled back her workload, but has not retired.) They all deserve our appreciation and thanks for their contributions.

There is some continuity in the analyst ranks. In my opinion, Josh Bersin continues to be the leading analyst voice in the space with his ability to combine research-driven insights with cogent and well-articulated writing and speaking. However, the changing of the guard opens up opportunities for a new generation of analysts to move to the forefront.

During any period of transition, there will be flux. Gartner is still the Cadillac analyst brand in the space, but we have heard an increasing level of vendor frustration with the level of consulting coming out of Gartner. Thomas Otter and Jim Holincheck have been sorely missed. Aberdeen Group has been hobbled by key departures. In my view, the brightest star in HCM industry analysis is Constellation Research. Ray Wang may have the most complete understanding of enterprise software and HCM technology’s place in the ecosystem. And I find Holger Muller’s real-time analysis through social media to be must-read material on an almost daily basis. Also, I deeply value Phil Fersht’s role as a contrarian. He says things that need to be said regarding a troubling absence of research coming out of the analyst ranks. Mark Smith and Ventana Research continue to be an understated voice of high-quality research. And I believe that Mike Cooke at Brandon Hall Group has assembled an impressive combination of experienced talent such as Madeline Laurano, Mollie Lombardi, and Michael Rochelle and promising young stars such as Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks, and Kyle Langunas.

There’s a lot of movement in the analyst ranks and a lot of confusion among vendors and buyers. As Ceridian’s Jayson Saba and CIO Shawn Wiora pointed out during their session at InfluenceHR, vendors and buyers aren’t sure which analysts, influencers, and bloggers to listen to. Who really matters? It takes more than a Klout score to truly know. However, my faith in buyers is growing. They are educating themselves and are increasingly able to discern contenders from pretenders.

3. Big Data begets Big Anxiety

For all of the sessions on big data and the promise of analytics, two topics that seemed to go largely unaddressed were privacy and security. The Snowden Effect is punishing American cloud computing providers as international clients pay closer attention to Big Brotherism and the location of data centers. And the Target Effect was definitely the elephant in the room. How safe is your data in a world where the world’s largest banks can be hacked? Why isn’t the industry talking about this more? This is a looming problem. It actually may be a current problem; one analyst told me that a major vendor has already had a major data breach that has been kept quiet thus far. I believe the industry needs to do more than it has to highlight how to protect both privacy and security. There’s still time to be proactive about these topics — but that time is rapidly running out.