HR Tech Conference 2016: the little guys have arrived

October 12, 2016 | Steve Goldberg

Notwithstanding having my 13th HR Technology Conference participation cut short by needing to return home to Florida to deal with a hurricane, one major observation stood out for me. It was also a fairly pleasant surprise, something that doesn’t come easy after attending so many of these events—as enriching as they usually are.

In fact, the hurricane actually contributed to the observation. How? Well, in having to unfortunately cancel briefings with major HR Tech vendors to leave early on Thursday, I had to rely more on quick-hitting discovery sessions in the exhibit hall, generally with lesser known vendors. They are typically not as schedule-constrained at the conference.

So, here it is: I found it just as easy to see meaningful HR Tech innovations in the booths of “little guys” and emerging players as I did in their much larger and more established counterparts. I’ll define ”meaningful product innovations” as practical, obviously value-creating (vs. largely “wow factor”) advances where the system’s intelligence is leveraged without a lot of heavy lifting or major change adoption needed by the customer organization … dependencies often under-estimated by vendors and customers.

This phenomenon of smaller players excelling so much in the innovation department is arguably a function of basic math: There’s only a small group of market-leading solution vendors but roughly 400 HR Technology companies exhibited at the event. And no matter how large and well capitalized a solution provider is, it is just impossible to make every functionality area or module in their product portfolio a priority every release cycle, or even every second or third release or enhancement cycle.

Added to that is the more subtle notion that a large customer and product footprint can also be a double-edged sword. While they logically lead to more robust revenue channels, they also cause a correspondingly larger list of potential enhancements and R+D investments needed to maintain a leadership position across the portfolio, prevent customers from defecting, attack new markets, etc. This allows smaller players, for varying periods of time, to lead the way with innovative solutions that solve fairly specific, often vexing HCM-related business problems.

Below are four examples I encountered on the exhibit hall floor, and these particular upstart vendors were all borne out of HCM-related consulting practices having pockets of expertise not typically found in classic HCM software companies. This is perhaps another contributing factor to why (and how) smaller players are driving so much product innovation.

  • TalentQuest leverages validated assessments and related behavioral information to help managers give employees the most meaningful feedback and coaching, but in ways that will resonate the most --- a great example of personalization (more on this theme in my next post). TalentQuest’s technology also guides employees in pursuing roles in which they will excel and find the most satisfaction.
  • TalentGuard, with a heritage in career development and robust competency models, uses well designed behavioral frameworks to meaningfully tie together performance tuning and coaching with ideal, personalized development options and career pathing guidance. The result is fully engaged employees who perceive a fair and transparent process that has their best interests in mind.
  • eeStrategy’s flagship product, eeCompensation, serves up recommended compensation decisions based on the system knowing which data points are the most relevant for each employee, and therefore should be considered the most in a compensation decision. Data points might include skillsets becoming more important but also scarce internally/externally, or key employee retention risks. Coming from someone who used to manage year-end bonus processes in global investment banks, basically eliminating all the data and spreadsheet manipulations is a beautiful thing.
  • The Chemistry Group, one of 8 startups recognized by conference organizers as offering the most promising HR technology solutions, also has its origins on the consulting side – specifically, assessments that predict star performers for different roles and organizational contexts. These folks, whom I met while sharing a table at the recognition luncheon, are actually moving from using structured to unstructured data (e.g., social media and other publicly available data) as the basis for predicting great hiring outcomes.

These lesser known solution vendors, and many others I didn’t have time to connect with or who weren’t at the conference, are clearly doing their part to drive increased demand (and therefore funding) for HR services and solutions from HR’s internal customers.

I’ll get to other examples of lesser known players offering compelling HR Tech product innovations in a follow-on Conference post being published shortly. It will focus on an obviously huge industry trend: Finding and engaging with the right passive candidates at the right time, using personalization and other advanced forms of system intelligence.

And if you’re an HCM/HR Tech solution provider that wants to schedule a briefing with me, kindly use this form.

Posted in: HR StrategyHuman Resources As-a-Service

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