Discovering new trends in HR technology doesn't take rocket science, just a long-term time commitment. The companies selected for this year's "Awesome" session at the conference, along with the runners-up, speak volumes about what entrepreneurs are doing and what they think HR needs.
One way to discover trends in HR technology is to spend nearly two months viewing about 120 online demos from 40 smaller companies around the world for the "Awesome New Technologies for HR" session at the HR Technology® Conference in Chicago on Oct. 9.
I'm always amazed to find companies continents apart working on the exact same thing! Even more amazing when one has no knowledge of the other, rare in these days of hyper-communication. But either way, it's exactly how you define a "trend" in the software world.
I found several trends during those two months of crossed eyeballs and a throbbing head and obviously not just among the winners, since I wouldn't pick two doing the same thing.
My favorite pair was two Valley companies, Gild and Talent Bin, that do know each other. Both their products read and analyze the "social exhaust" of candidates -- the things they write and "like" on social networks -- to create profiles of them and match them to customers' open jobs. Are you looking for a "Big Data" problem in HR? Here it is.
Being Valley companies, the first target of their search is, of course, software engineers, the most precious resource in that neighborhood. I have been seeing demos of applicant-tracking systems and other recruiting products for 23 years. And every single one -- without exception -- has used some variant of a "Java programmer" as their example open job and candidate search! Now it would be a "Ruby on Rails" programmer.
The Gild CEO made the point that the best programmers keep their LinkedIn profiles deliberately vague to avoid being bothered by recruiters. Both companies produce detailed profiles, but Gild includes rating the quality of the code candidates have contributed to Open Source sites.
Since only two industry verticals -- software and financial-services companies -- are that eager for the very best programming talent, Talent Bin was selected because it already had plans to broaden its application to include other job categories -- in some very clever ways.
Recruiting always represents more than half the innovation I see in HR software every year -- for the past 15 years at least. I once asked the last CEO of the independent BrassRing, Deb Besemer, why she thought that was so. Is it because recruiting has so many moving parts?
"No," she replied. "It's because we just haven't gotten it right yet."
Following the lead of Jobvite, several companies are trying to super-charge referral programs, long the best source of company hires. Gerry Crispin has documented it in his annual "Source of Hire" report, and it makes so much sense. Who is a better recruiter than an employee who knows the company and knows the candidate? Your own recruiters only know the company.
What these companies are doing -- Reppify stands out from the crowd -- is all the work for employees. Not just sending them job reqs and urging them to refer them to friends. Instead, with permission, these systems search all an employee's social connections -- especially on LinkedIn and Facebook -- find likely candidates, match them to available jobs and then ask the employee to refer a specific person to a specific job!
Now that's my idea of social recruiting, not creating a company page on Facebook. I can't tell you why none of those companies is in Awesome New. Perhaps because I saw so many companies doing the same thing and couldn't choose between them. (Just got an email from another one today.)
Another pair of companies is attacking the employee-survey business, which they say hasn't had much innovation in the last decade or two. For large companies, this function has been dominated for years by Gallup, Kenexa (soon to be IBM) and Sirota with their armies of organization development professionals writing custom tests and pouring over the results for months.
The two say it doesn't need to be so hard and can offer analysis of survey results when it is finished, instead of two months later. One of them, Culture Amp from Australia, will be in Awesome New showing its product, Murmur. The other, Happiily, just disappeared from the competition.
The reason I saw so many demos was that likely candidates showed me their 10-minute demo and then I'd ask for one or two sets of changes.
People are even innovating in hardware, which should be no surprise given the proliferation of new devices. EmployTouch has ruggedized an Android tablet to be used as a time clock (wait 'til you see the clever use of the camera!) and a hand-held kiosk replacement for employee and manager self-service in computer-unfriendly work environments. Definitely an Awesome New.
Not in the session is Proven, an incredibly clever phone app designed just to make Craigslist more user friendly. I didn't know Craigslist has 100,000,000 job postings a year; mostly lower-level hourly positions, but millions of people would be happy with those right now. The candidate app makes searching, applying and managing your targets a snap, and the employer app does just about as well for the company.
Standing alone in the session is Knack.it. [Full disclosure: I am an angel investor.] Knack.it uses a real game, like last year's Marriott Hotel Game, and not the scavenger hunts or internal competitions for virtual badges. With a real computer game, Knack.it extracts valid behavioral assessments of candidates and employees from how they played the game! It seems like magic to me, but the OD people say it's real. And prospective partners and customers are very taken by the fact that you can't game a game, unlike a written assessment.
Many of you probably know Visier, the workforce-analytics company founded in Canada by many of the former senior executives from Business Objects, following its acquisition by SAP. Visier should have been in Awesome New last year, but popped up too late for consideration. You decide how it compares to the other analytics companies.
Finally, and I didn't realize it was its third year in a row, Peoplefluent. I guess it has a preternatural ability to turn out stunning demos that appeal to my shallow Hollywood values for this session. This year it's a wonderful example of "Social in the Enterprise," our new track, using technology from its newly acquired company, SocialText. Not all of it is quite generally available, but much of it is.
So those are the winners and some close runners-up. Following are companies I saw that I liked a lot. If they happen to be exhibiting, I'd recommend checking them out after those:
App Learn, Brave New Talent, Careerify, Chequed, Easy Connex, Globoforce and Job Science.
Kapta, iMomentous, RoundPegg, Small Improvements, Texifter, TribeHR, Trust Node, UpMo and Work4Labs.
HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 15th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, returning to Chicago in just three weeks, Oct. 8-11, 2012. The program is on the website or the brochure can be downloaded here. Most discounts expire in one week or less on September 24. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group, which does not require prior or future conference attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show®. He can be reached at email@example.com.