Inside HR Tech Column Ahead

From artificial intelligence to improving the employee experience, here's an early look at five major themes that will influence HR technology in 2017.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017
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I have started the planning process for the 20th annual HR Technology® Conference and Exposition (Oct. 10 through 13, 2017, and back in Las Vegas after a quick detour through Chicago last year). To date, the most common question I am asked from individuals and organizations interested in attending and/or speaking at the conference is what the main themes will be this year.

Granted, the annual event covers an ever-broadening spectrum of technologies, business processes and topics and, over time, many of the primary challenges facing HR and business leaders have grown, changed and evolved as well. Five years ago, the word "analytics" would likely not have popped up in an HR leader's job description. Today, analytics is high on almost every HR leader's list of strategic priorities. And the main themes of HR Tech have evolved as well, along with these ever-changing business challenges and technology-driven opportunities.

But to get back to the question, here is my very preliminary swing at the answer:

Artificial Intelligence and HR

When I initially started brainstorming topics for the column, one thought was to write about the recent Consumer Electronics Show and look for parallels and extensions from the new and emerging consumer tools to how these technologies might manifest in the workplace. While I decided not to do an entire column on that topic, there was one clear "winner" of CES this year, and that was Amazon's Alexa platform. Alexa, via Amazon's Echo device, is a voice-activated, intelligent digital assistant that can perform a wide variety of useful tasks, primarily in the home. The big story from CES was how Alexa is already being leveraged by numerous other devices -- such as in cars, on refrigerators and directly integrated in smartphones. The big takeaway from this, and a trend I am seeing reflected in many of the HR Tech proposals I have reviewed, is the increasing comfort level and capability individuals are developing with intelligent and responsive technologies, in addition to their increasing reliance on them. As these intelligent technologies proliferate in our personal lives (often accompanied by voice-interface capability), we can expect to see them emerge in HR and workplace technology as well. I expect "AI for HR" will be an important topic at HR Tech 2017 and beyond.

The Employee Experience

Last year in this space I talked about the evolution of employee engagement as an important topic for 2016. Now that a full year has passed, I think this evolution from the idea of "engagement" to something that has become known as the employee "experience" has made significant progress. More organizations have begun looking past the focus on the "end result," i.e., the engagement score, and have launched initiatives (and looked to supporting HR technologies) that more directly impact the key components of an employee's experience with the organization -- components that ultimately drive what we measure as engagement. A look through my inbox of pitches for HR Tech 2017 reveals topics such as career development, employee well-being, corporate social responsibility and personalized employee learning -- all topics that speak to organizational efforts to enhance their employees' positive experience.

Platforms and Integration

Like most technology trends, there is a lag between the introduction of a new technology, the identification and emergence of that technology as a "trend," and the more widespread acceptance and adoption of the technology by providers and organizations. At  the 2015 conference, we began to look more closely at the importance of HR-technology platforms, ecosystems and application marketplaces. No matter the specific terminology, the main idea was that organizations of all sizes had adopted numerous and often disparate HR-tech solutions, and were facing the daunting challenge of integrating these diverse solutions both for process efficiency and productivity, as well as for consolidated reporting and business intelligence. Fast forward to early 2017, and HR-tech platforms, application interoperability, and the "marketplace" or app store concept is now being more fully realized and adopted by providers and customers. At the upcoming HR Tech Conference, I expect we will see and hear stories about some important and early organizational successes that have resulted from applying these technologies and approaches to harmonize their divergent sets of HR solutions.

Creative Workforce Management

I did not label this trend the "gig economy" for a very specific reason -- because I think at least some folks hear "gig economy" and think about Uber drivers or folks who rent out their spare room on Airbnb. What I mean by "creative" workforce management (something Trish McFarlane and I talked about on a recent HR Happy Hour Podcast) is the increasing adoption by HR and business leaders of flexible, fluid, on-demand, and yes, creative approaches to supplying the labor/skills the organization needs. While the use of temporary or contingent sources of labor to meet unexpected or short-term labor needs is not at all new, the increase in the availability, combined with the technology-driven reduction in friction and complexity in the acquisition of flexible talent has made workforce planning and management an incredibly interesting area of focus for technology providers. In the early planning for HR Tech 2017, I have had more conversations about flexible and creative approaches to supplying the organization with the talent it needs than in the last three or four years combined. At the upcoming conference, I plan on showcasing some of the most innovative approaches leading organizations are taking to adapt and adopt these modern technologies and ways of working.

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Making Sense and Better Use of HR Data

OK, so I am cheating a little with this last one. In 2016, I had identified making better use of HR data as a key trend and focus for HR Tech, and in 2017, I don't see any reason why this topic should not make the list. I believe we will continue to see an increased focus across a wide variety of HR-technology solutions to help HR and business leaders make the next step with data, analytics and information understanding. In 2017, I expect even more powerful and usable solutions that leverage HR and people data for decision support will emerge. This will result in more sources of information and insight for HR and business leaders that can be applied in a wider set of business contexts, such as evaluating organizational diversity and compensation equity, developing optimal resource allocation and scheduling strategies to meet customer demand, and presenting hiring managers with the "best" slate of candidates for a given opening. In 2017, we will continue to see amazing strides in how HR technology can help leaders make better, data-driven decisions and drive better outcomes. Expect to hear numerous examples of how leading organizations are succeeding with data at HR Tech in 2017. 

Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at


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