Investing in Tech

Monday, October 2, 2017
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This has been a year of milestones for us.

In May, Human Resource Executive® celebrated its 30th anniversary. And now, this month, it celebrates the 20th anniversary of producing the HR Technology Conference and Exposition®, now the world's largest in that space.

Yes, it's hard to believe two decades have passed since we acquired the HRMS Expo, a fledging conference produced by a San Francisco-based publisher. At the time, HR technology was just beginning to come into its own as a field. But one didn't need to be a highly paid futurist to recognize its incredible potential.

These were, of course, the tail end of the client-server days of HR tech. Legacy systems from companies such as D&B Software, Tesseract and Integral were in the process of being replaced by client-server vendors such as PeopleSoft, which was just over 10 years old in 1998 and about six years away from a well-publicized hostile takeover by Oracle.

At the time, phrases such as "satellite training," "resume management," "self-service" and "dynamic databases" were sprinkled throughout the conference's show guide. Now, 20 years later, they've been replaced by catchphrases such as "the cloud," "big data," "people analytics" and "artificial intelligence."

If you'd like further proof as to the extent of the changes over the past two decades, you need look no further than this year's 10 Top HR Products of the Year winners (beginning on page 61 of this issue). Among the 10 honorees this year are a predictive engine that analyzes how job postings will perform; a tool that synthesizes open-ended feedback across the entire employee lifecycle; a facial-recognition app that can be used at remote sites to verify the identities of casual laborers; and software that tracks and manages the post-employee experience so employers can more effectively manage their brand and minimize the risk of litigation.

Who would have thought any of this would have been possible 20 years ago?

The fact is that HR leaders and departments today have little choice but to make technology and analytics core competencies, because of the prominent role they now play in the value HR delivers to the business.

In their latest book, Victory Through Organization: Why the War for Talent is Failing Your Company and What You Can Do About It, authors Dave Ulrich, David Krystacynski, Mike Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank point to technology and analytics as two key competencies that HR leaders and departments need to master in order to gain credibility in the business. (For more on Victory Through Organization, see my interview with Ulrich, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, on page 21.)

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Ulrich and his colleagues predict in their book that these competencies will only grow in importance in the coming years and become skills stakeholders are going to expect from their HR leaders and departments.

As you might expect, world-class HR organizations recognize the value of HR-technology investment and are making it a priority. Indeed, Hackett Group's latest research finds that such organizations dedicate a greater percentage of their total spend to technology, even though their overall spend is 25 percent less than typical HR organizations.

Reflecting on this, I would wager a guess that the very best of these world-class HR organizations are also especially adept at targeting those investments to areas that are going to have the greatest impact on business performance.

In the realm of HR technology, I think this is the real dividing line between those HR departments that are really good and those that are truly great.

Now, of the two, which of those would you prefer to be?

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