HR Technology


I have been to many, many software conferences, but I’m especially fond of the HR tech conference in Chicago. It has a good mix of vendors and practitioners, and is well worth a visit.

Over the years at conferences around the world, I’ve strolled the vendor booths, and seen all sorts. Some, just a desk and a couple of chairs, others vast multi-story gaudy edifices. They are all a bit of a blur. 

This week, at the HR tech conference I saw the best booth ever.

It was designed to

  • draw attention
  • bring delegates into an area where they couldn’t escape easily.
  • be eco-friendly
  • be participative (you could write on it)
  • relate to the company culture and marketing message
  • be 100x times cheaper than a typical stand

I give you the sonar6 minimalist box.

image

 

There is a software metaphor here too.  There is goodness in a common practice done uncommonly well.  At the event I saw evidence of some vendors starting to build simple applications that bring a consumer simplicity to existing, rather bloated, HR processes. 

cross posted on my Gartner blog.

I read many HR blogs, and one of my favourites is the Evil HR lady. She blogs a much of her HR stuff on the BNET site.

I have been speaking to a lot of HR audiences lately, and sometimes they get a little uncomfortable when I bring up the analytics topic. Most HR departments don’t do a good job at analytics, and then they wonder why they don’t get the budgets to make an impact on the business.

One of my suggestions to HR is to hire a good numbers person, someone with strong undergraduate or preferably graduate statistics.

Looks like this is exactly how the Evil HR lady got her start.

I had a master’s degree in political science, with a strong emphasis in statistics.  Since you never see a “Help wanted:  Political Scientist” sign in the window, I knew I needed to look outside my field of study.  What I really wanted to be was a trainer.  I knew that trainers often work in Human Resources departments, but how in in the heck was I going to get a job in HR?

Well, first, I went to a temp agency and asked to work in an HR department.  “I’ll do anything!” I said, and I meant it.  If the temp agency had sent me to wash windows in an HR department, I would have done it.  Instead, they placed me as an admin (I can type!), and for 6 months in a couple of different assignments I worked as an HR admin.  Then, I saw a job posting.  Job title?  HR Metrics Specialist.

What on earth does an HR Metrics Specialist do?  Well, I didn’t know, but one of the qualifications was the ability to do statistics.  That, I had.  So, I applied, interviewed and was hired.  My boss told me flat out that the only reason they had hired me is that I appeared to be the only person in the universe with a modicum of HR experience and the ability to do statistics.

I’ve been ranting on about this topic for ages, here are a few.

http://blogs.gartner.com/thomas_otter/2009/09/07/scrabble-and-hr/

http://blogs.gartner.com/thomas_otter/2009/06/08/via-a-comment-via-a-link-the-three-sexy-skills-of-data-geeks/

http://blogs.gartner.com/thomas_otter/2009/02/23/accountings-big-problem-according-to-archibald/

http://blogs.gartner.com/thomas_otter/2009/02/19/banging-on-about-hr-analytics/

http://blogs.gartner.com/thomas_otter/2008/12/06/measuring-twice-cutting-once/

so it is nice to see some validation…

Mathematics is a beautiful thing. Spend 20 minutes in the company of Benoit Mandelbrot. (click here if you can’t see the video)

 

If Hans Rosling can do this with demographics on a global scale, why can’t HR do it with their data? (click here if you can’t see the video)

 

By the way: Jim Holincheck and I recently published quite a bit of research on workforce analytics, and there is buckets of cool stuff on pattern based strategy on Gartner.com

image

image via OzinOH, thanks!

I’m looking forward to this event. Most of the events I go to are single vendor events, but this one is different. It is the event that brings most of the HR technology community together. Bill runs an excellent show.  I’ll get to see Jason, Steve , Phil and Naomi, and I’ll be on a panel discussion about global HR trends with Karen.  I also hope to meet many of the clients and vendors that I talk to on the phone.

There are a couple of things I’m keen to really dig into.

1. use cases of social software and HCM technology working together.

2. HCM analytics that are actually used by leaders beyond HR to make business decisions.

3. Mobile scenarios that create new ways of working rather than simply rendering existing transactions in a different form factor.

4. Integration, HR MDM and the cloud.

5. Do you really need a traditional HR system of record?

If you want to chat when I’m there, drop me a tweet or an email. I plan to blog a bit when I’m there, and I’ll be tweeting a storm too.

Thinking of strikes, it is easy to imagine coal miners, railway workers and automobile assemblers with shop stewards quoting Trotsky, Gramsci and Marcuse, and brandishing a well worn copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is a naive and foolish stereotype. As this example from Yahoo! shows,  industrial action is alive and well in the high tech industry. Valleywag reported on a strike at Yahoo in France.

[YOUTUBE=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kulOZowv0Qc]

(watch the video here if you dont see the embedded player)

Carol Bartz‘s lacerating eccentricity may captivate Silicon Valley, where she’s cutting costs left and right. Not so in Europe: When Yahoo tried to shut down operations in France, workers made this surreal, defiant video. And went on strike, naturally.Their point: Yahoo made about 1 million euros per worker from Yahoo France alone last year, and used to hype how “it’s important to have [locally] concentrated engineering activities… to innovate” in France, where it would base “one of [its] most important centers in Europe.” Yahoo France’s engineers will now stop working until Yahoo agrees that they shouldn’t have to stop working. At least they’re fact checking the internet company’s hype along the way.

(thanks Valleywag).

There is a  lesson for all “global” high tech companies. HR practices that work in the US don’t necessarily travel well. I have quite a bit of research in the pipeline on a related topic. I have seen global HR projects derailed because of worker and union opposition, forcing system redesigns and huge delays.

I’ll predict that the software industry will face increasing collective and industrial action. Social software makes it easier to organize and motivate around an issue, and create a strong collective even without the presence of a union. It makes it easy to reach the broader public too.  We have seen the power of the disgruntled customer using social media to mobilise support and opinion. Employees have access to the same tools and media. Executives of global software companies will need to get a lot more savvy about global HR issues. Gosh, that degree I did in Industrial Relations might actually be useful one day.

I’ve tried this metaphor on several client calls recently, so let me inflict it on you too.

Cactus

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via Flickr, the cc licence of Rodolfo Cartas thanks.

In this architecture, everything is from one vendor, and integration with third party applications is rather difficult. Typical ERP /HRMS pitch of the mid-nineties. Why do you need other software? We can do everything.

Sunflower

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via Flickr,  the cc licence of C.S. 2.0 Thanks

Big core system, running most of the processes, with a series of smaller, tactical solutions interfaced around the edges.  Typical HR IT architecture of many ERP-Centric organizations today.  ERP runs the core transactions, with bits of SaaS tacked on around on the edges.

Daisy

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via Flickr,  the cc licence of law_keven Thanks

Small core system on premise, but most of the action takes place in the systems around the edges. Increasingly common as SaaS vendors continue to deliver richer functionality. Some challenges with integration, as there are many applications trying to connect to the core. 

Rose

image

via  Flickr, the cc licence of Gertrud K. Thanks

No significant core system, SaaS petals dominate.  Still very rare, but we expect to see more of these, challenging the traditional core and peripheral model. 

What sort of flower does your architecture represent?

image

(photo CC 2.o attribution, thanks to g-hat!)

World leaders are gathering in Pittsburgh to discuss banking reform and other pressing matters. According to the Guardian,  the discussions are likely to be rocky.

European leaders appeared to be on a collision course tonight with Barack Obama and Gordon Brown after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, warned that the G20 summit must not be diverted from clamping down on bankers’ bonuses and hedge funds.

The article continues.

Sarkozy has suggested that bankers’ pay should be capped at a certain percentage of their institution’s assets or revenue.

Fredrick Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister and current president of the European council, promised a “specific discussion” on bonuses including proposals for individual caps on bankers’ bonuses, that bonuses would be linked to achievement and not given if there were losses, and that there would be transparency on precise decisions taken by boards. “We from the EU will ask to be very clear on that” he said.

Putting aside the ethical and political debate, if Fredrick and Nicolas have their way, this would particularly riveting for anyone in the business of HCM software.

It looks to me this is a demand for an integrated employee goals / performance management, compensation and incentive compensation system that also integrates into a corporate performance and risk management system, combined with a significant dose of compliance reporting. 

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Photo via the cc of sgt. PepperedJane. thanks!

To score well at Scrabble, you need to look at the score, not the just word. Long words across the board might look good, but unless they land on double or triples, you simply waste letters and open up the board for the others to score. Literary types like to think that they are good at Scrabble because they know lots of words and are well read, but Qi or QANAT aren’t something that even the most literary of souls come across in literature. To win at Scrabble you need to look at the numbers and the odds, know what letters have gone already, and have a mental database of short nasty words like ZO and XU. Sure, a love of words helps with Scrabble, but to score well, you need to engage the numeric side of your brain.

It may be stretching it a bit, but I think HR has a similar challenge.

To be a top HR professional, you do need to have empathy for people. It is probably what attracted you to the job in the first place. But if you are going to succeed you need to be analytical too. HR professionals that can see patterns beyond the incident, abstract the problems from the personal, and make the best move given the constraints  they have been dealt with, will have a real impact on shaping the business and their careers.

We are doing a lot of work at the moment on pattern based strategy here at Gartner (clients see this). I’m going to be exploring this is in an HR context later this year.  Extracting and analysing patterns out of the mass of data sources and conflicting signals. HR is going to get a lot more analytical.

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