This week the 15th Annual HR Technology Conference was held in the great city of Chicago, and once again the event brought together, in a way and at a scale that is unrivalled in the industry, the diverse and ever-widening community of HR leaders, practitioners, solution providers, analysts, press, bloggers, and everyone-that-doesn't-fall-into-one-of-those-categories types that have an interest in the role of technology in the workplace.
And as has been pointed out again and again, no matter what kind of work you do, whether you're an information worker in a massive global firm, someone on the retail front lines, a small business owner that needs to know how to get the most out of your team, or even a solo artist looking for your next gig - technology plays a role in how you find work, (and often, how work finds you), how you find people to help you, how your work gets seen and judged, and perhaps, hopefully, can help you to do your work even better than you imagined possible.
That last part, technology that helps people to do their best work is the ultimate goal, I think, and one that is shared by both solution providers and practitioners alike. And not all successful HR Technology products and projects have to be flashy and exciting and cutting-edge, (although those are the ones we like to talk about the most). No, sometimes technology that simply takes a mundane but essential workplace process and makes it more efficient, or that automates what used to be manual and dreary, or one that simply gets out of your way to let you concentrate more fully on your real work, and less on the other 'stuff' that stubbornly tries to distract you - these too are important, necessary, and in many ways often more impactful than the latest new social-mobile-local-big datafied thingy you just saw at the show.
And at the Conference, we get to see, hear from, play with, and talk to the folks from all manner of solution providers - ones that are chasing the newest and latest; ones that are dependably playing in the middle but still really important ground since most employees have a pesky desire to get paid correctly and on time and have their benefits coverage be current and accurate; and many that are doing some of both - continuing to innovate and grow from a reliable base, and providing customers the opportunity to move at their own pace.
As has been said often and correctly by many others, (examples, here, here, and here), the HR Technology Conference is the one place where the entire industry comes together for three, (four if you count HRevolution, which I do), days to learn, share, connect, brag, and ultimately, to also try and accomplish one of the goals of the technology products themselves - to do their jobs better, no matter what role they play. And the best thing about the Conference, since it draws solution providers from every segment of the market, is that both the HR Director from the 200 person company and the Executive Vice President of Human Resources from a 50,000 employee multi-national can both find a myriad of technologies suitable for their circumstances to review, colleagues from peer companies to compare notes with, while both taking advantage of access to the leading independent analysts and thinkers in the industry.
From my perspective, the event was fantastic, and I was especially glad with the HRevolution-style session that I co-presented with Trish McFarlane on Wednesday for two reasons - one; the session was so well-attended since it was near the end of the program, and two; showed the real potential and power of the community of people that were gathered. At one point in the conversation an attendee offered an idea for a cool new social capability she would love to see offered in her current solution, other attendees added to her ideas and gave some clarity, and by the end of the discussion, some 'product' types were taking notes and brainstorming about how to build that capability in their tools. It would not surprise me at all to see someone announcing this feature in their product at the Conference next year.
I will end by repeating what I think was the most succinct statement and message that I heard over the course of the event that reminds and reinforces the value and importance of what the show is all about, an observation made by Steve Miranda, SVP of Applications Development at Oracle. Steve said,
'Technology might now be a second language to us, (the attendees of the Conference), but it is a native language to the next generation of the workforce.'
And that simple observation points us forward, not only to thinking about how we can take the things we learned this week back our organizations, but also how we will have to prepare for the future of our workplaces, ones that will rapidly transform into ones where the halls, real or virtual, will be almost completely filled by native speakers of technology.
These natives will not remember a world before smartphones, tablets, on-demand apps, access to their information as and when and on what device they choose, and the ability to share seamlessly, connect constantly, and do it all without pausing for training or even reading the instructions. They will expect their workplace tools to speak their native language.
While we all will want to get there, the starting points and paths will be different for all organizations.
But one thing is for certain, you will know how to start and with whom you should travel on the journey from your connections and learnings from the HR Technology Conference community.
It was a great show once again - kudos and thanks to Bill Kutik, David Shadovitz, and everyone at LRP - the work they do each year to deliver this event is monumental and appreciated.