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    Entries in Technology (224)

    Thursday
    Oct302014

    Microsoft Band and the Future of Wearables at Work

    As a certified data and tech geek, and a wannabee runner, (slow runner at least), I am totally fascinated and interested in the launch of Microsoft Band, the software giant's new wearable fitness tracking device. 

    What interests me with the Microsoft take on wearable fitness tracking, which admittedly is not really in and of itself all the groundbreaking, we have had Fitbits and Jawbones and all kinds of other fitness and activity tracking devices for some time now, is how the folks at Redmond are talking about and developing the Band as much more than a personal activity tool, but rather as a productivity tool.

    Read the (long, but interesting) post on Microsoft's News Center describing the new Band. The word 'productivity' pops up at least a half dozen times in the piece, (including in the title). Microsoft is still and probably will always be known as the company that makes the software most of us use to do work. Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints - heck I bet 80% of the people reading this blog use Exchange/Outlook for your business email.

    Microsoft is about WORK. Getting work done even in 2014 still often equates to dragging your mouse and keyboard around some kind of Microsoft product. 

    So the fact that Redmond is diving into wearable/fitness tech, and openly talking about Productivity in that conversation is eye-opening. Here is just one representative reference to work and productivity in the Microsoft piece:

    Microsoft Band’s cutting-edge continuous heart rate monitoring provides a detailed calorie count and sleep quality measurements. With the inclusion of intelligent personal assistant Cortana on Windows Phone 8.1, the band also offers hands-free access to the web and your most important correspondence whether you’re at the office or at the gym.

    And here is one more snippet:

    With the inclusion of productivity and communication features, they aimed to make not only a wearable personal trainer but also a wearable personal assistant. Productivity features would deepen the device’s connection with the consumer and free them from having to keep their eyes glued to a smartphone.

    While the initial interest and appeal for a wearable like Microsoft Band might be at the individual consumer level, it is pretty easy to see a (near) future when the deep integration of a fitness/activity tracker with the workplace productivity tools that Microsoft has long dominated, would present a compelling value proposition to organizations. I can easily see a day where organizations pass out a Microsoft Band along with a company-issued laptop and corporate Email account. The potential for not only Level 1 benefits (more exercise by employees, better dietary/sleep habits, weight loss, etc), but deeper insight into how work patterns, activities, schedules, and even personal interactions impact employee health and well-being will just be too tempting to pass up.

    Think for a second about the potential benefits for organizations of deeper integration between wearable fitness/activity trackers and the tools we are used to using at work - Email, Office docs, even IM and collaboration tools.

    I can think of at least three really compelling use cases for this kind of integration right off the top. 

    One - how work itself effects employee health. Does someone's heart start racing in every staff meeting? Do they begin to get twitchy when called upon to present to a group? Does a certain interaction with a colleague result in three nights of poor sleep? And then what can organizations then do to better understand and potentially align individuals with projects and team members that can aid their ability to perform, while not making them crazy? How do schedules, (and in particular over scheduling), impact employee health and activity? Do we need to be more mindful of how overworked and over scheduled many of our people are?

    Two - Insights into who in the organization inspires, challenges, and lifts people up, and who serves as essentially the corporate buzzkill? Imaging a meeting with 10 people inside, all wearing the MS Band. One person dominates the meeting, maybe it is the boss, and immediately after the other 9 people begin to show signals of nervousness, irritability, or even lethargy. Maybe email and collaboration patterns in the team begin to show signs of changing as well. Perhaps some members of the team skip their normal workouts for a day or two in the aftermath. Maybe some folks don't even turn up the next day. 

    Three - How much (or little) are employees actually disengaging from work to do things like exercise and even to just relax without worrying about and reading/responding to emails and texts? Activity tracking data should show a fairly regular and consistent pattern of employee activity and (hopefully) reveal that people are getting enough activity and also are not trapped to their work 24/7. What is the relationship between extended periods of downtime and subsequent well-being and productivity? Do we need to be more adamant that people actually take their earned PTO in order to ensure better long-run health and on the job success?

    Ok, I could be jumping the gun on this. But I can't help but see a potential future where activity/fitness/health tracking information becomes a vital input into overall workforce management and planning. Sure, some folks will scream about privacy and employer intrusion into personal areas where they should not be. And while that is a valid concern, if the macro trends hold up, and people continue to be more open and public about their lives, then a future where employees physiological responses and activities to work and the workplace are just another set of data points to overall HR/Talent/Business planning seems almost inevitable. Besides, employers 'spying' on employees did not just get invented with fitness trackers and it will be with us long after we all toss out our Fitbits. 

    So what do you think?

    Does Microsoft Band signal something potentially really important for HR and workplaces?

    Or am I naive to the extent to which people will not want to share this personal data with their employers?

    Friday
    Oct242014

    From HR Executive - On being a better HR Tech consumer

    Some readers might know that in addition to being the Program Co-Chair of the HR Technology Conference that additionally I write a monthly column for Human Resource Executive (magazine and online), titled Inside HR Tech. The latest Inside HR Tech piece 'Being a Better Consumer' posted earlier this week, and I wanted to share a little bit of the piece here (since I liked the piece and I think it relevant to many of the blog readers here).

    From Human Resource Executive - 'Being a Better Consumer'

    Recently I had the opportunity to talk with executives and product leaders from a small group of HR technology start-up solution providers. The conversations were primarily focused on these start-ups’ product offerings, their positions in the market and their various approaches to development, software user experience and deployment. It was really interesting stuff for a HR tech columnist for sure!

    But some of the most interesting and engaging elements of the conversations with these providers was hearing from them about their challenges dealing with prospects and customers in the sales, contract negotiation, implementation and post-live support processes.

    They shared some of the specific obstacles they've come across when educating, trying to sell to, and lastly, finalizing contract agreements with HR leaders and organizations. I thought it would make sense to share what they shared and offer some tips for HR leaders to be better customers.

    Though the start-ups, themselves, are small, many of their customers are quite large, even global organizations.

    And while some of what they had to say was certainly flavored by their relative small size and inexperience, I know for sure from having worked for very large HR-tech providers (and customers), that many of these buying process issues are common no matter what the HR-tech vendor’s and the customer’s current size may be. Big company or small, these kinds of challenges arise all the time. So here, without further delay and presented in no specific order, are my tips for being a better HR-tech customer:

    Define and share your decision process/timeline.

    Once the initial contact is made between your HR organization and the HR-technology provider, you -- as a customer -- can significantly assist the overall process by sharing with the tech vendor the motivations behind your inquiry, the specific business needs or problems you are hoping to address, and -- most importantly -- details about your internal decision making process and desired timelines for the technology decision to be made will

    Many of the start-up vendors shared their frustration with long and winding product education/demonstration cycles with customers that seemed to have no end in sight.

    Even if that “end” is a decision not to purchase, the vendors are often better off getting that information sooner in order to shift their time and resources to other prospects.

    And if your decision process, (for whatever reason), is long, that is fine too, just be up front with the vendor early on so they can align their resources and expectations.

    Explain your purchase approval and payment process.

    As a customer.....

    (catch the rest of the piece at Human Resource Executive online 

    I invite blog readers interested in these longer form HR tech pieces to subscribe to get every Inside HR Tech column in convenient email form. I would also invite suggestions and ideas for future Inside HR Tech columns.

    Have a great weekend!

    Monday
    Oct202014

    The technology (sometimes) doesn't matter

    Before I hit the main point of this post, I want to be clear about something - I think whether in enterprises or for personal use, having the 'right' technology available is often a critical enabler of both indivdual and organizational performance. 

    Anyone that has had to deal with older, even antiquated business systems that are slow, difficult to use, have to be accessed through a labyrinth of logins and passwords, and at the end of the (painful) process can't really produce the information you need to make decisions, can attest to the importance of modern tools and technologies. Or maybe it is that aging first or second generation iPhone you are still carrying around. You know, the one that has the tiny screen and doesn't have enough memory and processing punch to be able to run the VERY LATEST version of iOS. The iOS version that you know is better, even if you have no idea how. But you NEED IT.

    So here is the point, until last week I was the guy carrying around a (by today's standards), a really, really old iPhone, an iPhone 4 to be precise. Older, kind of slow, I only had 3G network speed. Aside - does anyone actually know specifically how much better 4G is than 3G? Other than it being 1G better?  But I held on to the old phone well past its normal life expectancy for two reasons. One, despite it being old, and small, and slow, it just worked. I was able to get everything done on the phone that I needed to get done. So the small size and slower speeds didn't really matter all that much. And second, and probably more importantly, I had been running a mental debate with myself for months about whether or not to switch to one of the newer Android phones, like the Samsung S5 or the LG G3. Eventually I ended up with the LG phone, primarily since I do not run any other Apple products other than the old iPhone, and am a big user of Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Hangouts, it seemed like a smarter move to go to Android.

    But even though I knew that making the switch to Android was the right decision for me, I still put it off for months. 

    Why?

    Because I fell into the trap that lots of us do these days, whether considering personal technology or even technology solutions for our business - I was placing too much value on the technology itself, and not thinking logically and critically about what I actually needed the technology to help me accomplish.

    Keeping up with (and often failing) with Email, checking Twitter and Instagram, catching up on blogs and news with Feedly and Zite, and checking out sports scores on The Score - together these make up I would bet 90% of all the things I do on the smartphone.

    And the truth is all smartphones, ANY smartphone including my old iPhone4 are perfectly capable of handing all of these use cases. Quite simply it doesn't matter which kind of phone I chose. ALL of them would do.

    Yet I dithered on this 'big' decision for weeks and months, almost to the point where the old iPhone was just about crashing every day. 

    The point, (one more time), is that sometimes, maybe more than we think, the technology choices we make don't really matter as much as we get fooled into believing that they do. Whether it is modern smartphones or modern HR or Talent Management systems, chances are pretty good they all will suit most every use case that you can reasonably toss at them.

    The technology today is so good and so capable, that success with it is fast becoming not an issue of whether or not you have good enough technology, but rather if you can figure out how to use the capability in the most beneficial manner. So maybe the advice is spend less time lamenting which technology to choose, and more time making the most out of the technology you do choose.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Oct132014

    Some final thoughts and thanks from #HRTechConf 2014

    Last Friday we wrapped up the 17th Annual HR Technology Conference, what I believe was an extremely successful event and for attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, press, analysts, bloggers, and everyone else in the large HR Technology community, a professionally and personally valuable experience.

    For me, who spent the bulk of my time in 2014 planning, preparing, organizing, promoting, and then for lack of a better term, hosting the Conference, it will still probably take a few more days/weeks for everything to settle in and to take the feedback and observations from the last week and incorporate that into next year's planning process. But I did take the weekend to kind of decompress, tried to stay (mostly) offline and catch up on my sleep, and to think about my initial thoughts about the Conference that I would like to share, and more importantly, to publicly thank at least a few people that played an important part in the event this year.

    First - three quick general thoughts about the event 

    1. I thought there was great energy and enthusiasm at the event - in the Expo, at the General Sessions and Awesome New Tech demonstrations, during the parts of concurrent sessions that I was able to see, and of course at the receptions and dinners that I attended.  Even by last Friday, Day 4 of the event, we had a lively and engaged audience for the Awesome New Startups demo that started EARLY at 8AM, and then for Ray Wang's closing keynote. Excitement or engagement is a really hard thing to measure, but so many folks stopped me to tell me that they just felt a better vibe around the show this year, that I wanted to mention that. I want HR Tech to be energizing and fun, and I hope we succeeded in that.

    2. After a certain point, size becomes a real challenge. This year the Conference had a record number of speakers, sessions, and even keynotes that made for the 'biggest' HR Tech Conference to date. And while we are really proud of that, we also have to acknowledge that with the increase in size and scope, that it has become just about impossible to see everything and meet everyone that you would like to at the event. I did think that the physical layout of the show was such that the long, long walks of prior years were lessened, but there were still times where I know that I personally could not make it to where I wanted to be in time. I will try to find ways to manage this going forward, but if I was not able to talk or meet with you at the event, I do want to apologize for that.

    3. Some folks come a long, long way to attend HR Tech. I noticed this the most on Friday morning, before and after Ray's closing keynote. Since the event was just about complete, and I was almost out of things to worry about and do, I had a fair bit of time to just chat with attendees. And that morning in the space about about 15 minutes I met (and took photos with), attendees from China, India, Pakistan, Abu Dhabi, Brazil, Belgium, Australia, and New Zealand. That was really fun, and kind of cool. And also serves to me as a great reminder that attendees make a huge investment of time and resources to attend HR Tech, and we need to continue to work hard to deliver a great and valuable Conference and experience.

    Second - Keep, drop, and make new

    The big challenge with taking over a long-standing and successful event is figuring out how much to change, what to leave as-is, and what/where/how to try and move the event into a new direction. And that process of evaluation for an event like HR Tech is an ongoing, and sometimes inexact one at that. As for some of the new elements we introduced to the show this year, (expanded opening day/night, a more 'Technical' track, and an overall increase in sessions/speakers), I think for the most part they went over well. So I would expect all of that to continue on into future events. We also tried to stay true to what has been traditionally been a strength of the event - detailed case study type presentations from HR leaders at many of the world's leading organizations.

    Finally, early reports seem to suggest that an increased focus on HR Tech startup technologies, in the Expo Hall as part of our first-ever startup pavilion, and with our inaugural 'Awesome New Startups for HR' session, were both well-received. Of course, I welcome your comments and feedback going forward on what to more of, what to do less of, and what new things we should bring to the show.

    Third - Some folks I have to thank, (and I apologize in advance to not be able to list or mention everyone that I should, just like the Conference has grown to make it almost impossible to talk with everyone that I would like, I can't possibly name everyone here that I should thank), for their incredible contribution to the Conference this year. But I am going to try anyway... (these are presented in no particular order, just streaming them out as they come to me)

    Kris Dunn - KD stepped in at the 11th hour to take on a pretty big spot in the Agenda that came open due to a very late speaker cancellation. There are not many people who would have been willing and able to step in like that especially considering he already was leading a session later in the day. Huge thanks to the Capitalist for taking that on.

    Laurie Zaucha, Sara Hill, Coretha Rushing, and Ashley Goldsmith - These four HR leaders were the participants in the 'Modern CHRO' panel that I co-hosted along with Trish McFarlane. This was a great group of HR executives, were easy to work with, and reminded us all what true leadership looks and sounds like. I want HR Tech to be a place where we see and hear from the absolute best of the best in HR, and these panelists exemplify that completely.

    Trish McFarlane - In addition to Co-hosting the Modern CHRO Panel mentioned above, Trish also led an Expert Discussion session on HR Technology implementations about which I heard fantastic reports. But beyond that, she was a great sounding board and source of excellent advice throughout the event planning process. And she co-hosts my favorite podcast the HR Happy Hour Show!

    Jason Seiden - Jason launched his new startup BrandAmper at the Conference, as one of the participants in the first-ever 'Awesome New Startups for HR' session. This was not without risk, pressure, and probably some lost sleep. But Jason and Lisa Cervenka did an amazing job (like all of our startups), and I hope to see them back next year on the Big Stage!

    John Sumser - John led one of our sessions in the new Ideas and Innovations track, his on Computational HR, and while I was not able to sit in on the session, it probably was the one that I feel the worst about missing. He is also a remarkably nice and generous person that has contributed much to the event and to me as well.

    Michael Krupa - Mike did a tremendous job not only personally serving on a two-hour long panel in our 'Tech' track, but also serving to help create and coordinate several other elements at the show. Plus, he is one of the very few people I will allow to hug me in public.

    Naomi Bloom - Naomi did a tremendous amount of work in the run-up to the show, coordinating and helping to program what was a very successful Tech track at the event. Sadly, she was unable to actually participate live at the event due to a medical issue. But she had prepped her panel so well that they were able to carry on, and she stayed engaged with the event on Twitter throughout. Get well soon, Naomi!

    Mike Psenka - Mike runs the Workforce Analytics team at Equifax Workforce Solutions and not only did he present a great session with Whole Foods, he also allowed Trish and myself to crash his team dinner once again. Mike and the Equifax team are a super nice bunch of people that I enjoy spending time with at HR Tech each year.

    Ed Chase, Dave Shadovitz, Vicky Dennehy and the rest of the LRP team - It goes without saying that probably 95% of what happens to deliver an excellent experience to the HR Tech community goes on behind the scenes, and out of sight of most. But the LRP team does such a fantastic and professional job getting the thousands of elements aligned to present a great show for everyone. Trust me, you don't have any idea what goes on out of view, and you probably don't want to know, but the LRP team takes it all in stride. Many thanks to all of my colleagues for everything you do.

    All of our attendees, speakers, exhibitors, analysts, sponsors, and friends - We have such an engaged, vibrant, and enthusiastic community around HR Tech that in many ways that makes my job easy. So thanks to everyone who was at the event last week. There are literally thousands of you who contribute to the event, each in your own way, and that adds up to a remarkable and valuable community of people that make what I get to do really fun and amazing.

    Thanks again and please do mark your calendars now for the 18th Annual HR Technology Conference - October 18 -21, 2015 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

    Have a great week! 

    Friday
    Oct032014

    Attending HR Tech? Here are my Top 10 Tips - #HRTechConf

    It's now less than one week until what is in my completely biased view as the Conference Co-Chair the best annual event for HR professionals, the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas. If you are coming out to the event next week, and I hope lots of readers are, I wanted to serve up my slightly better informed view than most list of the Top 10 Tips for getting the most out of your HR Tech Conference experience.

    So here goes, (in no particular order, save this is how they came to me in a semi-coherent state late last night).

    1. Take advantage of the Conference's 'Welcome' day activities on Tuesday, October 7

    For the first time ever at HR Tech, we will have a pre-conference educational session (no extra charge for full conference attendees), a 'Welcome' keynote from author, speaker, and all-around smart-as-heck person Rahaf Harfoush, and an Opening Reception (with drinks and appetizers) in the Expo Hall, (which will too be Open and with the Exhibitors ready and eager to meet you. 

    2. Don't go overboard on Tuesday night

    HR Tech is closer to a marathon than a sprint. I suppose it is more like a 10K or maybe even a half marathon. Either way, you jump out of the starting line all full of energy and adrenalin and excitement, but after a couple of miles of running at a pace you know you are not ready to sustain you are definitely going to hit the wall. And it might get ugly. In fact, seeing as it is Vegas, it almost certainly will get ugly. My point is you want to build slowly. And most of the really big, fun, over the top night time social events are on Wednesday the 8th and Thursday the 9th anyway. So have fun on Tuesday night, just remember you are not as young as you used to be. Leave something in the tank for the middle and end of the race.

    3. Plan your days, but be flexible, and leave some time to explore

    This year we have a record number of tracks and concurrent sessions. In most of the concurrent session time slots, there are as many as 10 sessions running at the same time. So you are going to want to spend some time in advance thinking about which sessions you'd like to attend, and even make a backup selection (or two) just in case we have to play nice with the Fire Marshal and cap off attendance in a session. But leave some room in your day to linger a little longer in the Expo Hall or take in one of the demo sessions that will be running on Wednesday or Thursday. Or even just to have some time to chat with some of the new friends you have made, (more on that to come). My point is this, it is a Conference, not a synchronized swimming contest - you don't have to know every step you are going to take in advance. 

    4. Don't travel (all the time) in the same pack

    If you are attending the Conference with some of your co-workers, (which is great), make sure to not spend all of your time traveling in tandem. Split up and cover some different sessions, make sure to engage with other folks during general sessions and meals, and maybe even (horror), hit some different parties after hours. You want to make sure you are not just seeing and interpreting things through the same lens that you use back in the office, sometimes breaking away from your co-workers, even for a little while, can help you to do this.

    5. Say 'Hi' to me, or rather, anyone that you really want to meet and connect with

    Of course I want to meet as many people as I can, but you do too. And chances are you might want to meet and chat with one of our amazing speakers or one of our industry experts that will be leading Expert Discussions throughout the event. So make sure you do! All of these execs and leaders are extremely approachable and generous with their time and their insight. So if there is someone, anyone, you want to meet, then don't let a long line of people stop you from doing just that. One of the best aspects of the HR Tech community is how much everyone wants to help, especially HR leaders that are interested in how HR technology can help them and their organizations move forward. 

    6. Take a rest somewhere in the middle of the run

    Ok, much like I am ready to take a breather half way into this post, (at about the 800 word mark and counting), at some point during HR Tech you will want/need to take a little time to recharge. This could mean ducking out a little early from one of the parties, taking a power nap back up in your room after the last session of the day and before heading out for the evening, or it could be as simple as passing on that third dessert from the buffet. All I am saying is you probably can't go full speed all day and night in Las Vegas for too long and come out feeling good on the other side. Find a spot to get some rest, maybe hit the spa or the pool, (it will be pretty hot), and get ready for the last part of the run.

    7. It is ok to talk to the vendors in the Expo Hall. Even ones you have never heard about.

    I know for attendees the overwhelming tendency of Expo visit time is spent walking from place to place, checking out the vendors you are familiar with and/or interested in learning more about, and maybe entering a contest or two. And while you can easily spend hours talking with vendors and people you know, or maybe are currently using in your organization, I really recommend spending some Expo time checking out and actually learning about at least a few vendors that you have never heard about before. Now I don't want to name specific names, (because there are just too many and I will get in trouble as I would have to leave some out), but you know who you don't know, (if that makes sense), and I can assure you there are dozens of amazing solutions just waiting to be discovered. If you are not sure who to check out, send out a Tweet on the #HRTechConf hashtag and just ask. Not using Twitter? Well that is a problem we will have to solve another day.

    8. The General Sessions are big and crowded and long. Go to them anyway.

    Yes the General Session rooms are massive. And crowded. And by the time you get there lots of the good seats are taken. But you still should attend them anyway. We have a fantastic panel on Thursday morning on the Workforce of the Future led by CNN's David Gergen and we have not one but two 'Awesome New Technology' showcases: one for more established providers on Thursday afternoon and one for Startups on Friday morning. You want to learn and be challenged in the Workforce 2020 session and you definitely want to be blown away by the latest and greatest innovations in HR technology in the 'Awesome New' sessions. These General Sessions bring the entire community together and you simply have to be a part of that.

    9. Don't skip Friday.

    Assuming you made your travel plans accordingly and are still going to be in Las Vegas next Friday morning, you want to make sure you drag your tired, sorry self out of bed to make it down for the last half day of the Conference. We have the previously mentioned 'Awesome New Startups' session, a set of great concurrent sessions, (including speakers from Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and CVS), and then what will be a fantastic closing keynote from the hardest working man in technology, Ray Wang. You can do it. It is only a half day and you can sleep on the plane.

    10. And this is the most important one - Connect with as many people as you can.

    This is kind of a boring tip since everyone who gives advice about these kinds of things always includes something like this. But just because everyone tells you to do this, doesn't mean it is bad advice. The truth is the most enduring value anyone (even me) gets from HR Tech or any large event comes from the people you meet, the relationships you build, and the connections you forge. Your next customer, next vendor partner, next boss, next employee, or maybe your next new best friend just might be at HR Tech next week too. But you have to take some initiative to connect. And for some folks, (again me too), that is not always the easiest or most natural thing to do. But you should try anyone. Even if you set a simple goal of connecting with even one or two new people each day at the Conference it will be worth the effort. And if you are finding that to be too hard, then find me and say 'Hi'.

    Ok, that is it, I am out. I also want to thank regular blog readers who might have gotten a little tired of all the HR Tech Conference content on the blog lately.  Next week there will be nothing new here (probably) while I am at the event, but I will get us back to the regularly scheduled nonsense after that.

    Have a great weekend!