AI is the new black: Reflections from #HRTech

Oct 11, 2016 1:27:16 PM / by Gareth Jones

hrtechAfter a full on week in Chicago for the annual HRTech conference, what better place than the west coast to reflect on what came out of Chicago for me. I’ve several inspirations for blogs which will come later in the week, but first up are my overall takeaways from what was a great event.

It’s artificial and lacks intelligence

It’s official; AI is the new black. After 5 consecutive years of attending HRTech, this years AI is last years big data solution, or predictive analytics. As the poor cousin of enterprise technology, the HR function is an easy target for hype and this year is no exception. I’m not the first to notice and comment about it, but for what it's worth here are my observations:

  • Point fix - Where I saw AI based solutions, they weren’t solving the broader problem, more often just using the pitch to pick off an element. Natural language based ‘recruitment assistants’ such as Olivia or Maya -  - being examples.
  • Step back - AI is about solving and addressing business problems, not HR problems and we should be mindful of that as a profession.
  • It's coming - Despite the limitations in application of the technology in our sector to date, AI is not new and significant advances have been made outside of our industry. It’s only a matter of time before we feel the wider impact in HR. It’s coming, whether we like it or not.
  • Get informed - HR and Talent functions need to do their homework. Start here with the ubiquitous Wikki article. Critics might scoff, but with the amount of misleading content being written, especially by ‘influencers’ in our industry, it's as good a place as any to start.
  • God bless America - It’s more energising to discuss AI, and innovation in general, in the US. This is a possibility led market. Europe is more conservative and, unfortunately, in the HR/Recruitment market, has a glass half empty mentality when it comes to innovation. There are so many “it wont happen here, NIMBY” influencer types hogging the digital debate with their negative exhaust and it’s actually very refreshing to get away from it for a while and engage with people who can see opportunities rather than roadblocks.
  • Show me the money - Silicon valley investors in HR tech believe that AI will have a big part to play in human capital technology. If the money goes there, it's somewhat inevitably a self fulfilling prophecy
  • Buyer beware - If you buy into the hype without thinking about the broader picture or doing your research, then you get what you deserve.

Social media is alive with the AI conversation, with commentators falling all over themselves to either pitch it as the next big thing or argue incessantly about what is, or isn't, AI. You know what? It doesn’t matter. Leave that to the pedants with nothing else better to do with their day.

Ultimately, AI is simply advancement in technology and innovation. Will it transform HR? I doubt it. Will it transform business? Undoubtedly.

Please welcome UX to the party

If there is one win that I can see coming to HR tech it's the promise of technology that actually has great UX at the heart of the solution. For way too long, great UX has been missing from HRTech. Even with the move to the cloud, most enterprise tech companies seemed to simply replicate the awful client server interfaces, which were/are horrible conceptions designed by CTO wish lists and built by techies - not a great recipe.

Great software should be largely invisible to the problem it’s solving. The only way to do this is to design with the user experience front of mind from the get go. Over the last 5 years I’ve seen a distinct recognition of the importance of a great user experience, although it's sad also to note that this trend has been set by the new kids on the block and not the existing enterprise players, who persist in offering painful and overly complex user interfaces.

The beginning of end to end

Our sector has, for too long, been a horrible hotchpotch car crash of point and enterprise solutions. Bloated, multi discipline/functional enterprise solutions that fall down when it comes to the HR element, and point solutions that don’t connect with each other, or require months of engineering to get something half decent working. Frankly its not good enough. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The ‘consumerisation’ of technology has forced the UX card, and we can finally see that manifesting itself in the new solutions on display at HR tech. Simpler solutions, focussed on the top 10 killer features users actually need, rather than the 1000 the CTO mandated, mean that we are seeing slicker, lighter solutions that fit together way more seamlessly through better API connectivity.

Sure, a lot of these solutions are easier to deploy, and are largely aimed at the small to mid market in terms of customer size. But in my view it's a sign of things to come. You can tell that many of these players are testing and growing credibility right now and have their medium to long term ambitions firmly in the enterprise space.

End to end solutions, particularly ones offering real insight, are coming. But not in the form of a single enterprise player methinks.

The user at the heart of the business model 

Now, I’m really excited about this, and very encouraged to see some of this thinking making its way into the HRTech scene. Let me be clear, I’m not referring to monetising the candidate or employee here in anyway. No, I’m talking about creating solutions that deliver real utility to the end user, or even better, are designed for the end user first. Usability, Utility and desirability - the three pillars of great design thinking - for the individual candidate or employee, creating solutions these groups would actually chose to use, and recommend. Looking beyond the classic business model and thinking out of the box.

One example I saw was a company called randrr. These guys stood out for me, not least because they came to the show, took a not insignificant booth and talked about changing the industry for the common good. Bold claim indeed. What was interesting was their business model - free solution to the users (Clients and candidates) - with data as the revenue stream.

They also came to the show with only a story, no product. You’ve heard of ‘pre money’. These guys are ‘pre product’. The truth is they are in heavy development and decided to come to the show and create some noise. I liked what I heard. Whether they can deliver or not remains to be seen, but I like the thinking.

Chicago vs Vegas

I loved Chicago but I'm not the first to say that as venues for large conferences like #HRTech go, it's not one of the best. The glitz, glamour and full on nature of Vegas aside, the logistics of the conference are much better. From a networking perspective, having everything from the conference, expo and venues for evening affairs all in one place is invaluable.

Criss crossing the same localised space creates the opportunity for impromptu meetings and connections which Chicago just couldn’t deliver on the same scale. A change is as good as a rest they say, but in this case, the value derived from the close proximity of all the key elements of the conference that a place like Vegas offers, should not be underestimated.

Finally, a big thankyou to the folks at LRP for putting on the event and in particular to Steve Boese, conference chair for putting up with the #Britpack and Rennette Fortune for knocking the blog squad into shape!

See you all next year at The Venetian® Las Vegas, October 10 - 13, 2017!

Gareth Jones

Written by Gareth Jones

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