AHRI HR Technology Conference

[Note: This post has been written after the AHRI technology conference. My intentions to combine this post with a detailed review of some of the vendors at the conference hasn’t materialised. So, here’s a belated post on the conference]

imageFIRST HR Technology Conference:
Yesterday, I attended the AHRI’s Conference, billed as the first of its kind in Australia. It was a sold-out event. In an age where conferences are a dime a dozen, AHRI’s ability to sell seats is impressive. As far as professional associations go, AHRI seems to be at the top of its game. Other professional associations will be envious of the level of engagement and support it gets from its membership base. Apparently, the idea of a conference on HR technology was first mooted by AHRI members. I met a few students who attended on a discounted ticket – another smart move from AHRI to engage future professionals.

Who is interested in HR technology?
Turns out that HR practioners are really interested in HR technology. The good folks at @AHRIevents provided me conference attendance data, as follows:
66% = HR professionals
27% = other (consultants, business owner) etc.
7% = IT
From attendees’ data alone, it seems to me that there is a growing interest in technology amongst HR practitioners. This raises more questions – what’s the relationship between IT and HR staff? Who decides what HR systems to use? How much influence does HR have on technology decisions? During the course of the event, I find every time I learn something new, it raises new questions.

HR Technology Adoption
How do organisations use HR technology? As far as I am aware, there’s very little data on the adoption of HR technology in Australia. Linda Cameron presented data extracted from the global Cedar Crestone survey of HR systems. The Australian sample is small (only 18 people participated from the AU/NZ region from a global sample of 1800). Nevertheless, it revealed interesting statistics about the adoption of HR technology. Payroll systems are the most popular HR technology in use. Recruitment system is fourth in the ladder (refer graph). Linda sheds some light on the effects of the GFC on HR adoption and the adoption of social media and web 2.0 technologies within organisations. While the sample is small it highlights the number, range and complexity of systems HR professionals have to deal with. Here’s the full report.

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Also worth looking at is a similar report released by NAVIGO (who were also present at the conference) earlier this year. NAVIGO’s report has a much larger sample size but addresses less subject categories. Download here.

Yes some people actually use their HR systems
It’s no simple task to manage 45,000 applications each year in an organisation with 22,000 staff. Jason Lucchese detailed the ATO’s journey in implementing a recruitment system (NGA) and the results they achieved. The key for the ATO was defining proper metrics and having robust reporting processes in place. Amongst other things, cost per hire and time to fill dramatically decreased. I thought – a real example of real usage of technology resulting in real change.

Cloud technology
Cloud, cloud, cloud is everywhere. There seems to be a new found fascination with cloud technology/concept (especially by those selling a solution?). A panel chaired by Anastasia Ellerby (SuccessFactors), John Macy (Competitive Edge Technology) and David Page (Northgate Arinso) addresses the changing HR technology landscape, and ponders on the next big thing. The panel painted a bleak future for vendors who are not offering browser-based access.

It surprises me a little that it has taken this long for the HR community to stir. The concept of taking advantage of a cloud environment has been talked about in recruitment circles for some time now. But there is no denying that cloud based systems are generating a lot of interest, and perhaps it’s the way forward. Gartner predicts that cloud computing services will grow at more than 20% over the next four years. The latest Calrius Index suggested cloud computing is driving demand for more IT professionals in Australia. It doesn’t appears to be just a fad.

Importance of HR data
Easily the highlight of the conference was Steve Vamos’ talk on the importance of HR data in measuring and improving workplace performances. (HRDaily’s coverage of the keynote is here). Steve is of course involved with www.ske.org, a think tank dedicated to promoting Australia as a leading knowledge economy. The organisation is currently working on a DEEWR funded research on High Performing Workplaces in Australia. Organisations can still participate in the project here.

Technology Showcase & Vendors: This being a technology conference, technology vendors came out in force. A lucky few got to showcase their wares in a timeslot specially dedicated to vendors (another smart move from AHRI, and also value for money for sponsors).  A highlight for me was to actually meet Alice Snell from Taleo, whose work I have been a long-time follower. I think much of Taleo’s prominence in the talent management space (especially in their Recruitsoft days) is due to the market intelligence they regularly produce. Alice spoke on advances in talent management peppered with lots of good data and visuals, and in my opinion was the standout presentation of the technology showcase sessions.

Other showcases – Peoplestreme an Australian Talent management software provider. The Julia Ross owned Payroll provider Aurion. Frontier Software also an HR and payroll software, and News Ltd owned Learning Seat.

Interesting Vendors:
Orca Eyes provide workforce planning analytics and business intelligence provider  (Briefly met CEO Dan Hilbert who is generous with his knowledge). Bayside Group – discovered recruitment firms also make software. SABA – some of its modules seem to mimic the look and feel of Facebook (will do a review in the near future). I only came to know of SABA from good reviews overseas and it surprises me that they have been in Australia for some time now. displayed their Recruitment Management System to manage contingent workforce.  I also had a very brief peek at Gate121 which is another impressive web based contingency staff rostering system. (gripe: Hey vendors not all visitors to your booth come for the freebies. There’s no way of telling a ‘freebie gatherer’ from a potential customer. Vendors have no choice but treat all visitors like future customers).

Social media free zone?: Strangely, apart from Michael Specht’s session, there is very little mention of social media. Perhaps there is social media fatigue? Perhaps, it is not a priority for HR folks (see Linda’s presentation)? HR folks don’t tweet much either. The Twitter stream #HRTC10 was populated by the usual suspects (yours truly included). Strangely, there is very little mention of mobile technology.

Speakers, presentations and conference format:
AHRI did a good job in running the conference (kudos in particular to @girlwithbigeyes aka Kryshla Gerbes, manager Events). It was always going to be a difficult task to manage 25 or so speakers spread over 20 different sessions within a six hour time frame. At times I ended up in the wrong session. Four workshops were run at concurrent times, which means even with the best efforts it is impossible to attend all sessions. There were some sessions with only five or six attendees. A session on managing medical staff and locums (even though it is in the context of using technology) isn’t going to attract many people unless they are in the medical industry. Perhaps at times, the conference tried to cover too much.

Nevertheless, the event highlighted an aspect of HR that is seldom addressed properly – technology. Overall, AHRI did a good job in assembling a wide range of speakers. More importantly the event helped highlight the contribution and future potential of technology in empowering HR practioners.  It will be interesting to see what comes out of the delegates survey conducted by AHRI.  Hopefully it will be an endorsement for another technology conference next year.

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