HR Technology Conference 2019 Highlights

The 2919 HR Technology Conference & Expo — “the” event of the year for our industry and a must-attend for all key stakeholders — was four days packed with conference keynotes and panels, vendor meetings, product demos, networking events, and opportunities to connect with clients and industry colleagues. Jamie Hawkins, founder and CEO of Benefit Technology Resources (BTR), and BTR technology consultant Amy Wilson, covered extensive ground (literally and figuratively) to bring back information to share with the team. While our group continues to digest what it all means for our broker partners and employer clients, we’re pleased to share some high-level insights and product news from this important industry event.

It’s all about the employee experience.

Opening session speaker and industry thought leader, Josh Bersin, set the tone for the rest of the conference, focusing on the employee experience and making work better. Said Bersin,


“Vendors are not building software for HR anymore; they are building it for the employee and their experience.”

HR technology has advanced from targeting Automation (1990s – 2000s) to Integration (2004 – 2017) to Engagement (2012 – 2019), and now to Performance (2020+) — driven by improved workflows that increase productivity. The emphasis on the employee experience is attracting new players, including the big tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and others), which are moving fast. These companies will change the industry.

Best-in-breed software is big…especially in the ATS market.

The market for best-of-breed (point solutions) Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) is growing 4 times faster than ATSs within an HCM suite, which lack focus on recruiting, according to recruitment software provider iCIMS. This reflects an overall trend toward adoption of best-in-breed technology given that it’s nearly impossible for one platform/vendor to do it all. Clients may say they want an all-in-one platform but, invariably, one or more of the modules falls short of expectations, leading to the purchase of point solutions that integrate with the core HRIS platform. Large-market employers have been slower to come to this realization due to the complexity of integration with large numbers of records, but integration technology continues to improve, making this the choice of many employers — large and small. Further, as Josh Bersin noted, an ATS module is typically the most difficult module to replace — more so than core HRIS — due to all the stored candidate data. Expect to see more companies like ServiceNow®, which offers an integrated HR service management solution. The ongoing talent shortage means employers are prepared to invest in technology that can give them a competitive edge.

Analytics can help with talent.

The conference themes we’ve highlighted so far (employee experience, growth of the ATS sector, focus on tech for the employee) all are associated with the need for companies to attract and retain talent more effectively. Technology (including artificial intelligence) provides the ability to generate more and more data, but the challenge has been not knowing what to do with it. Further, most all-in-one systems can’t deliver on the analytics. Understanding why employees accept and leave jobs is critical to retaining them. Engagement and teamwork can positively impact talent retention. Invest in good team leaders. According to business consultant Marcus Buckingham, employees are 12 times more likely to be engaged when they trust their team leader.

Managers matter.

Kronos’ CEO, Aron Ain, provided a glimpse into the company’s talent management program that we think is worth sharing. Kronos has 800 managers, each of whom is evaluated twice a year by direct reports, creating a Manager Effectiveness Index (MEI) that measures how well managers are performing in the eyes of employees. We see this as a best practice example of how to help retain good talent. An oft-cited 2017 Gallup poll found that half of U.S. employees quit their jobs to get away from their bosses. Kronos’ asks their employees to give feedback on Glassdoor and social media as a way to attract talent. Ain believes that “great organizations are powered by great people.” Those interested in learning more about Kronos’ approach to improving manager effectiveness can download for free a chapter of Ain’s best-selling book, Workinspired: How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work.

Learning management systems are hot! Key among the factors that determine an employee’s satisfaction with a job, is the opportunity to learn — either to help them do their current job or to help prepare for the next one. The corporate learning space has exploded, and Josh Bersin advises not to “leave your employees in the dust.” (If you don’t support their learning needs, expect them to go elsewhere to find a more supportive employer.) If you or your clients need information about this growing learning and development market, give us a call!

Release of annual Sierra-Cedar industry report.

The Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey White Paper 2019–2020, 22nd edition made its debut HR Tech. Published since 1997, this year’s research represents 1,892 organizations with over 22.2 million employees and contingent workers located in more than 70 different countries. Of the organizations surveyed, 61% were small group employers (less than 2,500 employees); 20% were mid-size; and 19% were large employers (10,000+ employees). The big themes from the report are Culture, Strategy and Data Governance. Following are a few points around each theme:


  • Realize the value of HR
  • Know your culture
  • Shift from process to outcomes


  • From transformation to adoption
  • Cost and functionality are back
  • Measure outcomes that matter

Data Governance:

  • Know your data
  • Assign responsibility
  • Innovation is about the data

Transforming HR.

While the Sierra-Cedar report offers a wide array of industry information, one big takeaway for our team is that only 33% of respondents have a major HR transformation effort underway — in spite of the big changes underway in the marketplace (including those highlighted in this recap). The report reminds employers that HR needs to own its value. Efforts to transform HR in the past six years have resulted in a 20% increase in respondents who view HR functions as contributing strategic value, with executives 25% more likely to view HR as strategic. While this is progress, in our opinion, it falls short of the ideal. For any company that has yet to begin this transformation, the clock is ticking…loudly. BTR can help identify technology solutions to support the transformation and help position HR in a strategic light.

Additional session and speaker “callouts” and photos from HR Tech are available in our Twitter feed (@bentechre).