HR Technology Conference 2011 – You had me at Swirl

Posted by: on Nov 19, 2011 | 7 Comments


It’s that time of year again when all of us in the HR Technology business book our airline and hotel reservations and congregate in Chicago for the annual HR Technology Conference and Expo. Wait, did I say Chicago? Sorry, this year the conference was in sunny Las Vegas Baby! Anyway, this post is way late (and probably a dollar short) as the conference was over weeks and weeks ago. I have a good excuse or ten for being tardy on my post but I won’t bore you with the details. In my prior blogs posts about the 2009 and the 2010 conferences, I waxed on about the conference being about connecting with my social media network (especially my Twitter buddies – AKA my Tweeps). Making connections with the Tweeps was still an important aspect of this year’s conference. The Social Media factor at the conference continues to grow each year and I think we might have finally reached a tipping point. This year so many people were using the #HRTechConf hash tag on Twitter that the tweets were streaming into TweetDeck faster than I could read them. Information overload. So kudos to the conference organizers and all of my HR Tech Twitter buddies who helped promote the Social Media aspect of the conference. On the good news/bad news front the sponsored Wi-Fi was very spotty especially in some of the conference rooms that were more out of the way. In the larger sessions when everyone powered on their tweeting devices the Wi-Fi came to a standstill. What’s the good news in this? If the Wi-Fi had been 100% rock solid the tweet stream would have been OUT OF CONTROL.

What I Learned This Year

The expo floor as always abounded with a zillion vendors hawking their wares. I was having a conversation with one of the vendors who mentioned that in general the vendors were unhappy with Vegas/Mandalay Place in comparison to McCormick Place because the attendees were not a captive audience. At McCormick Place there was nothing around the conference center to do or see so most attendees with any free time would stroll through the expo floor. At Mandalay Bay, the attendees often used any free time to stroll over to the casino floor instead of the expo floor. Speaking of vendors, there were a ton of announcements at the conference and I do mean a ton. I’m too lazy to track them all down so here is a great summary of the announcements from Marketwatch.

Mobile was a huge topic at the conference this year but let’s first talk about the attendees mobile devices. The news reports indicate that the iPad has decimated the Netbook market and I can tell you first hand that this rang true at the conference. The iPad ruled and I could have counted on one hand the number of Netbooks being used. In a slight twist to last year, I witnessed a strong showing of people using physical keyboards with their iPads. In another nod to the strong growth of Apple, the MacBook Air also had a very strong showing among the attendees. Sorry Microsoft, the traditional laptop seemed pushed out this year. Hope you have big plans for Windows 8 to stem the market share loss.

Unlike mobile which has been brewing for a couple of years, gamification seemed to blast out of the woodwork from seemingly obscurity at the conference this year. For vendors and for companies the message this year is that if you want adoption of your application you need give workers a reason to use the app. Enter gamification which uses games design techniques applied to HR applications to encourage people to use (or adopt) the software. Gamification is no longer just badges but now includes awarding and redeeming points, achievement, challenges and recognition. There were many vendors showing applications with gamification built to the core or at least gamification techniques applied to bits and pieces. I’ll be curious to see in future surveys if gamification does indeed make a difference in adoption.

Just like mobile, analytics is HOT HOT HOT this year. The good news is there are now solutions that cover the spectrum of needs. Vendors are adding transactional analytics into their applications at a minimum and strategic analytic solutions are coming on strong. I encourage customers to take the long view when implementing disparate HR systems that each have their own transactional analytics to think about the impact of providing too many disconnected metric reports to their end users. While it might make sense to dip your toe into analytics by starting with built-in transactional metrics, only rollout the metrics that make the most sense and determine your long term analytics goals up front. Maybe an enterprise wide HR Analytics/BI system should be in you HR Technology Roadmap.

SaaS continues its steady march to replace on-premise HR applications. Nearly all vendors with on-premise solutions are re-architecting, re-coding or at least re-marketing their apps to say they are SaaS compliant. Don’t believe the marketing message however. Customers will need to dig deep and ask tons of pointed questions to determine exactly what flavor of SaaS the vendor is supporting. From the Talent Management panel the big take away was SaaS is really Saa (Software as a…). Service is still missing from many SaaS vendors. Customers are having to redo their contracts with SaaS vendors at renewal time and substantially beefing up the SLA and Service agreements.

The Awesome New Technologies for HR session was a hit again this year with the instant responses from the Twitter peanut gallery providing lots of colorful commentary. The Twitter users at the conference are pretty savvy HR Technology users so hopefully the vendors participating in the session captured the tweets (both good and bad) for future consideration. The iPad demo’s from Workday and Peoplefluent seems to garner the most interest and praise from the crowd and the tweets. Workday’s iPad app interface with the Swirl pretty much stole the show. By the way, for any session presenters reading this post don’t say “San Fran” when you mean “San Francisco”. You know who you are.

The Challenge For Next Year

The market for HR Technology applications has exploded the last couple of years. Core HR systems are hot again, suites continue to be rolled out, Analytics are front and center, Social Media is being embedded and everything is mobile, mobile, mobile. I found myself this year really feeling like I missed out on way too much. Trying to find time for all the great sessions, the expo floor, vendor briefings and hallway conversations with the attendees was impossible. The challenge for next year is to find a way to make more time available for all these things. Longer Expo hours, repeated sessions or maybe an additional day added to the conference might do the trick. Kudos to Bill Kutik and LRP for another great HR Technology Conference.

Most Important Takeaways

  • Dwane Lay and Paul Smith make an awesome Penn and Teller combo.
  • You know you have spent too much time in the elevators at Mandalay Bay when you can lip sync the Hubert Keller “Fleur” video.
  • More men use moisturizing cream around their eyes than you probably realize.
  • Ron Wallace is in amazing shape having to keep up with Naomi Bloom on her scooter.
  • Bill Kutik needs a smart phone adviser the next time he gets a new cell phone.
  • Naomi Bloom can operate an iPhone but not an iPad. Go figure.

No good conference is complete without some sort of video so I leave you with this awesome swag video by my good pals Dwane Lay and Paul Smith.


  1. Debbie
    November 20, 2011

    Bravo – great post PDX.

  2. Bill Kutik
    November 20, 2011

    In your Tag Cloud, is my name the same size as Naomi’s or the bigger?

    • Michael Krupa
      November 20, 2011

      HR Technology Conference tag is bigger. Isn’t that what is most important?

      • Bill Kutik
        November 21, 2011

        Never even looked at it. You’re right, but it’s not.

    • Lilian
      December 10, 2011

      Walking in the prseence of giants here. Cool thinking all around!

  3. Victor Canada
    November 27, 2011

    Thanks for the info Michael. The timing works for me. I’ve been wrapping up the fall semester teaching courses and haven’t even read the last couple of issues of HR Executive. When I speak to clients and HR groups, I talk about the opportunity for HR pros to take a leadership role in guiding Social Media.

  4. Alex
    December 9, 2011

    I think this space is going to grow even larger as more cloud applications are finding their way onto the pages of search everyday. Web based technologies are just getting started and the HR industry is bound to see more systems.