Top 5 Trends Spotted at the 2018 HR Technology Conference and Expo

by Mammoth Team on September 14, 2018


Several Mammoth team members attended the 2018 HR Technology Conference and Expo this week to identify new industry trends. Here are five of the top trends we observed.

1. AI is the new “Cloud”

Remember when seemingly every tech-related company was touting their cloud-based solution? Well, it turned out that the “cloud” was really just someone else’s computer. So, enter the age of Artificial Intelligence.

From sophisticated machine learning to predictive analytics and variations in between, nearly everywhere you looked at HR Tech this year, vendors were promoting their version of AI. Some showed off  software designed to make it easier and faster for people to get HR answers, others promoted recruiting tools aimed at screening applicants more efficiently, and then there were the programs designed to leverage AI in order to make employees more productive. In our observations, “AI” simply meant using data to help the customer get more out of the platforms they’re on.

While many of these products were impressive and may indeed deliver on their common theme of creating more workplace efficiencies, most vendors we spoke with admitted that a human element was still necessary. In one example, we spoke with a vendor whose product is designed to quickly deliver via chatbot answers to common HR questions employees might have – think “How many PTO hours do I have?” or “What’s the company 401(k) match?” The program in question was adept at handling those sorts of queries. But when the questions became more complex, the system would escalate it to a live human to address.

Examples like this were more the norm than the exception with many of the AI tools we checked out. Which may explain this tongue-in-cheek display from vendor Insperity.

HR Tech 2018

2. All roads lead to Employee Engagement

There were more than 400 exhibitors at the show this year. It’s safe to say a large chunk of those were promoting some version of an employee engagement tool. The feature sets included employee survey benchmarking, peer to peer recognition tools, gamification to pass along real-time kudos, progress reporting to demonstrate (ideally) increases in engagement over time, and more. While each vendor we spoke with had slightly different features and approaches, their end goal was the same: increase employee engagement and make companies more productive.

Equally interesting was a trend among non-engagement tools being promoted as solutions to the engagement problem. Everyone seemed to want to say that their technology would boost engagement, from HRIS tools to applicant tracking systems, and payroll to timekeeping. In one case, an app allowing employees to access their pay in advance of payday was being hailed as a way to boost engagement. The message being sent was: no matter your starting point, the endpoint right now seems to be employee engagement.

The proliferation of engagement tools isn’t new, however. It’s been steadily on the rise over the past several years. But here’s the sticky part. Despite the rise in engagement software solutions, employee engagement itself has remained stagnant. According to Gallup, in the last 15 years, engagement among the U.S. workforce has increased just 4% -- to only 35% overall. Will one of the new tools at this year’s show crack the engagement code and help move the needle? Or with the AI tools, is the missing component a human element that can take the engagement numbers and help implement programs resulting in lasting outcomes?


 3. Integrations remain the wild west

We asked a lot of vendors a simple question: “How well does your tool integrate with other programs and software?” The unanimous answer was something along the lines of “extremely well. We designed it to easily integrate.”

But what does that mean? We found that it was a case of extremes. One on end, you had the “there’s no coding involved” solutions. Simply place their embed code (or some simple code) on your site or platform, tag what you want to track, and their system does the rest.

On the other end, APIs were commonplace. While many vendors offered this as an integration option, the big question is always “whose API will be built against?” In most cases, we found that the integration would require builds against the vendors’ API, rather than the other way around.

In the middle, there were the “common tool” integrators. Their tools would integrate with office software already commonly used, such as Microsoft SharePoint. Assuming your organization uses that tool, you could then take advantage of these third party solutions with SharePoint as a sort of hub.

The key theme was that there is very little standardization and a lot of redundant effort.

Integrations are seldom one-size-fits-all, so it’s not surprising to see a wide range of options available. But at least one vendor was promoting a tool aimed at standardizing them in the HR space. It will be interesting to see whether those types of solutions will become more of a focus in years to come.


4. Recruiting & hiring continues to multiply

With unemployment rates at record lows, it was no surprise to see a multitude of hiring, staffing, and onboarding solutions at this year’s show. Some touted AI to better screen candidates and match their qualifications to job descriptions, ostensibly identifying only those candidates who would qualify for an interview. Others promised robust tracking and reporting to identify at which stage during the hiring process candidates may drop off voluntarily – after the initial screening call, the first interview, after a discussion about benefits, etc. The idea being to spot trends and recommend adjustments if necessary.

But getting great candidates in the door is just part of the equation. Retaining those new hires is just as important. That’s where the onboarding solutions come in. Research shows that most new hires make up their minds in the first 30 days whether to stay with the company or look for something else. So a robust and thoughtful onboarding process can be critical. Some of the onboarding tools we saw offered best practices for what to do pre-hire, how to structure the employees first week (think beyond making sure they have a computer and a desk), post-hire checkins, and even how to map out their entire first year journey! Again, a common theme with all of these solutions: the software can help design the journey, but people are going to make the journey reality.


5. Platforms investing heavily in employee UX

In a victory for… let’s say nearly everyone, the days of software devoid of easy-to-use design elements and intuitive user interfaces is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Vendors at this year’s show in large part understood the need for great user experiences for employees and that was evident in many of the solutions on display. After all, if a tool is hard to use or understand, getting your employees to adopt it will be that much tougher.

But there may be a catch… These benefits are in large part intended for the employee’s benefit. While employers and HR professionals will reap some of the rewards, such as better reporting, larger data sets, and some standardized design elements, an outstanding question is whether HR practitioners will be left with a somewhat lesser or fragmented experience, since the R&D is being funneled to the employee journey.

This is one trend we’ll be monitoring closely.

Having an engaged workforce results in retention of your top talent - but it also means fewer safety incidents, higher sales, and increased productivity. Watch our webinar to learn how to assess, build and enhance your company's culture, common issues that we've seen, and how to fix them, and incorporating employee development and recognition programs. 

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Topics: Culture

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