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October 15, 2013 / Mervyn Dinnen

#HRTechConf – 5 Observations From Across The Pond

HRTech panel

Recently back from Vegas having attended my first HR Technology Conference in the US…a three day extravaganza of exhibitors and demos, content and parties, and most importantly, connections and networking.

I was lucky enough to have an access all areas blogger’s pass so here are some of my random thoughts on what stood out for me as a first time attendee…from a UK perspective, obviously!

1) Its Huge. The Expo was larger than anything I have seen in the UK and the press room alone was big enough to hold a one day conference! Massive scale but still with a personal touch as everyone I came across took the time to network, get to know you and talk enthusiastically about their particular area of expertise/interest.

We’ve all walked round expo floors dodging glances from slick sales people manning the stands and looking to collect business cards and email addresses to help them spam you with messages and calls. I wasn’t sure how this one would go but have to say that every exhibitor I spoke to wanted to engage in a conversation (OK, maybe it was my accent) and talk you through their product, usually displaying a real passion and pride in what they do. That may be because my inbuilt anti-sales radar kept me away from the others.

2) Bloggers Count. At this event bloggers are important. We had our own room, sponsored by Dice, and numbered about 30. I remember Rob Jones writing about how having blogger as opposed to a sales prospect’s job title on his badge at CIPD11 elicited a more ambiguous approach from exhibitors. Not here. Most businesses wanted to engage the bloggers and tell us about their tech and what it could do. They seemed to see us as important conduits of their message. They scheduled meetings with us, made sure we were at all the parties and receptions, sought our views on trends and generally saw us as a valuable, and influential, channel…something UK event organisers should take note of. I really appreciated, and learned from, time spent with Glassdoor, RoundPegg, Success Factors and MTM Recognition.

The impression I got was that bloggers were seen as an important part of the conference and an important link for exhibitors and speakers.

3) Swag and Parties. From some of the blogs I had read covering previous years I was expecting to need an extra suitcase for all the swag on display – I’m a sucker, I really did think there would be t-shirts with slogans like ‘HR chicks/dudes do it better’ ! As it was, amongst the stress balls, pens and flashing party specs I will make use of my Cornerstone on Demand shirt proudly proclaiming that I’m a Millennial at Work (I took a survey, honest) and my limited edition ‘Seize the Night’ Virgin Pulse launch one. Not forgetting my SumTotal iPhone/iPad charger, Glassdoor lip salve, mints and torch/bottle opener key ring, Technomedia USB, Broadbean beer cooler and many more!

The parties…well, I’ve shared what I need to on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter! There were many of them, often 3 or 4 on at the same time, offering part networking and part fun. No expense spared either. My top three were courtesy of Reputation Capital/Blogging4Jobs/Technomedia, Jobvite and Virgin Pulse/Starr Conspiracy. If you really need reasons to go to this conference then the parties are as good a good place as any to start!

4) Content. The actual conference part provided me with a mix of great, good and average. The keynotes from Don Tapscott and Jason Averbrook were excellent. The panel sessions were good value too. Some of the breakout presentations were less insightful though – maybe I was spoiled by attending HRevolution the day before as there was certainly more energy, ideas and insight at that event than in some parts of the larger conference. Will be interesting to see how this shifts with Steve Boese now at the helm of HR Tech.

Of course the real big noises of the content show were that perennial fave ‘talent management’ which jockeyed for overuse with the younger rising star ‘big data’. For me both are default terms that cover for a lack of more interesting conversations…would have been good to have a deeper dive into both these areas particularly with reference to the end user. We heard how both Amazon and LinkedIn know more about employees than their employer does but no real insight as to the relevance and impact of this.

For me the three most interesting, and encouraging, technologies at the event were about sourcing & candidate identification, using social reach and conversations to provide something a lot deeper – Dice’s Open Web, and two emerging businesses that didn’t exhibit but were certainly active participants in the conversations – eitalent and entelo.

5) Connections and Conversations. This was a huge part of the conference experience and one of the strongest. Some really great conversations and insights were shared, with the opportunity to have face time with many people who are often just avatars on a social networking platform, being a particular highlight. It’s difficult to put a value on this kind of interaction, but I know that this part made the whole trip worthwhile for me.

As you may have gathered, I enjoyed the experience. The interactions, insights and social aspects were hugely important. Technology is an enabler, a delivery platform that is now embedded in almost every action that HR and Recruiters take on a daily basis. From payroll to on-boarding, rewards to succession planning every professional needs to understand how technology can help deliver an improved and enhanced service, and experience, to current, past and future employees, managers and directors.

This event was a great place to start – I’m planning on coming back next year!

(Image from Trish McFarlane)

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