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Bits and Bytes from HRTech 2015: Four Trends to Watch

HR Trends From HRTECH15 (People enablement, machine learning, big data, moving to the cloud)

Four major trends emerged from the whirl of words and data that was this year’s Human Resource Technology Conference and Exposition (HR Tech) in Las Vegas, held Oct. 18-21. In the months to come many, if not most, HR leaders will confront the challenges of enabling employees, machine learning, big data, and moving information to the “cloud.”

Enabling Employees

Most organizations tout performance management and consider it a critical part of strategic success. But moving from performance management to employee enablement may produce even more value. This approach encourages managers to remove barriers to getting the job done — barriers such as bureaucracy, systems, or conflicting demands.

Because even the most dedicated employees will lose heart if they consistently face resistance, enabling your workforce is as important as fulfilling your tax obligations. Motivated people work harder. Enhanced productivity drives revenue. Are you enabling your employees to maximize their skills and achieve their goals?

Machine Learning

Numerous HR Tech speakers addressed a new era of technology. Not only are we using computers to sort, refine, and process data, we’re asking computers to think about data and make predictions. So says Peter Capelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, writing for Human Resource Executive Online. This leap is machine learning — designing programs to examine data and find patterns that allow a computer to draw conclusions. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will spread across all segments of society.

Why is machine learning the next big thing in HR? Because, Capelli says, it may find valuable predictors in employee hiring that affect a company’s success. “… machine learning … is theory-free and assumption-free. It just looks for patterns in the data, and it uses different techniques from what had commonly been used in statistics to find the clearest patterns.” Capelli cautions, however, that “machine learning produces facts, rather than conclusions. It tells us ‘X is related to Y,’ but not why they are related.” Human analysis is still needed.

Don’t Fear Big Data

Don’t be afraid of big data. HR leaders have to embrace it. But you need the tools to make it accessible. Big data in HR means having the breadth and depth of information to perform predictive analyses about the workforce.

Collecting, studying, and dissecting big data requires particular expertise. Most firms wanting what big data can yield will have to hire statisticians, project managers, and other specialists. A Forbes article on big data in HR noted that “high-performing analytics teams have multidisciplinary skills” including business understanding, consulting acumen, data visualization, data management, statistics, and executive presence. Thus, high-level analytics may be restricted to major companies able to support such teams and the technology they need. Nevertheless, smaller firms can always benefit from mining their data on a smaller scale.

Moving Data to the Cloud

As digital data replaces paper-based files, companies increasingly look to the “cloud” for information storage. The cloud is essentially the Internet: an electronic storeroom hosted offsite that permits 24/7 access to your data. Human resource departments, typically file-intensive, benefit from cloud storage in cost savings, efficiency, and staffing.

Moving HR data to the cloud:

  • Removes the need for in-house servers and staff to maintain information on site;
  • Allows access to your data via a Web browser, with a user-friendly interface;
  • Gives authorized employees around-the-clock access to data from any location with an Internet connection;
  • Obviates the need for voluminous paper files and the space to store them;
  • Frees data-entry staff to devote time to other work;
  • May allow a reduction in HR staff;
  • Means data are automatically backed up and electronically secured; and
  • Makes data instantly available for analysis.

Chief HR officers at HR Tech tweeted thoughts on moving data to the cloud, such as:

> perspectives on implementing cloud. 1of3. You don't have to make all decisions upfront. Going to cloud is continuous#CHRO #hrtechconf

— Lexy Martin (@lexymartin) October 19, 2015 @lexymartin


>When listing requirements for RFP process, forget the laundry list and focus on the top 8-10 must haves for your business. #HRTechConf

— Tracy Van Auker (@TracyVanAuker) October 19, 2015 @TracyVanAuker


>Perspectives going to cloud. 3of3. Don't underestimate integration, stay involved every day; don't underestimate journey #CHRO #HRTechConf

— Lexy Martin (@lexymartin) October 19, 2015 again posted by @lexymartin


You may already be addressing one, several, or all of these trends — enabling employees, machine learning, big data, and moving information to the cloud. If not, jumping on them might give your company an edge in a competitive world. But alas, there’s no chance to rest. As conference speaker Mark Stelzner, founder and managing principal of IA HR noted, “The pace of change and change management is relentless, and forever.”


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