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Top Sessions at 2016 HR Tech


What’s hot at this year’s Human Resource (HR) Executive Technology Conference and Exposition? Attendees at the big event in Chicago, Oct. 4-9, had a wealth of informative sessions from which to choose. These topics drew big crowds:

  • Making a business case for human resources;
  • Applying technology for strategic talent acquisition;
  • The role of HR in 2022;
  • Leveraging new technologies;
  • The employer value proposition;
  • Engaging and retaining talent for the future; and
  • The future of HR data analytics.

Read on for summaries of these dynamite presentations.

“The Business Case for HR is Getting Harder…What Can You Do About It?”

Presenter: Brian Sommer, CEO, TechVentive and Vital Analysis

For years, HR leaders justified new HR technology with gains in productivity and labor savings. But how much more productivity can you gain after you've re-automated payroll for the third time? To build an HR case for the future, Sommer says, recognize that the risks, opportunities and challenges of your field have changed. You need to understand technology and apply it's capabilities. How will new HR technology drive strategic advantage for the business?

To justify ongoing investment in HR technology, Sommer said, HR managers need to establish department goals, know the processes to hone, create a vision and marshal internal support. Identify the improvements you want in HR technology and research what’s available. To justify upgrades to top leaders, tie the investment to corporate goals — think strategically.

Sommer cautioned that complexity in automation is not an asset. He advises reducing systems diversity, lowering IT technical debt, shrinking the size of on-premises systems and reducing the number of software interfaces and integrations. Shifting more solutions to the cloud can break the cycle of deferred upgrades and refocus IT development resources on strategic activities.

"Are you here to optimize your HR transactions, or are you here to optimize your organization's outcomes?" Brian Sommer, #HRTechConf

— Phillip Evans (@pmke) October 5, 2016

“Transforming HR: Leveraging Cutting-Edge SaaS Technology for Strategic Talent Acquisition”

Presenter: Mike Brown, vice president, Talent Acquisition Americas, Human Resources

Describing the evolution of the talent acquisition process used by client company Siemens, a worldwide enterprise, Brown noted how recruiting has changed since the advent of technology. Today’s HR managers must rely on the talent community, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, “pipelining,” and market intelligence.

Brown’s team used a software-as-a-service (SaaS) tool to identify ways that Siemens lost potential job candidates. The team then determined three areas in which to invest in technology — candidate relationship management, employee referral program, and recruiting events.

The role of the recruiter and her/his expertise must adapt to the behavior of today’s job-seeker, Brown notes. Teams at Siemens needed to be able to share candidate pipelines and fill jobs globally. The SaaS tool helped them redefine recruiting service across the enterprise. Because the system is flexible, it boosted Siemens’ recruiting agility and strategic talent acquisition.

The takeaways:

  • Link the technology solution to your HR strategy to get leadership buy-in;
  • Keep all communication channels open;
  • Create an agile project structure with the right people;
  • Use social media to create a grassroots movement; and
  • Never forget the end users: the recruiters.

“Looking into the Future: The Role of HR in 2022”

Multiple speakers

This panel with five HR experts comprised:

  • George Atkinson, senior client partner, Human Resources Center of Expertise, Korn Ferry;
  • Jorge Diaz, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Fleetmatics;
  • Cynthia Hiskes, chief human resources officer,;
  • Mike Rude, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Option Care; and
  • Edward Baker-Greene, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, FactSet.

The group emphasized the force of technology in HR today, noting that:

  • Data are everywhere — 80 percent of CEOs see data analytics as important to their business, but only 46 percent use them to provide insight into workforce deployment.
  • Mobile is everywhere — More than 7 billion mobile devices worldwide drive 40 percent of internet traffic, but fewer than 20 percent of companies deploy HR solutions via online applications.
  • HR processes continue to be outsourced and automated — 42 percent of organizations plan to outsource in-house HR systems with cloud-based ones.
  • Technology continues to drive recruitment — 78 percent of CEOs report their company uses multiple channels (including online and social) to find talent, 89 percent of recruiters report having hired someone via LinkedIn, and 30 percent of Google searches are employment-related.

Therefore, HR leaders must become more strategic, providing their employers with data-driven value, panelists said. Organizations using HR analytics are:

  • Twice as likely to improve their recruiting and leadership pipeline;
  • Three times as likely to see cost or efficiency gains; and
  • Three-and-a-half times as likely to get the right people in the right jobs.

In addition, the panel said, companies with talent management reporting and analytics achieve:

  • An 11 percent or higher increase in profits; and
  • A 6 percent improvement in per-employee revenue.

Technology also benefits prospective employees, as they can get in-depth information about businesses that are hiring. And a LinkedIn study found that employer branding and employee referral programs matter when recruiting talent. Accordingly:

  • 59 percent of organizations are investing more in their employer brand;
  • 26 percent consider employee referral programs a long-lasting trend; and
  • Social professional networks (43 percent), internet job boards (42 percent), and employee referral programs (32 percent) are the key sources of quality hires.

The panelists pointed out that 75 percent of people who had recently changed jobs used LinkedIn to inform their decision.

“Hash it Out!”

Presenters: Naomi Bloom, managing partner, Bloom & Wallace; Bill Kutik, HR executive and host, Firing Line with Bill Kutik; and Brian Sommer, CEO, TechVentive and Vital Analysis

This panel discussion aimed to help attendees apply new technologies, get a sense of what’s coming down the road and take away something useful to implement at the office. Hot topics covered included:

 Integration — Few companies have their software applications entirely fully integrated, said Bloom. Full integration occurs only when all software is developed by the same provider (and same coder) across the board.

  • Second-generation cloud — Bloom said that modern software is driven less by code and more by metadata.
  • Data analytics — The HR team must know how to use them or they’re no good.
  • Employee engagement — Sommer said that 66 percent of workers leave a company because of their boss, not the business. Bloom tied engagement to compensation: Are employers paying employee enough so they can be engaged?
  • Changing workforce — There’s so much emphasis now on the millennial generation, but what about the aging workforce? What tools could cater to them? Most technology solutions are millennial-driven.
  • Good workforce planning in light of artificial intelligence or robotics — Bloom said her planning approach hasn’t changed. Her steps:

1. What needs to be done?

2.  Should our company do it internally or should we go third party?

3.  If internally, what’s the best way of getting it done?

a.  Create a team/individual committed to the job? Full-time?

b.  Rely on a part-timer?

c.  Hire a contingent worker to save on benefits, etc., while not losing much in the way  of labor?

d. Can a machine do it?

 Sommer said that changes are coming via AI and robotics, and HR needs to be ready.

“The Employer Value Proposition: What the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) Needs to Know”

Presenters: Madeline Laurano, co-founder, Aptitude Research Partners, and Trish McFarlane, CEO and co-founder, H3HR Advisors

Your employer value proposition (EVP), or why someone wants to work for you, should clearly define your organization’s culture, employee experience, employer brand, and work environment. Once owned by marketing and communication departments, EVP and employer branding now fall under HR and talent acquisition functions. A strong, descriptive EVP, supported by the employer brand, helps companies attract talent and simplifies the task of sourcing candidates.

The EVP used to be simply about the benefits your company offers. Now it’s more about the relationship between employer and employee. The EVP has changed because we:

  • Know what employees think about our organization via channels such as social media, and opinion amalgamation sites such as Glassdoor.
  • Can obtain and act on real-time data. We now can say, “Hey, C-suite, there’s an issue.”
  • Can outsource HR functions and hire consultants for project work.
  • Live in an experience economy — The employee experience trickles down to the customer experience, so you want it to be a good one.
  • Recognize that expectations have changed — Employees have started to level the playing field with expectations of their employers.

To develop employer branding, gather feedback from employees. Solicit worker perspectives any way you can. For example, establish free online groups for staff, perhaps through sites such as LinkedIn. Compile all the positive ways to look at your organization and broadcast them to employees. Ensure that staff contributes to the brand message so workers are more likely to embrace and share it. The EVP is a collaboration between the company and its workers.

The EVP goes well beyond recruiting. Don’t stop communicating after the hire. Dissect the employee life cycle and determine how EVP works throughout that life cycle.

When you’re able to define, communicate, and apply the EVP and organizational brand, your company can compete for the most sought-after talent.

Standout session tweet:

47% of employees don't open emails from HR. Don't fall back on email, use video & other methods - @TrishMcFarlane @Madtarquin #HRTechConf

— Brian Halligan (@brianhalligan) October 6, 2016

General Session: “Engaging and Retaining the Talent of Tomorrow”

Presenters: Soledad O’Brien, CEO, Starfish Media Group; Dermot O’Brien, CEO, ADP; Diane Gherson, CHRO, IBM; Scott Pitasky, EVP and chief partner resources officer, Starbucks; and Francine Katsoudas, SVP, Chief People Officer, Cisco Systems

How do you embrace — and leverage — generational, demographic, and technological shifts to shape your corporate culture and ensure its ongoing success? Organizations are adjusting their labor composition to address changes in workforce vitality and the evolution of employee expectations.

CHROs need to assemble a diverse leadership team with a balanced portfolio of practical and disruptive individuals. It’s important to include members of different generations, as baby boomers, generation Xers and millennials all bring distinct viewpoints to the table.

HR leaders need to gather staff feedback on a regular basis. Rather than an annual employee engagement questionnaire, use “pulse” surveys throughout the year. Analyze the sentiment of the results, as well quantifying the numbers. Delivering measureable business results is important, but qualitative aspects of performance are just as critical.

American businesses are seeing a shift in the concept of leadership, too. The panel asked attendees to consider “tandem talent,” rather than a single head honcho in charge of everything. The HR mentality is shifting, as well, moving from a one-size-fits-all perspective to a one-size-fits-one outlook.

Technology is driving a change in where people work. Increasingly, staff work at home or in other remote sites. What does that do to collaboration, teamwork, and brainstorming? The panel noted that technology can bring teams together from anywhere in the world, but is that really as good as physically working side by side?

“The Evolution and Future of HR Analytics Technology”

Presenters: Al Adamsen, founder and executive director, Talent Strategy Institute; Peter Howes, vice president, workforce planning and analytics, SAP SuccessFactors; Karen Minicozzi, vice president, HCM product strategy, Workday; Brian Kelly, senior director, strategy, Ultimate Software; Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer, Visier; and Morné Swart, vice president, global product strategy and transformational leader, SumTotal

Data analytics for HR is no longer a new idea, but many organizations still struggle to take a more investigative approach to HR, talent and workforce management. The panel members concurred that:

  • Analytics should be used to make effective decisions and provide insights to the management team;
  • HR leaders should commit to understanding the diversity of analytics and what they could mean for your organization; and
  • Before diving into data analysis, determine what information makes the most sense for your organization. Then arm smart people with relevant, insightful analytics to promote data-driven decisions.

The panel cautioned listeners to understand the differences among descriptive, predictive and prescriptive data. Descriptive data analytics are essentially reporting — what happened in the past. Predictive data analytics yield actionable insights — estimations regarding the likelihood of future outcomes. Prescriptive analytics foresee what will happen, when it will happen and why it will happen. These results also provide recommendations for action.

The future of HR data analytics should be to learn how your employees contribute to the organization. That’s going beyond what we focus on now: their demographics and their productivity.


You may already be addressing one, several or all of these issues in your company. If so, or if you see these challenges in your near future, remember that Paychex is a valuable resource for HR technology, talent acquisition, data analysis, and in-depth information about the strategic role of HR.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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