HR Technology Conference preview: Reality check for social, cloud HR?

The HR tech show may draw the biggest crowd in its 15 years. Four speakers discuss hot topics, key sessions and reasons for the spike in attendance.

With the 15th annual HR Technology Conference just two days away, the buzz in the air suggests this year's event will be teeming with discussions about cloud, mobile and social HR -- and users anxious to find practical uses for these much-hyped technologies.

"This year marks an inflection point in HR technology, maybe even the end of one era and the beginning of another," Bill Kutik, technology columnist and conference co-chair, wrote on the event's website. With mega-vendors scrambling to build out their human capital management platforms and the rapid migration of HR technology to the cloud, Kutik's comment might not be overblown.

In a year of hot topics then, which are going to be the key issues? In conversations with four experts who will be speaking at the conference, one thing became clear -- there's going to be a lot on the table.

Hot topics of HR Technology Conference 2012

Several speakers named social and mobile tools as focal points. "I think last year we saw a lot of interest in social and mobile applications and HR is looking for answers on how to get there," said Yvette Cameron, principal analyst at Constellation Research, based in Monta Vista, Calif. "So I think this year's conference is going to focus a lot on that, answering the questions of: What are the steps to take? What are the business benefits? Is it hype or is it really adding value?" Cameron will present a session on social HR tools.

Thomas Koulopoulos, who will be delivering the opening keynote, mentioned an increased focus on the back end of HR, a trend towards community management that considers one of the driving factors in Oracle's recent acquisition of SelectMinds.

"The trend I'm going to talk about, which I see as a defining one, is this back end of HR," he said. "What happens after the exit interview -- that last day a person is on the job? The answer has typically been they're going to get another job and then they're someone else's HR responsibility." Koulopoulos, president and co-founder of Delphi Group, located in Andover, Mass., said a new challenge for HR departments is figuring out how to maintain a community of former employees to create "roles that keep getting and giving value."

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Josh Bersin, CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based consultancy Bersin & Associates, said HR analytics will receive increased attention. "HR as a business area is [lagging] behind marketing, sales and supply chain in terms of analytics, but the amount of data is huge. Lots of the talent management companies are releasing analytics tools that will allow you to instantly look at your workforce," he said.

Bersin will be leading two sessions: one a discussion of mobile HR, and another unveiling his latest research on learning management systems. "It's a hot time in HR technology," he said.

One of the most anticipated sessions is Naomi Bloom's "master panel" on bringing HR into the cloud, which will bring executives from ADP, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce.com and Workday together on the same stage. "That's the one I'm most looking forward to," Cameron said.

Bersin agreed. "As an analyst, I like to listen to the vendors talk a little bit. I'm interested to hear how they position themselves against each other."

Mark Hurd, president of Oracle, will speak on the final morning of the conference. This presentation is one of the highlights for Koulopoulos. "I really want to see what Mark Hurd has to say. He has a tremendous amount of responsibility to help define what this future landscape is going to look like for HR," he said. "He's also got some unique insights about what it takes to be a company that you want to work for that can create a true community of workers."

HR Technology Conference 2012 could draw record attendance

This year's event is expected to break attendance records, according to conference organizers. The analysts speculated on why 2012 could be a peak year for attendance, and came up with several reasons.

Bersin cited the improving economy, and the fact that many companies are in the market to replace legacy systems. "The economy is picking up and we're in a replacement cycle," he said. "There will be lots of buying going on. Companies often come to this conference to check out one of the vendors they're talking to, and it's one of the only shows where the vendor's executives will be there."

Marcia Conner, principal analyst at Sensify in Staunton, Va., mentioned a trend towards companies striving to market themselves as desirable workplaces for the younger generation. "I'm hearing that companies are not only looking at how to retain the talent they have, but also what they're doing to be a workplace of choice for new employees," she said. Conner will deliver the conference's closing keynote.

Cameron espoused a similar view. "Organizations are being pressured by new workers with new expectations -- the workforce is moving from knowledge-based workers to interaction-based workers," she said. "The pressures are so dramatic now that companies have to start looking for answers, and [the conference] is the perfect place to find them."

And while there will be plenty of vendors in attendance, several sessions take a company-focused approach and concentrate on how businesses like Aéropostale, McDonald's and Four Seasons have used technology to improve their HR function. "It makes a lot of sense to learn the best practices of what people are doing and hearing not from the vendors, but from the people," Conner said.

Follow SearchFinancialApplications.com's coverage of the 2012 HR Technology Conference.

Emma Snider is the associate site editor for SearchFinancialApplications.com. Follow her on Twitter: @emmajs24.

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