Three Big Changes to Discuss at HR Technology Conference & Expo

I think of the annual HR Technology Conference & Expo, starting today, as the center of gravity for our industry. Vendors showcase their latest and greatest, and customers come to budget and plan for the coming year. As always, it’s a great place to see old friends and make new ones.

This morning, Workday Co-CEO and Co-Founder Dave Duffield will join Lisa Blair Davis, VP of HR Operations at Johnson & Johnson, to talk about her company’s move to a common human resources platform for 130,000 employees worldwide. Tomorrow I’ll be a “guest” on “The HR Tonight Show Starring Bill Kutik” (which actually takes place in the morning, but we can pretend, can’t we?). The band Wrokday will perform, comprised of super-talented Workday employees who went all the way to the semi-finals of the Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands last year.

So we know we’ll have fun. But what I’m most interested in talking about at the conference is the amazing role HR technology plays in helping businesses navigate the massive amount of change they face in today’s world. Now more than ever, the solutions our industry puts forward must support customers’ ability to not just navigate change and the uncertainty it brings, but develop strong strategies for using change to their benefit. Consider three big changes now underway:

Regulatory Change. In just the past several months, I-9 documentation and other immigration requirements have come into focus, Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was repealed, and the Affordable Care Act—in addition to being at the center of a federal government shutdown—continues to be a moving target for employers. Enrollment started last week for state health insurance marketplaces, and HR departments have been knee deep in reconfiguring benefits and communicating changes to employees. And that’s just the U.S.! In the U.K., a new law went into effect last year requiring automatic enrollment in pensions, with compliance requirements staggered through 2017. At Workday, we believe the enterprise software industry must deliver solutions that are adaptable and flexible so our customers can best manage these changes. Customers must be able to update their systems to immediately support new regulations and reconfigure business processes as needed without putting their IT departments through extended fire drills. And we believe HR software and underlying system architectures must be built—from the very beginning—to support and adapt to change.

Business Change. As businesses change—mergers, divestures, new product launches and units, and restructurings—they must have the right leadership and talent in place to reap success on the other side of these new strategies. Whether it is team building, communication, or hard technical skills, they will not move forward without the right mix of skills at the right time. It’s imperative to understand the competencies of workers they have now to better understand how and where to invest in the workers they’ll need. Deep visibility is key, which is why analytics has to be available to both HR and line-of-business managers. Analytics must be a core capability within the HR system and accessible from the devices people use every day and draw from real-time workforce and financial data. Only then can visibility be relevant.

Workforce Change. Recent college grads come into the workforce, take a look at the traditional software and hardware they’re supposed to use and ask, “Are you kidding me?” Yet even those of us who’ve been in the workforce awhile have changed how we use technology—10 years ago it was flip phones with antennas; now we expect our mobile devices to take videos and deliver activity streams. We shop and do banking online with alerts coming at us at the right moment in each transaction. An organization’s HR technology has to be current with the technology expectations its workforce has as consumers, or it will fail to engage them. Pushing HR technology from the dark ages stops engagement dead in its tracks. Less engagement means less contribution, less communication, and less insight. Not only does that hold the business back, but top talent has no use for laggards—they’ll leave for employers that know how to operate in today’s world.

I expect there will be passionate discussions around these topics and more at the HR Technology Conference & Expo, and it’s a great place to have them. Although Bill Kutik is retiring from the co-chair job this year, I know he’s not going anywhere, and we’ll all continue to benefit from his prickly yet always astute observations of our industry. With this conference he has created an institution, and place where we’ll continue learn, share, and discuss what’s most critical to human resources organizations.