Lessons from HR Tech: Apply Talent, Human Capital Management to Procurement

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This week saw 8,000 human capital (HR) technology vendors, consultants and investors converge on Chicago for the Human Resource Executive Technology Conference and Exhibition. From Spend Matters, Andrew Karpie and Kendra Cato attended the event. I had the chance to go to a cocktail party hosted by HR tech analyst goddess extraordinaire, mensch, and fellow Enterprise Irregular, Naomi Bloom, following the event yesterday.

I’ll leave the praises and critiques of the show to those who spent time there (I got an earful yesterday from folks). More important, from my perspective, are learnings from analysts, practitioners and consultants I spoke to last night while playing the fool about total talent management and human capital management (I really don’t know very much at all about this corner of the corporate universe, especially from a technology perspective, except its intersections with services procurement).

Those involved in human resources – let’s just call it HR for simplicity – tend to be much more outgoing than those in procurement, and many are great conversationalists – and most have a perspective that you can get them to share. So I asked the same question to a bunch of folks I met: what’s new in the area, what are takeaways for procurement, finance and supply chain?

The responses were fascinating. Here are just a few:

  • While AI, machine learning and big data are still well, “big,” there’s a new emphasis on the human element of talent management and human capital management again. In a truly digital age, how can we best engage, connect and tap our sources of talent? How do we become more human in our interactions – both face-to-face and online? Of course this is self-serving for HR to make this point, but it’s worthy of debate, at least. The big lesson for procurement here: we can’t digitize our suppliers and our stakeholders – engagement and collaboration should always be a priority. But how best to do it?
  • Talent sources are still coming from multiple directions and this is only expanding. We’re creating more silos based on where talent resides (or how we can achieve outcomes) rather than bringing them together. HR does not necessarily understand the “platform” model to bring together these different sources – both technology platforms and even “HR” as a platform in and of itself. The takeaway for procurement: is there an opportunity to consolidate contingent and permanent workforce sources and suppliers through different platforms, crowdsourcing, talent marketplaces, peer-to-peer and other models. When we can make the argument around “expenditure” and “outcomes” it becomes more of a procurement one, and less of an HR-led one.
  • Does HR want to change? Is it willing to get out of its general comfort zone and functional focus – e.g., recruiting, on-boarding, training, talent development, compliance, review/performance. There’s also the question of how technology can support areas across this continuum versus silos within it – and how HR interfaces with the rest of the business. There are actually some great lessons in here for procurement. For example, a sourcing effort or sourcing module should not just serve a category manager, but should emphasize collaboration with business stakeholders and suppliers outside of basic requirements definitions, data collection, etc.
  • Labor spend portfolios (my language) and the interplay between different sources of talent are getting more attention. How we think about all aspects of talent, whether it’s sourced from internal (full-time), alumni, consultants, outsourcers, staffing firms, contractors, freelancers or outcomes-based (e.g., Mechanical Turk) sources is mattering more. There’s no question about it. Yet we are poorly equipped from an HR perspective to enable this sort of portfolio management today. The takeaway for procurement: how we can help piece together what my colleague Peter Smith refers to as “External Resource Management” or, as someone mentioned to me yesterday, “External Outcomes Management,” more effectively.
  • Technology that sits on the shelf is not valuable. I had a fascinating discussion with one of the world’s experts on human capital technology who has been working on how best to drive adoption and usability of different capabilities within a large technology company. I’m looking forward to sharing more on this later, once we can get at the details, but the big lesson for procurement is that regardless of how we segment solution use – e.g., 100 “power users” within procurement, 1,000 other users and/or the rest of the business – getting broader adoption of what we’ve purchased already, in theory, could drive much more value than buying anything new for at least a few years. But how best to do it?

What do you think? On a personal level, talking to human capital / talent management experts is more fun than talking to other procurement ones, simply because the perspectives are so different and the lessons learned we can apply to our part of the corporate universe — not to mention supply chain and AP, treasury, internal audit and other finance areas as well — are so numerous. Learning from others and stepping outside our comfort zone as procurement professionals is such a valuable exercise.

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