HR Tech 2016 Post-Mortem: Was the Elephant in the Room?

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Last week, at the start of HR Tech, I posted this article, The Elephant in the Room at HR Tech: Contingent Workforce, where I raised the question of whether technology for accessing and managing non-employee /contingent workforce would be present at HR Tech.

In the article, I noted that the growth and importance of this external workforce seemed indisputable and, therefore, highly relevant to HR professionals. To make the point, I likened this workforce — and the growing number of technology solutions that businesses use to access and manage it — to the elephant in the room. I also vowed to put on my safari hat and hunt the big game among the exhibitors, speakers, and attendees.

Unfortunately, I ended up going home empty-handed (except for some plush toy tigers). Despite trekking around the conference, remaining alert to anything hiding in the shadows, talking to the natives, and absorbing the wisdom of the village elders, I did not even get a clear shot at the big game, but I did find some tracks that indicated the presence of a huge animal that was probably there --but unseen.

Hunting the Big Game

As discussed in the article mentioned above, out of over 400 exhibitors, there were just a few technology service providers that were mainly focused on non-employee /contingent workforce. Besides VMS Fieldglass (hiding itself somewhere in the SAP Success Factors exhibit), only a few others (including work intermediation platforms like MBO Partners, Wonolo, and Work Market) were standing in the open, but only infrequently sniffed at or ignored altogether by prowling attendees.

When I spoke to attendees, I found that few assigned this alternative labor and talent pool a high priority in their list of interests. Most HR professionals (perhaps with the exception of those in talent acquisition) do not yet view external workforce or related technology solutions as within their purview. Accordingly, whether due to blind spots or anchoring bias, little consciousness-raising about non-employee /contingent workforce seemed to be occurring — neither in the technology exhibit hall nor in the sessions.

A Near Miss

One keynote, “The Digital Imperative: How Networks and Platforms Are Really Transforming HR’s Agenda,” presented by Barry Libert, came close to bringing the elephant into focus by talking about digital platforms and networks, discussing the need for a change in “mental models” and touching on the significance of an external, independent workforce.

But I know Libert could have gone further than he did. And if anyone cares to learn how much more, I definitely recommend reading the section “From Employees to Partners” in the insightful book he co-authored, “The Network Imperative: How to Survive and Grow in the Age of Digital Business Models.”

That section of the book provides an excellent discussion of business' changing relationship with workers. One important reference was to an IBM study “on independent workers, including contractors, freelancers, and consultants [that] found that these non-employees were significantly more engaged than average workers, and nearly at the level of companies’ highest performers.”

Not that all organizations are going to fully adopt the “Hollywood model of employment” which relies predominantly on external labor and talent, but it is clear that most organizations are moving in this direction to a greater or lesser extent (with or without HR’s approval) and there is plenty of data to back that up.

Back to Base Camp

As for myself, I have been an explorer and researcher--turned big game hunter for a few days--who has been focused on investigating and documenting digital work intermediation platforms (like MBO Connect, Work Market, Wonolo and hundreds more like Catalant, Upwork, OneSource, etc.). These days, a growing external/contingent workforce — beyond temps and consulting firm professionals — can be accessed and managed with a broad range of digital work platforms. In a time of skill and talent shortage, on-demand and short-term requirements for expertise or labor services, these platforms can provide new options for sourcing, engaging, and utilizing new pools of talent in new ways.

Learn more about the value of work platforms here:

All that is to say, the elephant might have been — or should have been — unmissable in the room at HR Tech (at least in my humble opinion). The question I walk away with is whether the elephant will return at HR Tech 2017 and, if it does, whether there will be more hunters on safari in search of the big game there.

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Voices (2)

  1. Susan R Richards:

    We were looking for the same thing! I did find more this year than last year but not by much. It makes me wonder how much interest HR really has in this segment of the workforce. Perhaps they are content to leave it to the departmental managers and procurement teams. Maybe I’ll have better luck finding solutions at a supply chain conference.

    1. Andrew Karpie:

      Yes, Susan. If pigs could fly. :-))

      Re: Conferences in the CW area. Staffing Industry Analysts still dominates that area of conferences. VMSA Live is upcoming. Neither technology focused, though. ProcureCon did its first talent related conference this year–very seminal.

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