The Catch Up: Views on HR Technology.

I have been writing HR Technology Conference related preview posts for 8 years now. This realization depresses me. The best years of my life have been spent on, well, this.

The nice thing, though, is that nothing has really changed since the first one of these I went to all the way back in 2009 except there were around 2000 attendees back then.

This number has skyrocketed, obviously, as we’ve moved from a lazy business backwater into the hipster neighborhood for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

Started From The Bottom.


Back then, hiring was broken, and businesses needed to win the war for talent, and prepare for a future with Gen Y in the C Suite and job elimination through automation. Of course, at the time, that sounded as futuristic as self-driving cars or virtual reality, both of which are, of course, emerging as mainstream technologies

Somehow, this was accomplished in the same time SAP went from R3 to R4, or around the same time the last Taleo Business Edition update shipped, which depresses me greatly.

We are living in the steampunk Spacely Sprockets of industries, a place where the futureand the past collide in a shit show of stasis and stargazing. We talk a lot about artificial intelligence, yet almost no enterprise employer even has a standardized, structured or repeatable selection process.

We talk a lot about big data, but still shell over hundreds of millions of bucks for job postings online, which is basically paying an idiot tax for not knowing how to just buy your own damn AdWords, by the way.

And don’t get me started on employer brand. Sigh.

Bling Hotline.

tumblr_mul2rhm3at1r6l1yto1_1280This year, like in 2009, the HR Technology Conference will kick off at McCormick Place, and it will feature obscenely expensive, over the top booths from some of the behemoths of the industry: IBM, SAP, Oracle, Deloitte and their ilk will inevitably be in prime real estate that costs more per square foot than midtown Manhattan or the Ginza district.

They will have like two dozen awkward AF dudes in branded polos and pleated black pants sitting in front of little monitors or behind stacks of one sheets, avoiding eye contact. They will have stupid swag like ballpoint pens or stress balls they won’t be able to give away come closing time.

And they will spend boucoup bucks on wining, dining and resigning their best customers, those big brands who don’t realize that they’re the ones who paid for that really amazing bottle of wine through exorbitant margins and service fees, of course.

When you’re spending other people’s money, your tolerance for bullshit goes way up. This is good news if you’re a vendor, since what most companies exhibiting at the HR Technology Conference will not have, however, is any real product updates or news beyond some specious survey or manufactured story about how they’re changing the world of work or redefining the way companies find people.

The executives change, but for some reason, they say the same thing.

Every. Single. Year.

Fire & Desire.


If you want to know why recruiting is broken, it’s because everyone’s too busy talking about candidate experience or having their TA Leaders trotted out to tell the story of how some technology they haven’t actually used saved them time, money or whatever other outcome it is that their customer success story is emphasizing as a selling point.


Of course, this infomercial on infinite loop is a best practice, mind you, because obviously the only way to disrupt, innovate or buzzword of your choice is by doing the same thing as, say, Alcoa or GE or any one of the companies as boring as the Accenture or Workday solutions they’re touting in these sponsored sessions.

Hey, it’s not easy to stay irrelevant in this market – you have to blow your marketing budget on trade shows and direct mail and user conferences in order to make sure you properly penetrate the market with that message about automation and digital transformation.

Hold On, We’re Going Home.

drake-outragedDon’t get me wrong, there’s huge value for these vendors at HR Tech. Where else are they going to be able to corner you IRL into renewing a contract for some tool that’s about as anachronistic as talking about “mobile” or “social media.”

Like, dude, you have had a smart phone with Facebook on it for going on a decade now, why is this a trending topic around here?

But I digress.

What A Time To Be Alive.


My point is not to knock #HRTechConf. In fact, for partnerships, channel sales, really high value clients or simply face-to-face meetings, it’s the best conference in the world, hands down.

If you want to buy technology in this space, it’s more or less got the biggest inventory out there, and spending a couple days talking to companies and looking at product sure beats having to go through the traditional sales cycle.

So this isn’t an affront to the HR Technology Conference, by any means, but rather, the industry in which they are the established market leader. As such, every year it’s a reaffirmation of just how little things have changed.

Except, of course, for my hairline, waist size and tolerance for bullshit. And, spoiler alert, there’s going to be a lot of that again this year, too.

Including this post.

4 Comments on “The Catch Up: Views on HR Technology.”

  1. Matt, best to avoid phrases like “nothing has really changed” when your core competency is Talent Acquisition and HR Tech (let alone the field of HR technology) has nine other tracks. Also, remember that to some of us, nine years is not a long perspective. Thanks for making it short enough to read, which I much enjoy.

    • You’re obviously right, and you’re also the best evidence that in fact there have been a few changes to HR Tech after all. Just the conference more than the industry, which I tried to clearly delineate in a draft that’s so short only because it was a lead to another post that ran long. All roads lead to Rome (and run-on sentences).

  2. Matt, I’ll come to your defense on the 9 years point: it may not seem long to Bill, but I’ve also been in this space for much longer than that, and you’re quite right that things haven’t iterated nearly as fast in HR Tech as other tech, and you are right to be frustrated and pissed about it. Fortunately, the barrier to entry has dropped with the introduction of APIs to facilitate use of Big Data in recruiting and the increased attention/$ flow of VCs to the space. The laws that protect and separate candidates from prospects slow innovation but won’t stop it. A new generation of HR analytics-minded recruiting types are entering the workforce. In a few years, once they move into positions of influence, they will insist on and implement the solutions that finally help HR catch up with the rest of the tech world.

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