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Ten Minutes with Bill Kutik - Industry Expert

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Bill Kutik -- Co-Chair of the HR Technology Conference, technology columnist for Human Resource Executive and www.HREonline.com, and host of the Bill Kutik Radio Show - has become the impresario of technology for HR. HR World named him one of "The Top 25 HR Influencers of 2007." Here he shares the scoop about the HR industry's leading business conference and vendor exposition.

The 12th annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition is slated for September 30- October 2, 2009. How has the show changed since its inception and what's new for attendees planning to attend this year?

The conference hasn't changed its values, structure or positioning much over the years as it has grown to become the world's largest: doubling in paid attendance every three years, until last year, of course. We still don't sell speaking slots to vendors guaranteeing that our conference sessions are educational, rather than thinly disguised marketing. We still have "The Analyst Panel," which we invented 12 years ago; two keynotes by luminaries; and about 30 breakout sessions delivered by practitioners from world class companies.

Our central positioning has remained the same: it's a business conference about getting business benefits out of technology, delivered by senior HR executives, for senior HR executives. Not a bits and bytes conference, despite the title, and the fact many HR IT people do attend.

In terms of what's new, there is so much that people should read the agenda on the website. Obviously, this year's program will include awareness that budgets are tight. We are planning sessions centered on technology initiatives that can be done without a lot of money such as "How to create a private social network for free," along with many other sessions.

The current economy has some people questioning how they're spending their trade show dollars. For vendors, why is this still the show to exhibit at? For buyers, how can attending the HR Technology Conference help them make educated decisions on how to help move their company forward?

Let me tell you what vendors tell me: the HR Technology conference is the only show that attracts decision makers - the people with budget and authority to spend it. Exhibitors marvel how many knowledgeable and motivated buyers come through their booths. They also tell me they see "quality traffic". A vice president of marketing for an ERP provider said he exhibits at 50 different shows in many different areas of software, and the HR Technology Conference provides more qualified leads for his sales pipeline than any of the other 49 shows.

For buyers, the HR Technology conference has long been the show to attend. Every vendor they may be considering is in our exhibit hall. We had 240 vendors last year, which enables them to get educated quickly about all their options and compare one vendor to another. It's a rare opportunity.

If they're not buying, people come for educational sessions. We are the only commercial conference that does not sell speaking slots to vendors. We create the program solely with the best interest of the attendees in mind, not for our own financial interest. At the HR Technology Conference you will not get sales pitches in sessions, only genuine education.

Although the challenging economy is encouraging companies to look for ways to save money, they're also looking for solutions to improve their talent management. What role does HR IT play in helping companies through the recession?

HR IT could play an enormous role in helping through hard times but only if the HR department is given a role. Unfortunately, that rarely seems to be the case. A recent SHRM study shows that 65 percent of HR departments weren't even consulted before their companies held layoffs. It seems the people running the company would rather eliminate 5-10 percent of the workforce without understanding who is the top and bottom performers. That's one purpose of talent management, and with a talent management system HR could tell, but the management team is not bothering to ask.

Leighanne Levensaler of Bersin and Associates will be reporting at this year's show on customer satisfaction with the talent management applications.

Jason Corsello recently reminded you that during a recession new technologies tend to emerge. What do you anticipate we'll see once the economy starts to recover?

While I think companies will still buy traditional software my bet is we'll see thousands of departmental and company-wide experiments with low cost Web 2.0 technologies, especially private social networks. These are networks that have the functionality of Facebook and LinkedIn but are only open to employees of a particular company. There are dozens of vendors out there selling software or giving that software away via open source. Last year at HR Technology the track titled Web 2.0 & Innovation was our most popular and we are repeating the concept with brand new sessions

Last year you held the industry's first Talent Management Shootout-a competitive evaluation for HR solutions. Will you be doing it again and what will be this year's challenge for shootout participants?

The Shootouts have become our signature event because so few other conferences have them. Some organizations have debased the "shootout" word and used it to describe a panel of vendors talking or worse, showing PowerPoint slides. Ours require  live demos based on a scripted scenario showing live software solving the problems in the script. We are going to have the "Second Annual Talent Management Shootout" and I expect we'll have as many as 20 companies wanting to participate year. We don't start writing the script until May or June but we are considering elements of workforce planning or workforce analytics that contestants must solve.

There's a lot of hard work that goes into planning and executing any trade show and for exhibitors as well. What are your tips for a successful event?

Understand, I do not make a dime from the trade show. That said, a booth is just the beginning of a successful show. You need to create awareness among attendees that you are there. The best way is to buy some sort of sponsorship that gets your logo all over the place at McCormick Place: signage, the Show Guide, etc. There are also the classic traffic building things. What I've seen is a return to paper because the glut of email is so overwhelming. So, sending a post card to all registered attendees (a list exhibitors can get from us), inviting them to stop by the booth and telling what they are offering can be very effective. In the case of HR technology, because people care about software, not freebies, they should obviously have messages that resonate with a higher level audience that they don't get elsewhere. Of course, offering the latest HD Flip or iPhone never hurt. It is, after all, still Show Business.