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Heard on the [HCM] Hill: Bill Kutik

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Bill Kutik and our CEO, Jeanne Achille, share an unusual history – they’ve worked together on the #HRTechConf for years. They caught up recently to compare notes about Bill’s industry musings and what’s next in #HRTech.

Bill, it’s the 20th anniversary of the HR Tech Conference. You’re acknowledged as the show’s “Godfather.” What changes have you observed in the HR Tech category in the past 20 years?

Twenty years?!? Puhleeze! It would take a book. You will remember just how far we’ve come in 20 years, when I recall in 1997 there will still independent companies offering self-service functionality to be integrated into PeopleSoft, SAP and Oracle systems. I remember at least one was your client: Edify, Conduit, Interlynx, ESSence and iClick.

Do we have the space and time to go back that far?

Instead, let me suggest a focus just on the last five years, starting in 2012, which was a critical year -- marking an inflection point in HR technology: The end of one era and the beginning of another. It marked a generational shift in computing.

Since the mainframe era, such shifts have come every 10 or 15 years. Client/server transformed HR technology in 1989, web-based applications did so in 2000, and in 2012, the combination of SaaS (now called the cloud), the use of social applications in the enterprise, analytics and mobile did so again.

Not that any of those technologies first appeared that year. Recruiting vendors had been offering at least hosted solutions (if not true cloud) since 1995. Workday had been selling a cloud HCM since 2006. LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had been available and growing for years, though except for the first, they were mostly used by individuals.

But 2012 marked the year that leading experts (if not always their more harried and budget-strapped corporate HR colleagues) agreed that the convergence of these innovations meant HR technology had changed forever.

True, most large companies are still using on-premise systems, and many HR executives still fret about the safety and security of cloud systems. But that said, the cloud is now universally recognized as the next generation of computing. No longer considered just a possible alternative, it is viewed as the only direction in which to move forward. In the last five years, approximately 6,000 of the world's largest companies have moved to the cloud. And the rate of adoption is increasing, although slowly. No new on-premise enterprise software has been introduced in the last five years.

Cloud computing has achieved the 30-year goal of HR gradually taking control of its own systems. The days of IT owning HR technology are over.

While IT's blessing and support continue to be critical, HR and the business units are in control. Ironically, this comes at a time when they must give up daily control to the managers and employees using most of the software.

That imperative has resulted in the biggest visible change in the last five years: the evolution of the user experience. Five years ago, "consumerization" of HR software meant making it as easy to use as Amazon. Now it means being as intuitive and simple as a smartphone app!

Or as Jason Averbook, founder and CEO of the new consultancy LeapGen, likes to say: "Enterprise software for employees now needs to be as good as the software companies use to sell to their customers or consumers."

Battles raged when employees first wanted to access social networks from their office computers, except for LinkedIn, which has been standard in recruiting departments for years.

Whether or not companies let the commercial networks past their firewall, vendors quickly moved to copy their functionality in private networks. Just in the last five years, this has changed two traditional software applications completely: performance management and learning.

Online conversations between two people or among many is changing performance from the long-dreaded annual review to a continuous series of "check-ins" between managers and their direct reports. Private networks are also now being used by some to manage the work that will later be reviewed. Those conversations are now fully documented for reference however long is necessary.

YouTube-like video functionality is increasingly in the hands of every employee -- not just confined to online course creators -- and is revolutionizing learning. Every major vendor in the last three years has committed to reimagining its learning management system, and some even refuse to call it an LMS!

While the required online sexual-harassment course and classroom-instructor-led training still have their place, learning is now being sliced into bite-sized pieces. Learning and training executives now hail the five-minute video as the perfect learning object.

Mobile, meanwhile, has skyrocketed as a way to consume content, especially in cities with public transportation. And analytics -- or more precisely the lack thereof -- may no longer be the greatest source of HR guilt.

There’s lots of buzz about what’s next in HR Tech. You have an unusual ways of cutting through the clutter. If we were to fast-forward five years, what grows?

I’m a big believer that digital assistants ordered around by talking to them are going to change forever people’s relationship with their HCM systems.

We won’t get HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey right away. Happily, neither will our computer systems try to kill us! Most will start with text messages and return text messages. Voice will be the final frontier. Sorry to mix movies and television.

This is the culmination of the employee self-service systems mentioned above. Users will no longer have to log onto the system and hunt around for what they want.

Now every vendor offers employee self-service or what we used to call ESS, but no matter how intuitive its user-interface and navigation, employees confronted by software they only use once or twice a year get confused and end up making an expensive call to a service center that the software was meant to avoid.

The promise is those days will finally be over. Plus digital assistants will push reminders and information to you before you even realize you need it. What could be better than that?

You’ve built another stellar media property – Firing Line with Bill Kutik – that has a loyal following. Tell us about it?

Firing Line with Bill Kutik is a short-form video series about HR and HR technology that anyone can watch without registration on YouTube http://bit.ly/KutikFiringLine.

Creating it, I realized that my fundamental operating principle had stayed the same since the first HR Technology Conference in 1998. Guests talk about what they are thinking and doing, rather than what they’re selling or, if end-users, what particular software they use.

That was true at the conference and on The Bill Kutik Radio Show® podcasts I did for seven years, now with 183 interviews in the archive. Still available for listening on www.HREonline.com/HRE under the “Multi-Media” tab. Though I must warn readers that a third of the guests now have different jobs!

The focus on thought-leadership on Firing Line means that even though the show has three big company sponsors – SAP SuccessFactors, ADP and Infor – viewers will never hear their names during the interviews with analysts, consultants, practitioners, and even with vendor executives. The best of them are thought-leaders, too.

Initially I was aghast at the five-minute length, after my Radio Show had been 20 minutes long. But all the experts in Learning & Development said a five-minute video is the perfect learning object in 2017, so I believed them. But creating a show so short is so much harder than letting one run longer.

As Mark Twain famously said, “Sorry I wrote you such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write you a shorter one.” My Emmy-award-winning partner and I take the time to make them short. And people seem to like it.

What should we expect next from you?

Five years ago, I added the word “impresario” to my on-line descriptions. “A person who organizes and manages public entertainments.” While I like to think mine have been educational, as well, I have never lost sight of the importance of the entertainment part.

I will continue to produce Firing Line so long as companies are eager to sponsor it. And my monthly technology column in HRE is now 27 years old, so just reaching its prime. If your readers have any new ideas about that I should be doing, happy to hear from them at Bill@Kutik.com