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New tech trends in HR: Josh Bersin predicts employee experience 'war'

Employee experience, AI and team productivity took the spotlight as blooming trends in HR, as outlined by analyst Josh Bersin to a packed house at the 2018 HR Technology Conference & Expo.

LAS VEGAS -- Among fresh tech trends in HR, one that may garner the most interest is a new layer of software -- which superstar analyst Josh Bersin called an employee experience platform -- that will fit between core HR and talent management tools.

Bersin said he expects employee experience to become the next-generation employee portal -- in other words, the go-to application for modern workers who need HR-based information. Vendors are lining up to address the need, he added.

"There is going to be a holy war for [what] system your employees use first," said Bersin, an independent analyst who founded Bersin by Deloitte. Although his quote served as hyperbole, it nonetheless stuck with attendees here at the 2018 HR Technology Conference & Exposition.

"He hit home," said Rita Reslow, senior director of global benefits at HR software vendor Kronos, based in Lowell, Mass. "We have all these systems, and we keep buying more." But she wondered aloud when one product would tie her systems together for employees.

No vendor has achieved a true employee experience platform, Bersin told a room packed with 900 or so attendees at the conference on Tuesday. However, ServiceNow, PeopleDoc -- which Ultimate Software acquired in July -- and possibly IBM appear to have a head start, he added.

Tech trends in HR point to team successes

Bersin, who plans to release an extensive report about 2019 tech trends in HR, said software development within the industry reflects a shift in management that steers away from employee engagement and company culture in favor of increased team performance.

At 2018 HR Technology Conference & Expo, Josh Bersin discusses new tech trends in HR with attendees.
Josh Bersin speaks with attendees at the HR Tech Conference.

Unless a recession hits, "I think the focus of the tech market for the next couple of years ... is on performance, productivity and agility," he said.

The shift to productivity will require future technology to simplify work life, said Cliff Howe, manager of enterprise applications at Cox Enterprises, a communications and media company in Atlanta. "Our employees are being inundated," Howe said. "We don't want to hit our employees with too much [technology]."

Bersin suggested that HR software buyers consider the following tips when evaluating new human capital management products:

  • Shop around for vendors that focus on your company's particular market. For example, if your organization exhibits a compliance-based culture, find a vendor that mirrors that approach.
  • Evaluate the "personality of the vendor," he said. As an example, determine if the vendor's reps listen to your decision-makers and help them. If the answer is no, it may be time to drop that vendor from consideration.

Bersin outlines cost of HR software per worker

With tech trends in HR pointing to new innovations, the cost of HR software "is skyrocketing," said analyst Josh Bersin. However, at the same time, organizations in this strong U.S. economy have seen their revenue go up; thus, they seem willing to boost HR department spending.

Based on research he's reviewed, the average cost of HR technology per employee is $200 to $300 per year, Bersin said. That amount has risen steadily over the years. But despite that fact, he said now is a great point to negotiate with vendors on pricing, because subscription-based SaaS models thrive on revenue being booked ahead of time. Cloud-based HR vendors would rather keep a subscriber at a lower price than lose a customer, Bersin reasoned.

AI auditing, real-time payrolls needed in future

There is going to be a holy war for [what] system your employees use first.
Josh Bersinindependent analyst

In other upcoming tech trends in HR, Bersin pegged AI as a quickly growing field that smart HR departments will learn how to monitor and audit in the future. That notion was on the minds of many at the HR Technology Conference, for which TechTarget -- the publisher of SearchHRSoftware -- is a media partner.

AI innovation has increased rapidly in the last two years. Today, even small HR software vendors with three to five engineers can use technology from Google or IBM, combine it with open source options and scale a new product on the cloud quickly, Bersin said. HR professionals will need to adjust their skills in order to better understand why AI software makes its decisions, which is an area not fully grasped yet, he added.

Howe agreed AI has grown beyond wish-list status. "AI will be a requirement, rather than a shiny object," he said.

Bersin also noted that software will need to reflect a possible switch to a continuous payroll model -- perhaps as often as daily. Younger workers, some of whom might not have bank accounts, have increased their demands to be compensated in real time, and this request is not just for the gig economy, he said.

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