The Great Debaters

The second annual Great Technology Debate at this year’s HR Technology Conference® featured plenty of good-natured ribbing between the debaters, Bloom & Wallace managing partner Naomi Bloom and Knowledge Infusion CEO Jason Averbook, and moderator and Conference Co-Chair Bill Kutik. But along with the banter (and a steady stream of props jokingly presented to Bloom by Averbook that included a Magic 8-ball, a pair of red ruby slippers and a bouquet of flowers) were discussions about the shortcomings of talent-management suites, whether on-premise software is “dead” and what to do if an organization’s HR software vendor is acquired by a “slumlord.”

Kutik started off the conversation by asking whether “talent management” should stop being its own category and instead be referred to as “HR.” “Talent management should not be seen as a separate category,” said Averbook. “Instead, core HR should be redefined.”

“I don’t like the term ‘talent management,’” said Bloom. “I don’t like its suggestion that some of us have ‘talent’ and the rest are drones.”

Regardless of what it’s called, HR can never afford to ignore its core responsibilities, she said. “If payroll is screwed up, it doesn’t matter what the talent-management strategy is until that is fixed.”

Many HR departments err by deploying talent-management suites by “module” instead of “process,” said Averbook. “If you deploy by module instead of process, then it’s harder to drive business outcomes.”

Most TM suites are “suites” in name only, said Bloom. “When you pull back the covers, you discover that the modules in these ‘suites’ don’t actually work well together.”

Kutik then asked whether on-premise software was on its way to being rendered extinct by products delivered via Software-as-a-Service. “The first order of business should be: Don’t spend another penny on your legacy apps: the future is SaaS,” said Bloom.

“Companies need to look at what’s best for them,” countered Averbook. “SaaS is ascendant, but it has to work for you. If you’re trying to squeeze your organization into it, then the pain may not be worth it.”

When asked by Kutik whether they saw any new product trends that may cause a “tectonic shift” in the market, Averbook and Bloom cited “consumerization” as one of the most important. “The workforce, not HR, is now the primary audience for new products today,” said Averbook.

“Vendors want their products today to look like Amazon and Facebook, not other HR technology products,” said Bloom, adding that “gamification” was another trend she’s seeing.

 The discussion also touched on the wave of acquisitions that’ve occurred in the HR tech space during the last year or so. “If your vendor’s acquired, you need to sit down with the acquirer and find out what their plans for the product are,” said Averbook.

“There are companies that will acquire a firm because they want its brain trust, others acquire because they want to be ‘aggregators’—they’re not necessarily going to build the next-generation of technology, but they’ll maintain and update the product,” said Bloom. “Then there are the ‘slumlord’ acquirers—if that’s the case, you need to make immediate plans to switch to another vendor, but the good thing is that this rarely happens.”

HR needs to ensure its vendor contracts take into account the possibility the vendor will be acquired, and should pay attention to what’s going on with the vendor’s business, she said. “If the first you hear that your vendors been acquired is by reading that day’s headlines, then you haven’t been paying proper attention.”

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