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At the HR Tech Conference, Old School Meets New School

HRTechConf Expo Hall imageThe significant progress the HR industry has made in developing and leveraging social and digital technologies was clearly evident at this year’s HR Technology Conference in Chicago – especially in the Expo Hall. Not only were new technologies highlighted in the products and services offered by vendors, they were also integrated throughout the entire experience. This integration was impressive for many reasons, not the least of which was that “high tech” was used to facilitate “high touch” interactions. I documented my impressions via a digital photo essay. I invite others to share additional observations, insights, and examples as well.


After founding SMinOrgs in 2009, I have visited the HR Tech Expo Hall every year it’s been in Chicago. It’s a great way to get a sense of what technology vendors and service providers are doing to develop new social and digital tools to help organizations address their human capital management needs.

  • In 2009, almost nothing had been done. I approached booths with the same basic question: Are you incorporating social media into your products and services – and if so how? At least one vendor asked me what social media was. I’m not kidding. Many others said they hadn’t focused on it yet because their clients weren’t asking for it – a logical response on the surface, but it doesn’t say much for their companies as technology leaders. And several were downright dismissive of the question and the implications behind it. Only the largest companies had made much progress, and virtually all of them were focused on recruiting.
  • My memory of 2010 was that the Expo Hall felt like a carnival (that no one wanted to be at). The booths were loud and flashy, almost grotesque, and people generally seemed disengaged. There was an “anything goes” approach to how companies were thinking about leveraging new technologies, especially as part of the recruiting process, and a number of start-up companies were selling ideas that made the HR professional in me
    nervous. I took them on, challenging the legality and propriety of what they offered. Only one company, Social Intelligence, was able to answer my questions satisfactorily. I was not encouraged…
  • This year I kind of had to drag myself to the Expo. I wanted to go, but I had lots of other demands on my time. I finally made it just after lunch on Monday and stayed until they closed. I had a ball! I can honestly say it may be the best Exhibit Hall experience I’ve ever had, as both a buyer and a seller. There were fantastic products and services being offered, the energy was positive and future oriented, and there was a warmth and intimacy that often seems lacking in those kinds of spaces.

I was so encouraged by what I saw that I decided on the spur of the moment to try to capture the experience in a photo essay, which is available via SlideShare. A few caveats about the essay are in order:

  • My impressions are primarily based on the Expo Hall. I did not attend any sessions.
  • I was only able to spend one afternoon in the Expo Hall, and I only got through about one-third of it (click here for complete exhibitor list).
  • Although I tried to get a quick impression of every booth, I only stopped when something caught my eye and people were available to chat.
  • Due to time constraints, I could only develop – and share – high-level impressions.

I told everyone I talked to what I was doing and asked their permission to include them in the photo essay. Some people were curious and maybe a bit cautious, but most were more than happy to tell their stories and be included.

A Few Highlights

The photo essay details my specific impressions and provides links to learn more. Here are a few themes worth highlighting:

  • Social and digital technologies were everywhere! They were integrated into the overall experience and were a prominent element in many of the products and services being offered. Best of all: technology was used to supplement the personal experience, not replace it.
  • Recruiting is still a major emphasis, but more and more applications are getting social and digital upgrades and enhancements.
  • There were lots of start ups! Some of these were brand-new companies, whereas others were spin-offs from parent organizations with a unique purpose and business model.
  • Organizational evolution was clearly in evidence. Many established companies are expanding and changing their offerings to better reflect Digital Era realities. It’s great to see how they’re adapting.
  • Corporate consolidation was also a sign of the direction in which the industry is headed: SAP’s acquisition of Success Factors, IBM’s acquisition of Kenexa…

And I developed an unofficial set of awards for different vendors, including (see photo essay for details):

  • Best social media integration: Dice
  • Best old/new school interaction blend: ACT Bridge
  • Best digital swag: Recruitics
  • Best taglines: HireVue and SilkRoad
  • Best “Hair Club for Men” boother: SparkHire
  • Best tablet displays: MTM Recognition
  • Furthest travelers: Career Engagement Group
  • Biggest trend within a trend? Video and digital interviewing

Other Impressions and Examples?

If you attended the HR Tech Conference and/or the Expo Hall, I’d love to hear your impressions about the inclusion of social and digital technologies as well. And if you’re a vendor or service provider and I didn’t make it to your booth, please add a comment about the work you’re doing and your plans for the future. I’d love to hear about them.

Next year the conference is in Las Vegas. It will be back in Chicago in 2013. I’m really looking forward to it!

– Courtney Shelton Hunt

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