Have You Hugged Your Data Today? Notes From the 2014 HR Tech Conference

Oct 28, 2014

The annual HR Technology Conference always provides a smorgasbord of food for thought. In years past my appetite for content related to talent assessment has not been satisfied. What a difference a few years makes.

This year’s show was packed with valuable information and insights related to the value of talent assessment. 

What stood out this year: data. The session content was saturated with discussions about the value of data for measuring and predicting things about people and their work.

Yes, data is finally cool! After decades of being relegated to the backroom, it is game on for those of us who have been pushing the value of people related data as a core business intelligence tool for decades. Here’s proof: “I/O psychologist” was named the hottest job of the next decade.

What in the name of Hugo Munsterberg is going on here?

One has to look no further than the tradeshow floor for the answer.

Data is now part of our collective consciousness. It is 2014 and the “Internet of things” has arrived. All of these “things” rely on data to provide people with information they can use to make their lives better.

We the people are consumers and all of us are getting an increasingly up close and personal look at the power of data. The adoption of data-centric devices such as fitness trackers, sleep trackers, calorie trackers, personal financial dashboards, etc. is growing exponentially by the month. These devices all employ slick user interfaces that provide an easy and pleasant user experience — critical ingredients for driving mass adoption. Just ask Steve Jobs or Bill Gates what the GUI did for their products. The tide is turning, and now, instead of fearing data, humans across the globe are flocking to easy-to-use technology that serves up data essential to their personal goals and objectives.

The impact of this is a democratization of data that is leading to seismic shifts in our global economy. Given these real and present trends, is there any doubt that our collective familiarity with data is spilling over into our professional lives?

This leads me back to HR tech 2014. The session content, the tradeshow, and the many analyst briefings I attended highlighted some noteworthy trends.

First of all, easy-to-use consumer technology is raising the bar for expectations around the user interface and user experience with HR technology products. All of the vendors, from startups to global powerhouses, are working at a very high level of design and experience.

So, what does this have to do with data? A lot. Easy-to-use technology is a Trojan horse for adoption of a data-centric mindset. The easier technology is to use, the easier it is for user to buy into the value of the data it serves up. HR technology is no exception. It is becoming increasingly easier to access and use HR data, providing increased ability to demonstrate the value of people to the business. This points directly to another major trend happening in HR technology.

Personal data will drive a tectonic shift in how companies work with people. The easier it is to cultivate one’s personal data, the more individuals become empowered to own and manage it. Individual level buy-in to the value of personal data on a large scale will place pressure employers to recognize the value of this data to their HR technology and people processes.

This is where we are headed. Here’s a glimpse at how we are getting there.

From the viewpoint of the individual job seeker, there is an increasing demand for technology that supports self-discovery and awareness as a foundation for learning and career management. Among the most interesting companies at this years HR tech show were those using assessment to help individuals understand themselves using the language of HR, work, and jobs (i.e., competencies, skills, abilities, etc).

Companies such as Fuel50, Persona Labs, PlanDo,, and youscience all provide individuals with insight and the ability to use personal data to find jobs, manage careers, and develop individual learning plans.

The personal, portable data these companies provide to their users transcend the boundaries of any one specific employer. Instead, users are empowered via ownership of information that will allow them freedom to more directly customize and manage their careers.

When it comes to talent acquisition, there is a great deal of effort underway to reduce the friction that keeps individuals from finding jobs that support long-term career goals. Personal data is playing a starring role in reducing this friction and is already having an impact. For instance, companies like Gild, Entelo, and Kraken have technology that uses publicly available data to run targeted searches for talent. But there is a lot happening in talent acquisition that goes beyond these pure artificial intelligence-based tools. Social job matching represents an exiting new frontier. Add career-focused assessment data that will work hand in hand with free on-demand learning programs (i.e., Kahn Academy), to provide badges and credentials to the mix and you’ve changed the sourcing game.

Employers may not yet be bought into the value of personal, portable data to their people processes, but they will. Once a critical mass of individuals take ownership of personal data for managing their own learning and career development, companies will have no choice but to acknowledge them. As members of younger generations enter the workplace, there will be increasing expectations placed on employers to support individuality, data-based or otherwise. Those who do not will find themselves behind in the already competitive battle for skilled workers.

In the bigger picture of HR technology, there is a great deal of sync between the value of personal data and another big time trend: the adoption of integrated talent management. The common element here is easy access to data that lives across the entire talent lifecycle. This data will require a common language about people and the qualities they bring to the workplace (i.e., values, competencies, skills, etc) collected from individuals via their ongoing engagement with technology (i.e., talent assessments, work history information, learning and development).

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Top analysts such as my friend Josh Bersin see the writing on the wall.

Information is power and we are living in a information age.  Most people will jump at the chance to use technology to better their lives. We are entering into an era where job history will become less important than the impact of ongoing skill development, learning, and experience. As these changes unfold, talent assessment will is right there — providing data that allows individuals and employers to share in one another’s success.