Josh Bersin: Untangling the HR technology market

The global analyst was a keynote presenter at HR Technology Conference this week, showcasing some of the biggest opportunities in HR technology.
By: | October 3, 2019

If delegates to this week’s HR Tech Conference and Exposition felt a bit overwhelmed going into the Expo hall with more than 500 exhibitors, Josh Bersin wanted them to know he felt their pain.

“I’ve been an analyst in this space for over 20 years, and I have  a lot of respect for the vendors in this space, but you as HR leaders have to make sense of all this and so many of you have told me there are just so many options,” said the global industry analyst, who delivered the opening keynote on the second day of HR Tech.

The title of Bersin’s presentation, “Untangling the HR Technology Market,” reflects the sheer volume of activity that’s been swirling in the space for the past 10 years. Boosted by billions in venture capital funding, the market also reflects the fact that the very nature of work is changing, he said.

“The job market is hot and yet we also have this problem of lagging productivity,” said Bersin. “This gap is getting bigger and it’s born by the stress, workload, engagement and health and sleep of employees. So there’s this huge market for HR tech as wellbeing, engagement, productivity and retention become core, rather than nice-to-haves.”

The latest research shows CEOs are more concerned than ever about growth and that they want more creativity out of their people. “Curiosity is actually becoming a competency,” he said.

Employees, meanwhile, are very concerned about their jobs and careers. “They’re saying ‘If I join your company, what am I going to get out of it for my career? And that’s created a new demand within the organisation for continuous learning.”

Most importantly, “we’re not building software for HR anymore — we’re building it for employees,” said Bersin. “If employees don’t find it useful, if it doesn’t fit into ‘the flow of work,’ then it’s not going to be used.”

Employee experience is primary

One of the most fundamental changes in the industry is the primacy of employee experience, said Bersin. “HR is now the secondary audience — employees are the primary audience. And that has shifted the market.”

Vendors are focusing their attention on “employee-centric tools” that operate within Microsoft Outlook, Slack, Salesforce, and other widely used platforms, he said. “That’s the big existential thing the tech community is working on. And that means there are going to be some winners and losers in the marketplace.”

The major vendors are trying to push themselves into the employee experience category, said Bersin.

“In the early days when I got into HR tech, there was a very clear strategy that you’d go to ADP, PeopleSoft, and that was it,” he said. “Now we’re in a much different situation. HR tech platforms at the core are becoming more like your phone — more like platforms in which you put apps in, and you delete apps. If the apps don’t take off, just shut them down. And that’s the way the world is now — someone’s going to build something and you’ll say ‘My God, we need that.’ And you’ll try it and it’ll be great, or it won’t work out, and you’ll just turn it off.”

On top of that is the talent space where “we have an incredible array of technologies,” Bersin said.

Talent management vendors need to keep the following in mind, he added: “You need to think about not what you think is going to be cool, but what are the management philosophies that are trending, and those are growth, development, job mobility, highly diverse, highly inclusive talent practices, transparency, network effect — those are the things senior leaders are talking about.”

Artificial intelligence and recruiting

The area of HR tech that’s the most dynamic is recruiting, said Bersin.

“Artificial intelligence (AI)  is probably more mature in recruiting than any other part of HR,” he said.

Diversity and inclusion has become so important that it’s now a significant market in its own, said Bersin. “You can now use AI to identify biased interviewing, sourcing, and recruiting practices. You can at least see them and do something about them.”

AI is becoming ubiquitous in HR technology, he said. “It’s hard to build an HR platform of any kind without designing some kind of AI solution. AI is now going mainstream.”

Vendors like Pymetrics, PhenomPeople, IBM, Oracle, Workday,  and HireVue are all incorporating AI into their products, said Bersin.

Finally, employee experience platforms are big in the HR tech market.

“Vendors like ServiceNow, Deloitte, Mercer, SAP SuccessFactors, IBM, all have platforms focused on the employee experience,” he said. “You can’t expect out-of-the box ERP to do this. This is going to be a significant market.”

Josh Bersin was the keynote presenter on the second day of HR Tech Conference and Exposition, being held in Las Vegas, US, this week. For all the best of his global insights right here in this part of the world, be sure to be part of HR Tech Festival Asia over May 12 and 13 in 2020.