What the 2023 Top HR Tech Products say about the direction of the market

Steve Boese discusses the trends of HR technology products, and what it means for HR leaders looking to stand out from the competition.
By: | August 31, 2023

This week, the team at Human Resource Executive and the HR Technology Conference released the list of 2023 Top HR Tech Products. I can speak for myself and the rest of the team involved when I say it was a thoroughly enjoyable (and tiring) few months!

The HRE team has all the coverage of the awards, so rather than just repeat the list of winners, I thought it would be valuable to take a step back and share ideas on the bigger picture. Specifically, what do the submissions show us about the trends that emerged (or continued) in HR technology this year, and what does this suggest about the future?

After reviewing about 120 initial submissions; attending dozens of meetings and demonstrations with participating companies; spending hours reviewing notes and re-watching recorded Zoom demos and participating in multiple rounds of discussions on the contenders, here are the top themes I noticed:

Everything AI

I know: You are shocked to hear that innovation and growth of AI technology for HR is trending this year. Of the more than 100 Top HR Tech Products submissions we reviewed, I would estimate that close to two-thirds are either explicitly touting AI technology in their product positioning or are relying on AI in their “under-the-hood” development approaches.

So, while it is not groundbreaking to say that AI is trending in HR technology (or particularly helpful to HR leaders right now), one idea we gleaned could be relevant to your consideration of these products. Namely, we felt the best expressions of AI and most applicable AI solutions were the ones that were able to simplify these complex technologies—make them understandable and usable to HR professionals and employee end users, without such users having to possess any kind of advanced understanding of AI (which, let us be frank, most of us do not have). While AI is still emerging, lessons about usability and user adoption that have been true in HR technology for decades still apply to these new solutions—perhaps even more so than before, as organisations will be challenged to realise ROI on these increasingly complex technologies.

Talent management returns

A byproduct of the surge in AI-powered HCM technology solutions has been the increased focus on new innovations in the traditional category of talent management. This wave of AI solutions entering the HR technology market is colliding with the larger talent management trend of “skills-based” hiring and development—and this is generating a new wave of innovation in the talent management category. This has been a trend for the last three years or so, as I think back on the recent demonstrations we have had, and one that really seemed to pick up momentum in 2023, with a marked increase in the percentage of winning Top HR Tech Products submissions we placed in the talent management category.

Specifically, we saw advanced applications of AI technology that are designed to increase understanding of what skills employees possess or that they may be able to easily acquire based on their experience; new approaches to employee career planning and the presentation of relevant development opportunities (classes, mentors, short-term internal projects, and gigs); and more ambitious solutions to help larger, more complex organisations manage their talent more holistically.

In some ways, AI is helping to automate these complex HR functions. But I would add while we may be entering a new era for talent management technology—by virtue of powerful new AI tools—we also must ensure that the essential “human” aspects of people’s relationships with work and at work are not lost, or automated away entirely.

Pivots away from DEI and wellbeing                                                

There has been some conversation in the last year or so about organisations not necessarily decreasing but perhaps de-emphasising their efforts centred on two areas where we had seen tremendous growth through the pandemic years: diversity, equity, and inclusion; and employee wellbeing. In many ways, once organisations adapted and overcame the initial shock of the pandemic (like in 2020 with widespread shutdowns and quarantines), the extended period of transition—accompanied by a generalised re-evaluation of the place and role of work in our lives—led many HR leaders and organisations to increase their attention, resources and energies on DEI and wellbeing. And we saw that increase reflected in a quite substantial increase in HR technology solutions focused on these two areas. In each of the last three years, there was a spike in Top HR Products applications with either DEI or wellbeing as their primary capability and value proposition.

But fast-forward to 2023, and just as we have seen more reporting and anecdotal evidence that DEI and wellbeing have been de-prioritised by some organisations, we also saw a pretty significant decline in new solutions or enhancements to existing solutions that were targeting these categories.

Over the last several years, many solutions for talent acquisition, analytics, compensation and even core HR platforms have been incorporating “DEI” features and capabilities; since that is becoming expected functionality, it may be leading to less pure play DEI technology being submitted to our committee. The same argument could be made for wellbeing, as over time in HR technology, new features and functionalities tend to move from being standalone products to being incorporated into larger platforms and suites as simply feature sets. Whatever the reason, it will be interesting to watch how the HR technology industry continues to evolve and innovate in these two important areas.

READ MORE: Creating fair workplace opportunities for women in tech  

The annual Top HR Tech Products process provides a unique opportunity to gather information and insight about the larger ideas and technology trends shaping the HR tech industry. And it allows me to refine and realign my own thinking about what really matters in HR tech, and how HR leaders and organisations can best benefit from these trends.

Most, if not all, of the 13 winning organisations for 2023 will be in attendance and exhibiting at the HR Technology Conference in a few short weeks. I highly recommend that, if you are attending the conference this year, you block some time on your event schedule and visit as many of these innovative companies as possible. They truly represent the cutting edge of the diverse and growing HR technology marketplace—and they may just be the solution your organisation needs.

About the author: Steve Boese is HRE’s Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference. This article first appeared in HRExecutive.com.