Editor's Notebook

HR Tech Conference Observations: It’s All About AI and Women in Tech

A shout-out for the party invites, but a quick howdy from the host company would be appreciated.
HR Tech

Arguably the most clever booth pitch at this year’s HR Tech conference. (Photos by Rick Bell)

It was an observation that was simple and direct, but one that I obviously overlooked on opening day of the HR Tech Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

“There are a lot of women at this conference,” said a female Google benefits executive sitting next to me at a Tuesday evening dinner hosted by Virgin Pulse and O.C. Tanner to celebrate their recently announced partnership.

She was relatively new to the benefits space but had been in tech for several years, so no stranger to technology conferences. This was her first HR Tech show, however, and perhaps it’s the HR aspect that draws more women to this event than your garden-variety technology conference. As I walked the halls and expo floor the next couple of days, it was clear that she was absolutely right that a large number of the 9,000-plus attendees are female. Again, it’s a simple observation but one that speaks volumes about this conference and what it means to the HR space.

I didn’t ask whether she attended the Women in HR Technology pre-conference event, which is in its second year now. And really, who they are or what role they play for their organization was irrelevant. There indeed are a lot of women here.



It’s all about the AI … especially at AI Works.

What’s The Buzz?: As is the case with most every conference, by Day 2 you’re spotting trends and topics that has attendees buzzing. This year the buzz around artificial intelligence was clear from the get-go.

Several companies using .ai (no, not the country code for Anguilla)have booths, including Butterfly and its Alex customized AI coach, Paradox, which wanted me to say hello to Olivia and ReMesh, whose motto is, “We build human-powered AI to engage, empower and understand large groups of people.” There’s also the company AIWorks, and one session I attended titled, “Looking Ahead — Where Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning May Take the Next Generation of HR” (followed by the ominous subtitle, “Things will never be the same”).

A chat with Gretchen Alarcon of Oracle touched on AI. Among Oracle news here was the company infusing its cloud applications with artificial intelligence. It’s not the be all things to solve all problems, she said, adding, AI should be an enabler.” Good point.

It was also interesting to hear Cord Himmelstein of Halo (previously Michael C. Fina until the recent acquisition) talk about the trends in the rewards and recognition space. Sure, there are still plaques and trophies but recognition these days is all about continuous reaffirmation.

It’s their first time at the HR Tech show, and he noted that about the 500 vendors, dozens are offering some type of rewards and recognition products.

“With the gig economy people aren’t looking for companies for the rest of their lives,” he said. “There are more non-monetary rewards than monetary. I think we should rename our space recognition, rewards and incentives.”


Celebrate: It’s always a pleasure to unwind after a day of sessions and interviews. This year was no different. Again, congrats to the Virgin Pulse-O.C. Tanner tie-up, and it was good to see Tamika Hewlett of CareerBuilder at theirbooth and again at the post-conference event at TopGolf. She’s new to the HR space and is hitting virtually every conference known to mankind to grasp what these folks do (I’m still trying to figure it out, so let me know, please). One thing that CareerBuilder might want to consider with such events: It felt like an employee recognition party. No one from CareerBuilder other than Tamika spoke with me or my boss, Mike Prokopeak. All the CareerBuilder people huddled together. I had a more riveting conversation with our cocktail waitress than with anyone from the company. I mean, I’m kind of an introverted person, but I would have been happy if someone other than Tamika asked about the weather, or the baseball game or if I thought AI was a trendy buzzword. Seriously, it was a little embarrassing. And while I’m on this soapbox, ever notice how at the CareerBuilder booth, it’s the same thing? About two dozen people wearing the same T-shirt talking to each other.

OK, I’m over it.

Also a shout-out to LMS company Bridge and their new performance management platform. I’m not big on product demo’s but Matt Meservey’s presentation was incredibly impressive.

And the evening concert with the tremendously engaging singer Colbie Callait was a great way to close the day. The Bridge folks made sure to say hi. Just sayin’ … .

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director. Comment below or email rbell@workforce.com.

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