IHRIM HRMStrategies conference and exposition

May 22, 2007

Event: IHRIM HRMStrategies conference and exposition

When: May 20-23, 2007

Where: Hilton Americas-Houston

What: The International Association for Human Resource Information Management is a professional group for HR technology professionals. IHRIM’s 2007 HRMStrategies—or human resource management strategies—show gives practitioners a chance to discuss trends in the industry, including outsourcing, uncertainty around HR tech vendors and continued interest in talent management applications such as performance management software.

Conference info: For information, go

Day 2—Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Of vendors and VPs: Halogen Software used the second day of the IHRIM conference as the occasion to announce a new version of its performance management software for health care organizations. The company said Tuesday that its eAppraisal Healthcare 8.1 will be released this summer. New features of the product focus on reducing the workload for nurse managers and providing easy access to reports and detailed information for surveyors who audit health care organizations.

Halogen’s news followed on the heels of a product announcement Monday from Lawson, another software vendor at the show. Lawson said it is selling human capital management software as a service delivered over the Internet. Designed to simplify the ownership of business software, the new offering allows companies to pay on a per-user, per-month basis. Software as a service has emerged as an attractive alternative to the traditional approach of installing business software on company computers, in part because of fewer maintenance hassles.

All told, there are about 90 organizations present in IHRIM’s exposition hall in Houston, many of them software vendors.

The conference also attracted senior HR leaders. Three HR executives sat down Tuesday for a discussion titled "Executive Panel—HR’s Perceptions and Expectations of Technology and Information Management."

C. Dean Woods, vice president of human resources at electricity and natural gas delivery company CenterPoint Energy, offered an observation about using SAP software. He said SAP customers need to be prepared to adapt.

"You’re supposed to make a commitment to change your processes to fit SAP, not the other way around," Woods said.

Part of SAP’s latest pitch to companies is that it can help them set up technology systems that are flexible. SAP has also been making a push to embrace collaboration, including listening to customer feedback. It may want to have a conversation with Woods.

Jim Dorn, vice president and chief human resource officer at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said HR tech leadership at his 15,000-plus-person organization requires more than software chops. Given the University of Texas cancer center’s multiple division heads, savvy social skills are key for an HR information systems leader trying to make institution-wide technology calls.

"Political finesse is very important," Dorn said.

The kindest function? Political finesse may be a widespread trait among HR professionals. At a packed seminar Monday on the status and future of various Oracle product lines, attendees were polite if not downright sheepish in posing questions to Oracle official Row Henson. That may have had something to do with the way Oracle has stressed that it will continue to support and develop its PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards and Oracle E-Business Suite products even as it works on Fusion applications, in which Oracle aims to blend the best of its product lines.

But the mild-mannered behavior of the 60 or so seminar participants also may have stemmed from conference-goer temperament, seminar moderator Janice D’Aolia suggested. D’Aolia, vice president of consulting firm Xcelicor, argued that human resource professionals generally are a diplomatic lot.

"HR tends to be a really nice audience," she said.

—Ed Frauenheim

Day 1—Monday, May 21, 2007

Living in interesting times: It’s exciting to be an HR technology professional these days, as companies increasingly look to adopt new HR software systems. It’s also potentially stressful. Corporate decisions around HR tech, including the possibility of outsourcing, can mean layoffs or a radical change in job duties.

At a seminar here on human resource outsourcing, Lorraine Kelly of food services company Sysco said creating a new firm to centralize payroll services for 60 operating units meant taking on duties beyond her familiar HR tech role.

Kelly, who is senior director of HR information systems, payroll and contract administration services at Sysco, found herself having to persuade different Sysco units to get on board with the new approach. "I have to wear a sales and marketing hat," she said.

Kelly is one of about 700 attendees at this year’s IHRIM HRMStrategies conference. That’s roughly the same number as last year, according to IHRIM chief executive Lynne Mealy. But, Mealy says, there’s been an uptick in the number of first-time conference-goers. Whereas about 20 percent of last year’s attendees were there for the first time, 27 percent of attendees this year are newbies.

That’s a sign companies are keen these days to invest in technology to better manage their workforce, Mealy says.

"People are back to looking," Mealy said. "Budgets are opening up."

Her observation echoes other research. In a report last year, market research firm AMR Research said human capital management is one of the fastest-growing areas of business software, with revenue rising 10 percent annually through 2010 to $8.7 billion. Among the causes: companies determined to prepare for major demographic shifts in the workforce, and a continued desire to push productivity up and bring costs down.

Outsourcing HR or other tasks has been one way organizations have tried to wring out costs in recent years. But cost-cutting isn’t the only rationale for outsourcing, said Glenn Davidson, public-sector practice leader at consulting firm EquaTerra. Public-sector and not-for-profit organizations often turn to outsourcing as a way to improve their service levels, he says.

Davidson said software vendor SAP has stood out when it comes to getting its applications used in HR outsourcing arrangements. In 2005, the latest year for which EquaTerra has crunched data, SAP was the clear leader in outsourcing deals, Davidson said. "SAP has a really keen understanding of the business process outsourcing market," he said.

Lion tamer? Conferences like IHRIM have become more pleasant for Davidson, who advises clients on outsourcing decisions. Outsourcing now is discussed in a civil way at these forums. That’s a difference from the hostile environment Davidson found a decade ago from HR professionals.

"It was like walking into the lion’s den," he recalled.

—Ed Frauenheim