HR Tech Day 3: Thanks for the Memories

Conferences are a pretty good barometer of the broader economy. When times are good, business travelers take flight, trade show floors fill and vendors roll out new products.

Even after taking account of the attendance-swelling Vegas effect, the mood at the annual HR Technology Conference at the Mandalay Bay this week was pretty positive. Sessions were filled with speakers talking about changes, sure, but mostly of the positive variety. My colleague Ed Frauenheim blogged about Disney Animation Studios’ adoption of  data-driven decision-making on the Workforce site here and the rise of new employee-centric HR models here.

Even in the less sexy arena of HR services, companies like Cisco are placing bets on re-engineered processes and tweaks that make business more efficient and employees more satisfied.

Beyond the sessions, established vendors are refining their products and services and pushing legacy enterprise and on-premise systems into the cloud. Others are drilling into lucrative niches such as analytics.

The recruiting vendors had a major presence, whether it was established players like Cornerstone OnDemand winning recognition as a top HR product for the recruiting cloud, video interviewing company HireVue tweeting like crazy or systems like Jobvite, Entelo and JIBE being presented by event planners as “awesome” new technologies. The bets being placed on recruitment indicates that the smart money is behind continuing jobs growth. I placed a few of my own bets at the craps tables but I wouldn’t call that the smart money. Not by a long shot.

The 2013 HR Tech Conference also saw the end of an era with the retirement of veteran conference organizer Bill Kutik. In a speech that was less valedictory and more confrontational, Kutik made the case for why he believes this conference has grown since he co-founded it 15 years ago to where it is today and why we should continue to attend. His speech was equal parts love and tough love for the community of practitioners and vendors in the audience.

While I’ve only attended just more than half of those 15 events he’s produced, I can unequivocally say I value the community he’s built and the three-day snapshot it gives me of the industry, whether it’s economic good times or bad times or anywhere in between.

Hardly the retiring type, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Kutik in the HR industry. So as a farewell to him and best wishes for his next venture, I’ll borrow a phrase from another free-wheeling American city and say, “Let the good times roll.”