Top four tech trends for HR leaders from the HR Technology Conference & Expo

From hard-hitting sessions to an action-packed exhibit hall to cutting-edge solution demos, this year’s HR Technology Conference and Expo, the world’s biggest HR technology conference, did not disappoint in delivering an informative, engaging program. What were some of the top tips and takeaways for today’s benefits executives and HR leaders focused on technology adoption and utilization in the HR space? Below are a few key trends related to human capital management (HCM) technologies that HR and benefits leaders must have on their radars for growth and success in 2015.

Uncovering the stories in the numbers – Did someone say big data?

“If you don’t think [big data] is an HR thing, you’re in for a rude awakening,” warned Rahaf Harfoush, co-author of the New York Times best-selling The Decoded Company, in her keynote session. Given the influx of new technology solutions whose foundations lie in identifying data-driven patterns and trends, it is clear that data is “no longer simply a tech issue,” as Harfoush also noted. Now, analytics must play a starring role in organizational strategy, management, and security, and these data-driven “stories” must be used to guide decision-making and meet specific business objectives.

As Marc Howze, vice president of global human resources at Deere & Company, highlighted during his panel discussion, employers can’t underestimate the importance of being comfortable with data. “You need to know enough about your business and your HR data, to understand how it impacts your business. You need to know the why,” said Howze.

Does it matter when an employer changes its retirement age? Do people retire differently with different plan options? What about post-retirement healthcare options? Howze reiterated the importance of using data analysis to create predictive models to determine profiles of your employees and act accordingly. “If you can’t understand and act on analytics, you won’t have a seat at the table and the important discussions will happen without you.”

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Machine learning and applied analytics. Is this a necessity?

Rise against the machine? Not so, according to Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The co-author of The Second Machine Age shared his perspectives on machine learning with HR Tech attendees, highlighting the increasingly important role that technology, data analytics, and artificial intelligence is playing in the workplace.

“We’re now living in the greatest era of transformation since the Industrial Revolution,” said McAfee, citing IBM’s Watson and Google’s driverless cars as examples of transformative technologies taking over roles thought to only be fit for humans.

His advice? Employers must embrace the shift from human to digital. According to McAfee, companies who employ “data-driven decision-making” are 5%-6% more productive than those that don’t. Additionally, employers should rely more on “geeks” – or, as McAfee defines them, those who are driven by the data and use that to guide their decision-making – instead of “HiPPOs,” or “the highest-paid person’s opinion,” whether it be a C-suite executive or a hired consultant. The proof is in the pudding, and that pudding is technology.

What are the implications of the machine age and the “new world” in which employers are operating? As McAfee pointed out, there will be changes in performance expectations, as well as management and leadership shifts. “There will be a great deal of disruption, and this will be hard for some organizations,” said McAfee. As he poignantly stated, “If we can continue to find ways to combine the human and the digital, the sky’s the limit.”

The social, mobile and cloud-based workforce, or “SoMoClo” and what it means for employers:

Employee expectations are changing, and employers need to adapt. Dubbed by some as “SoMoClo,” the integration and utilization of social, mobile, and cloud-based solutions must be at the forefront of employers’ HR technology strategies.

Harfoush also shared that every day there are 300 million Facebook photos, 175 million tweets, and 35,000 YouTube videos uploaded – and this is just a tiny sliver of the social information that we are generating. Eighty-seven percent of the world has mobile access, thus begging the question: Why are so many consumer social and mobile applications designed with the user experience in mind, but then the internal, employee-facing enterprise software is often laggard and antiquated? Luckily, for attendees, many organizations were onsite to showcase how they have turned this question into a strategic advantage.

At Castlight, we recognize that the workplace has gone mobile, and realize just how critical it is for employees to be able to interact with our Enterprise Healthcare Cloud solution on-the-go from their mobile devices. Managing your healthcare is not restricted to working hours. Our cloud-based, mobile-optimized solution is a critical driver for us to be able to turn the 30% of healthcare costs that employers waste each year into a strategic business investment. What would you do with your 30%?

It’s a millennial world!

What do millennials want? With nearly half of all U.S. workers predicted to be of the millennial generation by 2020, the onus is on employers to recruit and keep that talent. With only 30% of executives paying attention to this category of employee, according to a recent report from SuccessFactors, the solutions gap – and opportunity to close it – has never been more apparent.

In a recent Castlight Health analysis of the search behaviors of U.S. workers, we know what millennials value when it comes to their healthcare. With our Enterprise Healthcare Cloud, employers are able to use employee-generated data to directly inform their healthcare benefits design strategy, and our millennial insights help do just that. Do you have a comprehensive dental plan and offer coverage of behavioral health? According to our data, if you want to attract millennials, you should offer dental and/or behavioral health plans.

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Whether it’s around data analytics, SoMoClo, machine learning, or engaging millennials, this year’s conference did a fantastic job of elevating the conversation around how technology can and must be applied to HCM. At Castlight, we couldn’t have been more excited to showcase how our Enterprise Healthcare Cloud is making an impact, providing employers data-driven insights and enabling them to control their healthcare costs. With our technology, we’re helping employers decide where and how to invest their dollars based on targeted business objectives, turning a top-three enterprise cost into a strategic, competitive advantage.

Interested in learning more about how Castlight’s Enterprise Healthcare Cloud can help employers drive down the $620 billion spent each year on healthcare? Follow us on twitter to see Castlight in action, and visit our blog for more HR Technology Conference and Expo onsite highlights!