IBM Connect 2013 First Take: Will Watson be the future of HCM?

The messages at this morning’s IBM Connect keynote event were clear: The future is “Social” and the new language of business is “Analytics”. Welcome to the future.

All morning these messages were evangelized and demonstrated, from IBM executives and their demo teams, to clients like Bosch, Caterpillar and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and even from a Hollywood star-slash-collaborative film development entrepreneur.  Each spoke on the transformational role that collaborative, social engagement is having in our business and personal lives, changing how we work, play, create, engage and in some cases even how we’re paid or rewarded for our efforts.

For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the keynote came at the end, when Mike Rhodin, SVP IBM Software Solutions Group, spoke to the future and the intersection of social, analytics and people processes.  He spoke of cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson and its ability to filter through the terabytes of data created every day to see patterns, unlock the real truth about business, employees and customers, and to weave intelligence into every aspect of the fabric of a business.

Watson meets HCMFor example, Rhodin asked that we imagine a central “employee center” for global organizations – one which becomes a trusted career advisor from pre-hire through advanced roles in the organization through the continuous analysis of formal, informal, social and other inputs (structured and unstructured) to present a highly personalized, dynamic and guided  path for each individual. Not the static, pre-defined career paths of the past, but truly intelligent, contextual and adaptive guidance to the individual all throughout their career with a company.

Long term future vision?  Not as far off as might be imagined.  Today, Watson is being used in select healthcare use cases such as analyzing patient records and myriad information sources to surface recommended treatment protocols.  Applying similarly deep and broad analysis across the ‘big data’ of the enterprise, with a lens on employee success and value creation for the organization, makes complete sense.  Only big data analytics will be able to effectively interpret all the signals an enterprise may receive around its employees and drive meaningful insights and decision support – for managers and the employees alike.  Embedded cognitive systems are the necessary next step as we evolve our talent technologies and processes from transactional systems to systems of engagement and, ultimately, transform them to the experiential systems necessary to thrive in the future of work.

Of course – the answer isn’t just pure analytical power.  Human engagement and analysis will still be needed.  Even in the Watson-recommended healthcare protocols referenced above, the physician and other caregivers use the results to inform and guide their actions; ultimately the healthcare provider makes the final decision.  Likewise, in the career management and other employeee-oriented engagement scenarios, the cognitive system-delivered paths will serve as guides to inform individuals; Watson won’t replace the person-to-person conversations and analysis that will ultimately drive the employee’s action.  What’s transformational, however, is the richness of information that will inform those individual actions, that can make recommendations based on previously hidden patterns and connections, all because of the capabilities of real-time analysis of vast quantities of seemingly disparate information.

Many announcements are underway here at IBM Connect and the opportunities for the  HCM market are numerous; more to follow in upcoming days.  Meanwhile, let me know what you think about the idea of Watson and related systems and the opportunities for HCM.


WorkSimple Brings New Focus on Social Goals and Engagement

In a market where the term “social” is applied to just about any form of collaboration, where the ability to make comments on web transactions and send email is often (and misleadingly) marketed as social feedback, it can be challenging to find those solutions that truly  reimagine people processes in the context of social technologies, enabling and engaging people in getting work done collaboratively. (Refer to my earlier post for more background on this emerging space, HR’s Role in Getting Work Done: Are You a Driver, Passenger or Pedestrian?”).

Today, one such provider of reimagined people processes launched new functionality intended to broaden its reach in this area.

Social performance platform provider WorkSimple announced today a series of new capabilities to augment employee engagement and cut through the noise to focus on the priorities that matter. The company’s newly released functionality, named Focus Boards, Focus Profiles and Focus Detail, are intended to provide individuals and leaders the ability to create and manage goals in a lightweight, collaborative and easy to manage interface. One of many benefits claimed by WorkSimple is the elimination of the top-heavy complexities of traditional cascading goal paradigms, which are usually out of date long before the annual performance review comes into play. These applications foster transparency and communication across the enterprise, and accelerate engagement for improved results.

It is well understood that today’s business environment requires maximum agility. Goals and priorities shift as business conditions change, and people need the right tools to help them focus on what matters, communicate their priorities and status against their goals, and to engage with individuals across the company for transparency of vision and direction.

At the individual employee level, WorkSimple’s Focus applications are designed to enable employees to quickly and easily create social goals and see how their efforts impact the rest of the organization.

WorkSimple - Focus Boards Release - Focus Detail

At the company level, Focus Boards are meant to provide a single view of all the areas of Focus across the company as well as teams and individuals contributing to those initiatives.

WorkSimple_simple alignment at the company level

WorkSimple, a Cloud-based offering, has three levels of pricing. A very robust freemium model includes functionality for an unlimited number of users across Social Goals™, Team Focus Board, LinkedIn Integration, WorkStory™, Feedback, Recognition and Professional Reputation management. Their Group Edition and Company Edition versions then range from $5 to $9 per user per month and bring additional depth of functionality as needed.

My POV: 

  • The robust Freemium model is available for an unlimited number of users. This may be overly generous in today’s market. It may also be a highly effective Trojan horse into the rest of the WorkSimple suite…time and user feedback will tell.
  • I applaud the WorkSimple offering because I believe this is where the market must move: from HR-centric processes into end-user focused productivity and engagement tools. These applications reflect a fundamentally better way to attract, engage, manage and empower employees across the enterprise.
  • Is WorkSimple a long term solution or a quick fix? At this point I believe it is a strong solution to address the immediate needs of some organizations, with the best fit being those companies of any size that embrace social technologies and seek alternatives to hierarchical processes.

What do you think?  Are you currently using or evaluating social goal or social performance applications?

HR’s Role in Getting Work Done: Are You a Driver, Passenger or Pedestrian?

Typically we look to the CHRO and team to drive people management strategies and enabling technology investments across the enterprise. Yet it’s also routine for targeted people productivity tools to make their way into the enterprise with limited or even no involvement of the HR organization. Whether driver or passenger to these investments, the benefits of the journey can be leveraged by all. The role to avoid is that of pedestrian – entirely outside of the car and walking in the opposite direction! Close alignment between HR and business leaders can keep the organization on track, even when different drivers are making different turns.

Over the past few months I’ve been briefing with a series of technology providers that bring social and collaboration capabilities into the applications people use every day to get work done. Sitting at the intersection of people management and business management, these applications include Social Goals, Social Performance and Feedback, Social Learning, and Social Team Based Project and Task Management. Referred to by a variety of names (Social Performance Management, Social Work Management, or even peer performance applications), it’s clear that these applications are redefining not just how people are enabled to collaborate and get work done, but also how social business productivity tools are entering the enterprise.

Refocusing on People Operations

This new breed of applications is all about “getting work done collaboratively.” At their core, these applications are aimed at supporting the completion of tasks, projects and goals by teams. However, a transformation among this category of applications is underway, where vendors are innovating in collaboration, social networking and mobility to make their applications ubiquitous, engaging and impactful to today’s workforce. They’re becoming high-impact technologies that support people in their everyday work lives: connecting individuals and teams, supporting goal and initiative management across groups, surfacing the status of tasks and projects to a broad audience, and enabling feedback and recognition around work activities.

Despite these new capabilities sitting at the heart of what should be core considerations for HR organizations, a large percentage of these tools (especially social work management applications) are sold directly to Line of Business (LOB) leaders with little or no involvement of HR. Is this a problem? Not necessarily.

HCM and Non-HCM Technologies Meeting the Needs

Many of the work management tools come from vendors outside of the HCM technology space. Vendors such as Asana, FellowStream, CoHuman, Teamly,, Socialcast and many others (see my colleague’s more complete list here) specialize in collaboration and project/task management, and they position most directly to IT and LOB owners (such as the sales force facing productivity challenges; the services organization managing competing priorities for staff; the marketing team looking to move beyond an unending task list to focus on value-add projects.) Being outside the line-of-sight of HR, it is no wonder these value-add tools are selected and deployed without the foreknowledge of those responsible for HCM technologies.

Interestingly, even in those cases where vendors do position directly to HR buyers (as in the case of WorkSimple, Rypple, Achievers,, and others), HR is often but not always the primary buying center. Again, this is because these solutions transform the day-to-day methods of engagement and communication of people as they work to deliver against departmental/business objectives. Additionally, if support from HR or the rest of the organization for new productivity apps has been slow or problematic, the affordability and quick deployments offered by this new breed of applications makes it a no-brainer for individual teams to invest in these tools for immediate impact.

Driver or Passenger – Ensure You’re In the Car

HR can certainly be the driver behind such tools, and should be when employee recognition, engagement and performance management are at the forefront of the business objectives for such investments. However, HR can also be an effective passenger on this journey, taking a back seat to the Line of Business (LOB) buyers who are looking to these tools to address specific processes or challenges in their divisions. HR’s opportunity here is to help inform the final technology selection and ensure these tools are leveraged in broader people strategies and business initiatives (such as workforce and business analytics, enterprise social networking, workforce scheduling and other people-centric business processes). The only real failure here would be for HR to ignore these applications as being too focused on daily operations.

In the next few weeks I’ll be publishing a market overview of this category of social performance and work management tools and how they fit into a new technology layer I refer to as the Business Management Layer. You can also replay my interview on the Bill Kutik Radio Show, which covers this topic as well.

Let me know what you think. Is your organization adopting these emerging social performance and work management tools? Which ones? How is HR leveraging them in the context of your organization’s overall people management strategies?

Cross-posted at Constellation Research, Inc. 
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