Last week I attended the IBM Smarter Workforce event which took place at the Central Hall conference centre in London’s Westminster. Targeted primarily at HR leaders, the event was the last of a series that has been held across Western Europe over the last month, and attracted 800 registrants. I’m not sure what the final attendee figure was, but it was well-attended, and there was a positive vibe during the sessions.
Though I’ve been hearing about IBM’s Smarter Workforce strategy for some time, for me this event marked a significant shift in gear from IBM, with a much clearer message around what Smarter Workforce is and what it plans to be, as well as—importantly—greater clarity about what it isn’t. Kexexa (which IBM acquired in December 2012) takes a prominent and central role, and its experience and credibility in the HR space are being fully leveraged by IBM, which is a relative newbie in this area. The Smarter Workforce strategy is headed up by Jonathan Ferrar, who has an operational HR background within IBM, and was brought across to help the company translate its offerings for the HR audience.
The keynote sessions at the event focused on how organisations are having to change in response to the evolving digital environment—I liked the statistic that noted that, by 2010, 46% of the workforce will be Gen Y, compared to just 14% in 2005—and the role that HR needs to be playing in that change process. IBM shared some data points from its latest C-Suite research study which highlighted that though CHROs are now starting to recognise their need to change and evolve to better support and contribute to the increasingly customer-driven business world, there is still lots that needs to be done to change the perceived importance of the HR function across the rest of the business. In their study of over 4,000 C-suite execs (including 342 CHROs), only 35% reported that the CHRO is involved in business strategy decisions in their company. The HR function has become somewhat distanced from the coalface, with only 31% of the CHROs believing they understand their business’s customers well today. According to the study, CHRO’s top priorities today are talent development, employee engagement and commitment and talent retention but, going forward, they see collaboration and knowledge sharing and the rapid development of workforce skills increasing in importance.
This is all data that IBM is clearly taking to heart as it continues to refine its strategy in the Smarter Workforce area, combining the Kenexa portfolio ever more deeply with IBM Connections and the company’s various analytics capabilities. I noted in my wrap-up from this year’s IBM Connect conference that the company was introducing a social onboarding capability which brings together Kenexa and Connections to help speed up the process of engaging new joiners in the community even before their start date, subsequently transitioning them across once they’ve joined and providing a structured environment to help them get up to speed and feel engaged and confident more quickly. The IBM Social Learning platform—a video-based environment that was launched in late 2013 and is at the heart of one of IBM’s most high-profile social collaboration customer references, the Boston Children’s Hospital OPENpediatrics platform—is also built on Connections and will, later this year, be integrated into the IBM Kenexa Talent Suite as well. IBM is also developing new social performance management capabilities which will leverage Connections and will form part of Talent Suite.
But perhaps most interesting and significant on IBM’s Kenexa roadmap is the analytics opportunity with Talent Suite; due to be released later in 2014, a new talent insights tool will leverage cognitive analytics capabilities in the IBM Watson technology to look for patterns or correlations in skills and business data, without requiring a specialist analytics expert or statistician to set it up or interpret the results. I questioned how easy it was to get started with an analytics-based talent management exercise, and it seems that IBM is addressing that in the near future as well, developing packaged analytics solutions in areas such as predictive recruitment, predictive retention and talent readiness. No official release dates as of yet, but these will no doubt offer a more manageable entry point for organisations who are just getting started in this space. My feeling is that this is just the beginning for IBM in its work to reinvent the HR function through better analysis of the data that is currently hidden there; in many cases I think it will be a case of holding back until the market is ready, since the capability seems to be largely there (if not in product form) already.
Overall, it was an interesting day for me, and a timely one given my blog last week which questioned why HR isn’t more involved in social collaboration initiatives. People often talk about improving employee engagement as a driver for their collaboration initiatives, and yet the most effective measure for that engagement is employee retention rates, and that’s often not discussed at all—probably because HR is not involved enough. I’ll be writing more on this topic in the next few months, so stay tuned. In the meantime, it would be great to hear your thoughts on what IBM is doing here, or alternatively the role that HR is playing in enabling collaboration in your organisation.
MWD clients can read my analysis of IBM’s social collaboration strategy and offerings here.