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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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Round up: HR Tech Europe 2013

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Amsterdam is a capital city but doesn’t feel like one. Trams snake lazily, picking up passengers here and there, while free-moving cyclists form informal clusters to chat and share fresh, clean air. The city centre itself, steeped in history and a colourful feast for the eyes, doesn’t stress the soul like London or New York.

I (along with my colleague Duncan) was in Amsterdam for HR Tech Europe, which took place at the Amsterdam RAI complex, just south of the city centre, on October 24th and 25th.

Now firmly established as a leading event in the annual HR calendar, HR Tech Europe is embryonic by event standards – this was its third year. A decade ago, eyebrows would have risen skyward at the thought of a ~1500-strong delegate event dedicated solely to technology in the HR function. Now it seems silly to think we ever survived without one.

Technology is one certainty in the future of the HR department. Technology is moulding what the HR department can bring to the business, and therefore what the HR department will look like in five or ten years. It’s an exciting time for the HR department; arrived with rolled-up sleeves, ready to discuss the nitty gritty.

Early on the 24th, we picked up our badges and took the standard stroll round the expo floor, sizing up stands and trying nonchalantly to pick out contacts and colleagues. There was energy in the air that’s typically absent during the frantic morning rush to get everything up and running smoothly. And – interestingly – this energy didn’t dissipate during the whole conference, even the morning after the cocktail-quaffing on the night of the 24th. I heard at least three people comment on the energy and buzz that filled the venue.

Part of this energy came from the quirky touches – a movable robot on the Oracle stand handed out sweets to sugar-starved attendees, while the final conference session on the first night was improvised HR comedy which was funny in places and painful in others. No-one took themselves too seriously – which is a lovely thing to say about such a big event. The first round of cocktails on the 24th were supped pleasantly, not left half-drunk in the wake of people heading for the door.

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Other content from HR Tech Europe:

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The expo was dominated by software vendors. They are, of course, at events like this to sell. But conversations taking place across the expo floor were heavily-weighted toward analysis of industry trends, insight into the future, comparison of experiences and other topics unrelated to selling. Product discussions came after the conversation, which is the nicest and most organic way they happen.

The conference sessions were varied and insightful, with insight from vendors, academics, practitioners and thought leaders – the whole gamut. Daniel Pink’s keynote was a highlight – the former White House scriptwriter gave a rousing talk on motivation in the 21st century. Most of the vendor-led sessions, which can be intrinsically dry, were thought-provoking. But the vendors really got involved. They weren’t on the sidelines, waiting for their chance to sell. They were in the middle of discussions, offering insight and responding.

I’ve got a few minor criticisms: tracking what conference sessions were happening where was confusing at times, the product demonstration rooms were too small, leaving people sitting on the floor and the wi-fi was slow at times. It would also have been nice to have easier access to the speakers; many were ushered away quickly.

Overall, the event hit the two goals of HR events – they should be worthwhile, and they should be enjoyable. The tweet stream was on fire, a smelting pot of vendors, bloggers, consultants and practitioners, all discussing pertinent points like friends over a pint. It’s a very good sign for the HR function; as it goes through fast evolution, this tight-knit discussion will help ensure technology vendors create useful software and that practitioners don’t get left behind.

HR Tech Europe 2014 has already been planned – a one-day March warm-up in London and the main two-day event in Amsterdam on the 23rd and the 24th of October. We’ve got a whole year of tech innovation before it rolls around. But judging by this year’s event, the next one should be worthwhile for anyone in the HR function who wants to get their finger on the pulse of evolution in the HR tech sector and in the HR department as a whole, as well as network with like-minded professionals in an engaging, welcoming environment.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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