HR Tech Weekly: Episode #257: Stacey Harris and John Sumser

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Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday or catch up on full episodes with transcriptions here.

HR Tech Weekly
Episode: 257
Air Date: March 12, 2020


This Week

Topics: Fears for Dublin jobs as Oracle believed to be cutting 1,300 roles, Mercer’s Report When Women Thrive 2020, SilkRoad Announces Lilith Christiansen as SVP Chief Strategy and Product Officer, Alight deploys AI to improve Employee Experience, New Paychex Integrations and Enhancements, Paycor Announces Industry-First Open Enrollment Wizard Tool, and Aon Buys Willis Towers Watson.

Fears for Dublin jobs as Oracle believed to be cutting 1,300 roles Link »
Mercer’s When Women Thrive 2020 Global Report Link »
SilkRoad Technology Announces Lilith Christiansen as Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy and Product Officer Link »
Alight deploys artificial intelligence and data-driven insights to reach new levels of engagement in the employee experience Link »
Paychex Enhances Integrations, Help Center, Custom Dashboard, and More Link »
Paycor Announces Industry-First Open Enrollment Wizard Tool Link »
Aon Buys Willis Towers Watson: Another Waypoint In The Demise of Employer Pensions Link »
Topics: Oracle, Mercer, Silkroad, Alight, Paycor, Paychex, Aon, Willis Towers Watson

Other News this Week

How people are using AI to detect and fight the Coronavirus Link »
Learning Technologies Group to acquire Blackboard’s Open LMS for $31.7 million Link »
CloudMills and HRNX Merge: Now HR Folks Can Use Whatever the Heck they Want Link »


About HR Tech Weekly

Hosts Stacey Harris and John Sumser discuss important news and topics in recruiting and HR technology. Listen live every Thursday at 7AM Pacific – 10AM Eastern, or catch up on full episodes with transcriptions here.

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Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.

John Sumser
Stacey Harris


John Sumser 0:14
Good morning and welcome to HR Tech Weekly One Step Closer with Stacey Harris and John Sumser. Good morning, Stacey. I think we have we agreed that we’re going to have the ‘no doom and gloom’ radio show today.

Stacey Harris 0:27
I would agree. Yes. Good morning John. We have said this is a virus free zone today, not because we know these important we know it’s all important but it does feel like everywhere you turn this week that the conversation is focusing on the virus. So we’ve made some decisions that today we’re going to stay a little bit more focused on what’s going on the business world because that will continue afterwards.

John Sumser 0:46
Now, some of you are enjoying your dose of adrenaline and fear this probably isn’t for you but otherwise Stacey and I are going to talk about what’s going on with the industry.

Stacey Harris 0:58
Well neither of us are traveling because travel is restricted right now. So we’re busy looking at what’s going on and there is still stuff going on in the industry. It’s a very busy couple of weeks considering how many acquisitions and mergers have been taken place down where do you want to search it? And do you want to start at the bottom of the list want to start at the top of the list of things that we’ve got going on?

John Sumser 1:18
Let’s start at the bottom of the list and work up and as you know, I go down to the bottom of the list and I I say no doom and gloom, and then this says Oracle’s gonna cut 1300 jobs in Ireland. So, there you go.

Stacey Harris 1:32
Now this no doom and gloom about the virus but businesses still have to figure out optimally what’s working for them and we didn’t get to talk about this last week. It was in the news, Oracle is struggling a bit to find their footing still in this cloud world that we’re in and they have told everyone that they are cutting 1,300 jobs across Europe with Dublin being one of the probably biggest their locations affected. Cuts affect people from across sales, business development and solutions engineering, and they came after Oracle fell short of their quarterly revenue estimates late last year as a growth in cloud services businesses failed to cover the losses in traditional licensing businesses. So we’ve been watching this happen for a little while. And this just goes to say that good business metrics have to be followed and when they are numbers start to drop right.

John Sumser 2:15
Right. So, the next one is, despite a focus on diversity inclusion, less than half of organizations have a strategy to improve gender equality. Isn’t that nuts? How could that possibly be true? This is a Mercer report and the idea that there are 50% of businesses that are not working to solve the gender equality problem. That’s bizarre.

Stacey Harris 2:40
It’s bizarre, but it’s what’s happening. So I did a really great panel on Monday with a, Tuesday sorry, this week with a group of women Minda Hart, who wrote the memo, How Women Of Color Get A Seat At The Table. Eva who runs Softskills, as well as Trish McFarland, three amazing women and we talked about gender equality and what we all really found is that although there’s been a lot of conversation about it, there’s been a lot of discussion about it. In every instance, we’re finding that companies are struggling to really think about equality, both from a race and gender perspective and, and in other situations in a way that lead to better outcomes. A lot of them are doing a lot of diversity programs, but they’re not paying on the right skills. They’re not creating environments, where women feel like they’re included and inclusive in the environment in the culture. So yeah, this doesn’t surprise me at all. It was definitely the topic of our conversation just a few days ago.

John Sumser 3:34
So let me ask you, this is the problem I often have with vendor surveys. Mercer has a business associated with improving gender equality in pay and and this survey finding has to do with that. How do you trust something like that. That is the vendor who sells the product says, Oh, look, we surveyed the world and everybody needs us.

Stacey Harris 3:58

John Sumser 3:59
Right. And…

Stacey Harris 4:01
It’s a challenge no doubt about it.

John Sumser 4:02
Yeah, I don’t know, this is it’s so weird. We’ve gotten into this place where third party research is understood to be less effective than somebody claiming that the data shows that the world needs their product. It’s a strange world we’re living in right now.

Stacey Harris 4:21
Well, I mean, it’s one of the one of the same issues we have with journalism and anything else. Where’s the conversation about validated research versus vendor based research versus sort of organizations who are just doing research as a content tool? One of the things I will say though, is that I know outside of Mercer’s business at a organization that consults on this, they do have some of the most stringent research processes that I’ve seen in the market, even validating other research organizations like Sierra-Cedar for their processes. So I know Mercer has a strong belief in good research. That being said, though, I will say I think what you have to really look at is the details about who participated in that research and what their roles were within the organizations so you have to ook a little bit at how the research was done. And then also be very aware of how people can take data and sort of manipulate it for sort of their own messaging. So don’t just read the top headlines of any research, because the top headline is easy to manipulate. But good researchers also show what the data looks like underneath and what you want to look at as well how the data is looked at underneath and make some discussions about how that actually plays out in your area, your industry or your region. So I wouldn’t say that by any means. Is it always less valuable to look at research just because an organization delivers those services. But I do think you should make sure that whatever research you’re getting access to, you can see how it was done, who responded at some level and see some of the underlying data to be able to make some judgment calls of your own but yeah, it’s a good call. Yeah, but I don’t think there’s anybody who would disagree that although diversity, I say you know, in our research, we can show that over 70% of organizations think they’re effective at doing diversity and inclusion But only 20% of organizations say that they have a transformational or excellent approach to doing pay equity do is really hard to say you’re doing diversity and inclusion really, really well and you’re not managing pay equity. So I think other additional research organizations and other research efforts can validate some of what we’re seeing here too.

John Sumser 6:18
Cool. Okay. So next, we’re back to just sort of take the other side of this, Lilith Christianson is the new Senior Vice President of strategy at Silk Road technology. Another woman running the strategy shop in another big player, we have an amazing industry. Yeah.

Stacey Harris 6:36
I thought this was a good one Lilith used to run the onboarding program over there and the development tools for the onboarding tool. And Silkroad is definitely pulling itself out of being an all inclusive enterprise application from an HR perspective and focusing much more heavily over the last year or two on onboarding, wanting to become the premier onboarding tool with the base of what used to be their red carpet tool which fused across the entire application. So this makes more sense to me. And I think Lilith is new in conversations with her, I think she’ll probably invest in the organization moving even farther in that direction. From a product perspective. You know, this industry is really great at giving an opportunity for women to lead in the technology phase. What I really like to see is also getting them in the executive levels as well. We haven’t quite hit that mark yet.

John Sumser 7:23
Hmm. All right. And next in the queue, Alight deploys AI and data driven insights to reach new levels of engagement in the employee experience. Wow, isn’t that a dollar per buzzword.

Stacey Harris 7:36

John Sumser 7:38
That’s just there’s very little stitching just buzzwords in a row. So what does this mean to you that Alight is doing something with employee experience using AI?

Stacey Harris 7:48
Well, I think that’s even more interesting perspective. So light is the is formerly part of what it was known as an cuit. So alight was the sort of technology side of that business that was pulled up separately which is the Workday implementation practice side it was the consulting side on technology and practices right where we also found out this week that Aon as a standalone insurance and HR benefits broker, which was separated from Alight then merged with Willis Towers Watson, and across all three of these types of organizations, they’ve all been trying to figure out what’s the new role they’re playing in a world that doesn’t depend as heavily on pensions and retirement funds management, all those things, and everyone’s trying to become a technology company. So Alight is, I think, just the most recent conversation around an organization that was a spin off to some extent that focuses on implementation that focuses on technologies around outsourcing and outsourcing management. And now they’re saying that they’re going to view artificial intelligence into how organizations can increase engagement in the organization with just some sort of a front end do we We’re talking about the service delivery model for a while, but they’re talking about viewing this in their healthcare navigation solution, and also viewing it in the front end service delivery experience. So giving them an opportunity to make some decisions about your health care and your wellness through this artificial intelligence process. That’s the bigger picture here. I guess.

John Sumser 9:18
That’s interesting because you have to wonder I’d love to hear more about this because you have to wonder just what data do they use the healthcare navigation problem trends, right on the edges of HIPAA data? And if you don’t use information about the actual healthcare, then what is it that you’re helping with making it easier to change policy institutions?

Stacey Harris 9:42
It’s to pick which tools for healthcare that you want to use right enrollment guidance, comparison clinical

programs, health savings and wellness in a space they’re also doing decisions about financial well being as well as your personal well being and debt management, those type of things and and they’re also covering here? Some conversations about careers, they’re talking about things like time off and total rewards. packages, right? What does that look like? How do we evaluate our pay deduction decisions? Those are personal lines in the way that I get to make decisions as an employee and but oftentimes, I don’t know what’s the right decision to make the really I need some sort of a tool or wizard that guides me through those decisions so I can make the right one that makes sense for me and my family and my personal life. So a lot of this doesn’t require HIPAA information. If you yourself personally know those things, you can just say yes or no to a certain question without getting into maybe what kind of health risks you have or what problems you have. There was a little bit of skirting around the HIPAA conversation to some extent.

John Sumser 10:45
So these things, navigating healthcare choices, apparently you can navigate financial choices, which suggests trading stocks on the company portal is that with financial wellbeing.

Stacey Harris 10:59

John Sumser 10:59
And, pay and performance. These are not actually terribly complex conversations and there have been wizards around for years. What do you suppose the difference is?

Stacey Harris 11:10
Yeah, Alight have their, you know, artificial intelligence. And at the same time we got an announcement of Paycor announcing the industry first open enrollment wizard tool right through the same exact thing, Benefits Administration software that helps you walk through setting up open enrollment processes for small businesses, whether that’s for the administrator or for the end user who’s going through the decision making process. We’ve had some sort of tool guiding people through these decision making processes for a while. So it is hard to say that it is industry first in any sense, or that it is something novel, The artificial intelligence part of it. The only thing that I can get not having had the conversation with them is that possibly they’re making recommendations to the end users based off of algorithms that they’ve built into the tools that that’s what I would assume, and also making sure that those algorithms are gathering continued data through the response. Is that people are making right against not pulling HIPAA specific data, but maybe pulling it as training data which is anonymized. But yeah, no, I mean, these aren’t new concepts. I think they out here that might be new ideas. But we’ve been using just good common sense to help people walk through these kind of wizard like things for some time right.

John Sumser 12:18
Yeah, well it’ll be interesting to see if this actually makes a difference.

Stacey Harris 12:21
And the Paycor one is interesting to watch. Paycor’s not only saying their wizard will help people make decisions much more about actually setting up open enrollment, which is much more for the administrator on the SMB side. And that generally takes a long time to set up open enrollment. They’re saying they’re going to reduce time for doing open enrollment from weeks and month to a quarter of that time with their reserves. So again, same space, same conversation, just a little different take on it,

John Sumser 12:44
And then Paychex. Lots of good stuff going from Paychex.

Stacey Harris 12:49
Yeah. Tracy Wellsman here, who is their analyst relations person. I think she does an amazing job pinpointing when there’s less noise in the market about other technologies and she does a really nice job of making Be sure that that’s when the announcements for a paycheck comes out. And these are mountain announcements, although I do think they do a nice job with talking about their efforts to help and support their small businesses manage the Covid-19 conversation, putting some templates out there and how they’re helping invest in pools that will help manage this remotely accessing employees, those type of things for their customers. But they also were announced to some really interesting things. They’ve got a new integration feature with additional organizations. So they’re adding their integration tool. They’ve been talking about a pan demand system for a while, but it looks like they have a new payday pay on demand solution. They’re opening here the Help Center is probably the most interesting. The Help Center tool that they’re talking about is one that has tutorials and employs natural language processing for questions and predictive learnings. I think this is for the admins of the HR function there. I’m not sure if this is all the way down to employees, but it might be it doesn’t say in this particular data point, as well as a custom dashboard and document management. So patients continues to fill out their offerings, in many cases just as much as many of the larger more expensive tools have in the market, right?

John Sumser 14:02
So the Paychex story is pretty amazing. They have breathed life into an old company over the last five or six years, by just in a very disciplined way, expanding their reach expanded the quality, they have one of the most interesting AI program to the industry. And so this is one good model for how you do it. It just keeps slugging, you just keep hitting and hitting and hitting and get the timing right. And I bet they can show the results of their development and communications programs to be directly impacting the stock price. It’s pretty interesting.

Stacey Harris 14:39
Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. You know, we’re also thing in the same space was we talked about the Aon Hewitt, you know, Aon buys Willis Towers Watson. This is probably the biggest announcement this week. And they also play in the payroll brokerage conversation benefit base that we were just talking about with a lot of the other organizations And mostly for the largest organizations in the world so where we got Paychex and Paycor we were talking about earlier dealing with the the smallest organizations in the market and and Willis towers Watson deal with the largest companies globally on the topic of benefits and employee pensions and employee retirement plans. And these two large behemoth organization basically and the UK based Aon is buying Willis Towers Watson for $30 billion. That will create a combined company worth 76 billion which puts them ahead of the Mercer organization, which was the Mercer Marsh McLennan which was originally up into this point the leader as the their brokerage firm market. So this is going to create a huge massive company from what was parts of other companies now being brought together. And the goal it looks like is to unify the sector’s second and largest and third largest name as well as to allow them to focus more They’re packaged offerings, unveiling new benefit platforms for making sure that they are able to meet the demands of sort of the changing market that they’re dealing with both in healthcare and benefits as well as the pension market. So this is going to be interesting to watch to see how this impact jobs in the technology space around benefits, the technology space around retirement management and some of the regulations in the space as well.

John Sumser 16:24
It’s gonna be interesting. I wonder, Well, you know, in the current administration, this won’t really receive much scrutiny as a deal but when you consolidate this work it what it really does is reduced the level of choice that employees have and that employers have when shopping for benefits management kinds of things. And I wonder, I just wonder if that’s going to hold.

Stacey Harris 16:49
I will have to say that was one of my first thoughts as well was I was surprised because there had been an earlier conversation about Aon and Willis Towers Watson sort of connecting actually as of last year and that fell through pretty rapidly, I think due to some misunderstandings about how much they were worth and valuations, but there was also some concern about, you know, antitrust going on, we might have that situation here. But like you said, it may not be paying much attention. Because if you’re a large organization, and you have a limited choice and who you would go to now, I do believe that the Mercer organization has been heavily focused on growing their business in the space. We’ll use this as an opportunity while you do any merger and acquisition, it’s an opportunity to pick up or more customers who don’t want to deal with emerging clients or emerging vendor, but still, it’s definitely going to create fewer options for the market as overall.

John Sumser 17:36
You have to wonder if this deal will actually get done. Right. So they announced it. It doesn’t say when it’s going to close exactly, but it’s kind of it’s an all stock deal. It’s gonna be contingent on a range of stock prices. And what we’re seeing in the stock market is so insane that it’s easy to imagine the falling apart.

Stacey Harris 18:02
That’s a good point. We hadn’t really talked about that. But I mean, the stock market could be causing multiple differing conversations for any kind of an organization that’s being impacted by that right now. Yeah.

John Sumser 18:12
That’s right. That’s right. Well, it’ll be, you know, we’re ever changing world, we’re in such a rapidly changing world, it’s hard to predict what normal will look like six months from now. And all of these businesses that we’ve talked about today have one thing in common and that’s they assumed that tomorrow was going to look a lot like yesterday did sort of like sort of like AI in general. Right. But the question for AI is, can AI predict in any interesting way what happens when there is a huge market disruption, like we’re seeing, and it’s not it’s not any good at that.

Stacey Harris 18:49
No it is because this is this is something that’s never happened before. Right? And and the idea of sort of predicting something that just there’s no model for requires much different analysis that was interesting. There was a couple of articles that I didn’t pick up on but but they were biotechnology articles that Salesforce was an interesting one. They had a their artificial intelligence research program had been working on actually sort of synthesizing proteins or something like that, which is an interesting thing for someone in the salesforce market to be doing well, well, I’m really listening to what AI is doing right now. It seems like the places where it can have the most impact definitely is in the healthcare space in the sort of understanding what’s going on in sort of the the biology level of things, right, where it’s a little bit more predictable, a little bit more scientific about what you can get to predicting human nature and economies and markets is a much different dialogue. And I’m not sure we’re really as good at that as we think we might be yet

John Sumser 19:50
Oh no we’re not involved with the the simplest way to say it is that AI cannot handle emergent phenomena and can’t understand causes. And the unbundling of that is, AI can predict that what happened yesterday will happen tomorrow. But it can’t predict that what didn’t happen yesterday will happen tomorrow. And that means that if you trust the tool and use it as the primary bit of evidence for decision making, you’re taking a risk. And the question is how big is the risk in any given decision? And I don’t think people are thinking that hard about it.

Stacey Harris 20:27
No, no, not at this point. And the risks are being put into sort of relative levels, the risk of putting out the right marketing material and the wrong marketing material versus the risk of making the right or wrong decision about healthcare have two different levels of impact at the end of them. And I think right now, we are used to looking at risk based off of financial or brand or discussions about business outcomes from the size of our market or customer satisfaction. Everything. But as we move further into some of the things that we’re dealing with right now, whether that’s the virus errors or you know, biological decisions or you know, decisions about, you know, people’s healthcare, those artificial intelligence, they’re going to get closer and closer to having an impact on a human outcome. And that’s when it gets much more complicated and has much more long term impact on an individual, right, which you can name and you can put a face to, and that that’s something where it gets a little bit more profound, and how you have to think about your AI conversation, right?

John Sumser 21:33
But it’s always going to be useful to the extent that it can make some movement with predicting what people will do. That’s the holy grail here, you know, otherwise, it’s just another wizard. It’s just not. That’s not really very interesting. I don’t think it’s a wizard.

Stacey Harris 21:50
But you’re telling people that it’s a smarter wizard because it’s got this AI behind it. And so people are using it to make sort of decisions that have an impact on their life. Isn’t that the scarier part is that you’re you’re saying that it’s smarter than just me as a consultant giving you guidance?

John Sumser 22:07
Right. But no, that’s exactly what the scary part is, is the claim that it’s smarter. And it’s not involved clear that it is. Right. That’s the there’s no, there’s rarely evidence that that this data infused thing actually generates greater benefit than the older version. There’s a lot of putting AI in places where you have data just because you can, rather than because it actually solves a problem.

Stacey Harris 22:39
Although I don’t disagree with some of the great work that’s being done. I mean, I love the ideas of wizards that walk through things like we talked about here was this Paychex and Paycor and even the work that Alight’s doing that will give more guidance than what we’ve had in the past. And so I think all of these are great, that sort of giving some sense of more insight, particularly for those employees who needed or wanted. I think it really just comes down to language that we’re using. That’s the thing that I would just caution for the market is just be aware of the language and what your what your end users believe about it. Right? I will never forget, I had a consultant who once told me, well, technology and AI has no bias, right? We’ve now realized that that is not the case. There’s bias built in for everything, right. But early on, there was a real hard belief that well, technology can’t have a bias when you’ve got the same thing here with this kind of decision making processes that AI is better than my own personal sort of maybe walkthrough. And that’s not the case. But more information is never a bad thing, right?

John Sumser 23:36
So don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that, that these things may not be useful. I’m saying that the hype and the exaggerated claims create expectations in buyers and users that are hard to meet. And so that means that what you have to do to clarify what’s actually possible so if somebody’s building a new way of guiding you through Benefits Enrollment based on data. Well, you need to see if that’s actually true if that actually works or if this is just more lipstick on. You know, depending on who the athlete, you can almost tell but buzzword density, right you might apply a buzzword density meter to a set of claims from a vendor and have a reliability discount based on the intensity of the buzzwords because if it’s not, if it’s not in English, and not perfectly clear and English, then you can guarantee that they know what they’re talking about.

Stacey Harris 24:41
I love that. So that’s our takeaway from today. We have we’ve tried to create a virus free zone I think we’ve done a fairly good job of it. And most importantly, you should have a buzzword index built into all technology decision making. The more buzzwords the lower confidence you have. You can make you can make a pretty good living out of that John, just giving people a buzzword index.

John Sumser 25:04
There you go. There you go. It’s a fog index.

Stacey Harris 25:07

John Sumser 25:07
Great. So thanks again for doing this Stacey. It was a wonderful show. We managed to stay quarantined. And thanks, everybody for tuning in. We will see you back here same time next week. Thanks for listening. Bye Bye now.

Stacey Harris 25:21
Thanks, everyone.

Great ideas for you