Are 2015’s Biggest Tech Trends Good or Bad for HR?

Steve Boese Audacious Ideas, HR, HR Tech, HR Technology, Steve Boese

The New Year always brings with it a slew of “trends” think pieces that postulate on what will be the upcoming year’s most influential and potentially disruptive developments in technology, culture, and business. Some of the more interesting pieces are done annually by JWT, Frog Design, and one I am going to unpack a little bit here, Harvard Business Review.

In the HBR spot, the author, Amy Webb calls out six trends to look out for in 2015, and while it is certainly debatable if these trends will actually pan out this year, it is always important to be prepared, (as much as that is possible), for what technology is going to throw at us. So, let’s take a look at HBR’s trends through the lens of HR/Talent/Your Career to see what 2015 might have in store. We’ll give a line or two on the definition of each trend, a rating of “Good” (this will benefit the savvy HR pro) “Bad,” (this trends makes you less valuable or replaces something you do), or “Push,” (we can see both the good and bad in this and it is kind of a crap shoot). At the end we will tally the scores and make our call for what “Big Tech Trends in 2015” will do for (or to) HR.

Here goes…

  1. Deep Learning – Artificially intelligent computers are now capable of deep learning using neural networks, which you can think of as human-like systems capable of translating digital information into English.  It will eventually allow robots to recognize objects they haven’t seen before and navigate to new locations on their own. Deep learning will impact numerous fields, and it will soon aid in manufacturing, medicine, retail, utilities, and beyond.

HR/Talent rating: Bad. Computers, robots, and other advanced tech that becomes able to learn by watching, adapt on its own, and share that knowledge with other bots all spells trouble for people of all kinds. Keep a look out for this one. 

  1. Smart Virtual Personal Assistants – These systems use semantic and natural language processing; data mined from our calendars, email, and contact lists; and the last few minutes of our actual behavior and interactions to anticipate the next 10 seconds of our thinking… and present information and recommendations before we even had to ask. Marketers, credit card companies, banks, local government agencies, and many others can use this technology to both deliver critical information and to better read and understand constituents. 

HR/Talent rating: Good, but it’s close. Generally speaking, this technology will make people more efficient, which is generally good for business and for our sanity. There could be a backlash if/when these systems become too smart, and continue to keep people tethered to their phones 24/7. That quickly morphs into work-life balance danger territory really quickly, and then suddenly, becomes an HR/Talent problem. 

  1. “It’s Like Uber for _____” – Uber’s success has inspired hundreds of other entrepreneurs who want to emulate the best features of the company. In 2015, expect to see lots of new, Uber-inspired delivery and other businesses, including fast grocery delivery, helicopter rides, portable ATMs, alcohol delivery, in-home massage service, dry cleaning and laundry, iPhone repair, personal shopping, medical marijuana, dog walkers, and on-site car mechanics.

HR/Talent rating: Probably Bad. These Uber-like services disintermediate the relationship between employers, front-line staff, and customers. While we talk (a lot), about the death of the traditional job and classic full-time employment relationship, we really are not as a society adequately prepared for this shift. HR/Talent gets much, much harder when the talent you are trying to help manage is a loose confederation of contingent and contract workers than a roster of full-time employees. 

  1. Oversight for Algorithms – In the coming year, many will also begin questioning the ethics of how algorithms can be used, and we will increasingly assess the tendency of some algorithms to fail. During the next several months, organizations should discuss how to include accountability and review systems for algorithms. 

HR/Talent rating: Bad, even though it seems like it might be good. The net-net is that any improvements in algorithms and automation technology eventually will pressure (and potentially threaten) jobs and careers of all kinds. This is kind of vague admittedly, but for now I am more on the side that sees the rapid advancements in automation as more of a negative influence on work and workplaces, at least in the near term. 

  1. Data privacy – Whether it’s fear of a third party monitoring our mobile phone activity or concern about the safety of online transactions or the security of our corporate networks, people are increasingly concerned about their privacy, and they’re pointing the finger at business, not external hackers. In 2015, businesses must not only work to protect their data, but they must make sure they are taking measures they’re taking to safeguard employee and customer information. 

HR/Talent rating: Good, but with the potential to get very bad as well. The fallout from the recent Sony Pictures Entertainment hack, which featured the release of plenty of sensitive HR and employee data, should drive HR and IT leaders to work together to ensure organizational data is secure, and systems are up to the task. This should mean upgrades for many HR shops and improvements in HR systems, and in the attention paid to HR and HR data by IT and other business leaders. So this is a good thing. Just don’t mess up. Then it will be very, very bad. 

  1. Block Chain Technology – The block chain is the technology behind the transaction database that’s shared by everyone participating in bitcoin’s digital system. It is a type of distributed consensus system, where no one person controls all the data. Beyond bitcoin, it could evolve into a universal platform that can be used for anything requiring signatures or authentication. 

HR/Talent rating: Push, mainly because the block chain and its impact on work and HR is just about impossible to ascertain right now. Bitcoin had an interesting run in 2013, then was a worse investment that the Russian Ruble in 2014. So maybe the tech behind Bitcoin will sort of whither away, too. But who knows. You get a pass on this one. 

Ok, survey says that HBR’s 2015 Tech Trends that You Can’t Ignore rate out at 2 “Bads,” 3 “Goods,” and 1 “Push.” So, it looks like these trends figure to have a (slightly) net positive impact on you, the HR/Talent pro. Hooray.

What’s it all mean? Who knows for sure, but being aware of how the tech world is changing and potentially changing your career is an important start. Ignore these trends at your peril, lest you end up getting block chained, wondering what the heck just happened.