A Few Words With Bill Kutik on Self-Service Technology


A Few Words With Bill Kutik on Self-Service Technology and the Need to Focus on Employee Teams

Bill KutikBill Kutikthe longtime chairman of the annual HR Technology Conference & Exhibition, is six years removed from running the conference, and he seems busier than ever these days.

But, you wouldn’t know that from his LinkedIn description, which is incredibly short and sweet. It simply lists that he is:  “HCM Analyst, Columnist, Host of video series “Firing Line with Bill Kutik”, Father of HR Technology Conference​.”

Fuel50 sat down with “the Father of the HR Technology Conference,” who is now the event’s Conference Chair Emeritus, right before the annual event kicked off again in Las Vegas this month. The questions and answers were edited for clarity and brevity:

Question: What’s the most useful or intriguing technology you’re seeing these days?

Bill Kutik: Well, I’d rather talk about what I think is the most important technology development in 20 years. That’s employee self service, which only a historian will remember was originally provided by add-on vendors back in the 1990s. It gave employees direct access to their records and the functionality in a system that was never designed to give them that. It was actually designed for HR professionals. And guess what? The early iterations never worked.

The famous Sierra-Cedar report about technology was originally about employee self service. So, we have to see that development 20 years ago as the beginning of what we see now: the attitude that all HR applications are not really for the HR department but are actually for employees. And, we see the evolution from the original software because it wasn’t software they lived in regularly but was software they only went to once a year.

We have gone from something we used once a year to what’s happening now — AI-based chat bots that are involved in delivering self service. What’s interesting to me is that the needed functionality has not changed, but the technology thrown up against it has evolved amazingly over the last 20 years. I’m very hopeful that this current technology of AI-driven chat bots will actually solve this 20-year-old problem, particularly for managers, who of course, have much more complicated transactions than employees.

Question: You have seen a lot of trends come and go. What are the big trends you’re seeing today? Which ones are the real deal and which ones do you think are a little bit overblown?

Bill Kutik: Well, the returns are not in yet on how useful AI, machine learning, and robotic process automation are really going to be for HR. It’s just as it was with client servers back in the 1990s. Everyone says they have it, but very few people do. And with only a handful of companies engaged, it’s are really not clear to me how quickly it will happen.

What I think is a trend is the need to focus on teams. We’ve long known that whatever software you used, it had to spit out an org chart for your corporation but that the chart was out of date the second the printers stopped rolling because things have changed. We also all know that work in corporations is done by people from different departments working together on an ad hoc basis. Most HR software cannot really track those teams, cannot help put them together, cannot evaluate them. And I really think that the new focus on teams, which ADP among others is promising to do, is a key development and really important.

Question: Tim Sackett recently wrote about how Amazon is looking to fill 30,000 jobs, got 200,000 applications, but may actually need more than 1 million to fill those spots. Will talent management technology ever be able to streamline complicated hiring challenges like that, or even simpler tasks like fixing the candidate experience problem?

Bill Kutik: The simple answer to that is “no.” I’d like to repeat my favorite story, which is how the military does HR.

The military actually does a wonderful job of creating officers. It has lots of pipelines for that — ROTC on college campuses, West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy. It even has officer training school for guys they missed after college. They have their own supply chain for the first lieutenants that they need so desperately and who are their front-line managers.

When they run short, they can’t just walk across the hall at the Pentagon to another military service and try to steal some of their first lieutenants with stock options. If they haven’t developed them themselves, they’re screwed. And that’s what’s happening in American corporations today.

Companies have to be developing the new people they need internally because they just can’t go out and buy them anymore. That’s particularly true during our current good economy because people have a choice of jobs. Companies have to start doing what they did back in the 1950s when General Electric famously had its executive development program, probably the last really good one, in the United States.

Companies need to help today’s employees become the people they need tomorrow, and not just be content to let them be the people they are today. They need to go out and hunt down the people they need tomorrow.

Companies need to help employees become the people they need tomorrow and not just be content to let them be the people they are today. They need to go out and hunt down the people they need tomorrow.

It’s well known that Cisco starts training and meeting students in high school in Silicon Valley. If Amazon needs more warehouse workers, they’re going to have to start going to community colleges and connect with potential warehouse workers. I don’t know exactly what kind of jobs Amazon is hiring for, but the fact is, it’s not about the technology to increase the pipeline. It’s training to make that pipeline better qualified.

Question: I remember some of those hiring development programs that were still available in the 1970s, but they’re just about all gone now and I’m shocked that they haven’t come back. Do you think they will? Is it a question of dollars? Is it a question of something else?

Bill Kutik: It was a question of the Baby Boom being so big that companies had their choice of people and they didn’t have to invest in training them. Now, they’re finding out they have to invest in growing and training their people again and they’re stuck with how to do it. We’ll see how well they do.

Question: If you spend very much time in the exhibit hall here at HR Tech, it’s very easy to walk away thinking that technology has automated just about every HR talent management function possible. Is that really the case, or are there still some functions that are in need of a technological solution?

Bill Kutik: It’s definitely not the case. On the crudest possible level, background checks are largely done by hand because all 50 states don’t even have their motor vehicle records available online, and that is where all background checks start. So that’s the lowest level of things that haven’t been done.

On the highest level, nobody has come up with reliable technology that will take your 10,000 candidates and perfectly match them to your 50 open job reqs. Nobody can do that. Everybody claims to be able to do that, but nobody can do that in a way you can trust. There are some companies that will take systems that promised that and hire people without ever meeting them, and instead, will hire them after doing video interviews. That’s a bit much, I think. I like to press the flesh myself, but total automation is the dream, right?

I’m not sure I’ll see it in my lifetime, and I’m not sure you’ll see it in yours.

Interested in learning more about the Future of HR?

Join us at 2x upcoming FuelX Conferences in New York (29-30 October) and Sydney (20-21 November), featuring Josh Bersin as keynote speaker for both events.

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