In his keynote speech at Plateau Insights, Plateau Systems’ European user conference, held in Rome and the end of March, Thomas Otter, Research Vice President at the market analyst firm Gartner, Inc, revealed that he and his team receive a wide range of queries about ‘talent management’, ranging from the extremely general to the highly specific.


“The latest enquiries tend to be about consolidation – where people are looking for one cloud-based vendor to supply both their talent management and learning management system (LMS) needs,” he said. “Traditionally, vendors talk about something; then buyers ignore it for two to three years and then they look to buy. By that time, the vendors can deliver what the buyers are looking for.”


Otter added, however, that despite the seeming attraction of cloud-based applications, people like silos. He said: “HR specialists buy software to deal with different bits of HR operations: learning software, performance software and so on. Then they have all sorts of frustrations trying to tie these systems together, getting information from each of the systems to the other systems and so on.


“It’s important to examine the cost of integration,” he advised. “And when you connect ‘A’ and ‘B’, you have to be sure that both bring value. Otherwise, don’t bring them together!”


He also observed that, when HR departments are evaluating software, they often don’t consult the users. Otter continued: “HR people decide what information they want and then wonder about the low levels of adoption from users. In order to get that information, they need to involve users at the evaluation stage.”


Moving on to consider talent management, he revealed that ‘full talent management usage from a single vendor’ is still rare. According to Gartner’s figures, only 3.7% of organisations using talent management systems have the ‘full suite’ of products. Those with four modules comprise 21.3%; those with three modules comprise 55.6% and those with just two modules comprise 86.1%.


In Otter’s view, the key issues in this sector are:

  • The shift from exclusively classroom based learning to e-learning and a blended approach has happened. There is now a continuing move to embrace more flexible social learning too. Of course, social learning has been around for ever but, now, it is available through the use of technology too.
  • LMSs are less ‘trendy’ but are far from dead. As long as government departments require proof of regulatory compliance, the LMS has a healthy future.
  • There is a growing need to track, or get insights into, social learning.
  • Recruitment is being heavily affected by social learning via LinkedIn or Zing for example. Organisations are reporting a fall in ‘job board’ spend of some 33% and a fall in spending on recruitment agency services of 25% and, instead, are using social media sites.
  • LinkedIn is an indictment on HR technology over the last 30 to 40 years. Over that time, HR specialists have been trying to get people to volunteer information to go on their systems. LinkedIn comes along and 100m people happily volunteer this information. In future, HR systems will need to be connected closely with LinkedIn and similar systems. He added: “ERP systems are designed for the compulsory user but they should focus less on how they can force people to give them data. As people become more open with sharing, they will share more.”
  • HR needs to get involved in social media/ social learning as soon as possible because (a) the use of social media in organisations is going to happen and (b) someone else in your organisation will be thinking of how to use social media and, if they get their ideas in first, HR’s voice will not be heard.
  • We’ve been through the hype of e-learning followed by the disappointment and we’ve now emerged at a ‘plateau of productivity’.
  • The mobile consumption of content is increasing and the creation of content for mobile consumption is also increasing. This means that ‘mobile’ needs to be integrated into HR strategy.
  • HR specialists want to be seen as ‘people people’ and yet they want their organisations to spend more on the HR function. HR specialists should learn the lessons of brand analysis from the marketing function and should, therefore, learn to be happier with numbers. Otter added: “Organisations need to make decisions about their people with the same rigour, logic and confidence as their decisions about finance, clients, policy and technology. HR people often have the necessary data but they don’t do a good job of finding and producing it.”


He concluded: “There is increasing acceptance and adoption of the cloud and, thus, software as a service (SaaS). SaaS is now well established and it works.


“HR specialists need to focus on unified learning and performance solutions for creating a performance driven culture. Within this, we’ll see informal social learning with increased user-generated content – especially video. In addition, we’ll see increasing importance being given to leadership development and succession management.”


Comment: Otter presented some valuable insights into the contemporary HR and HR technology scenes. His advice – find two or three vendors you want to bank on, including one in talent management and one in learning software, and commit to these to reduce your interface costs and risks – seems sound. Moreover, it is dispensed with the authority of a world-renowned market analyst firm.


Technology, data and numbers are all areas in which Otter advises HR specialists to invest and develop their expertise. It’s something that others with the best interests of HR at heart have said for many years. Unfortunately, history records that few HR specialists have, so far, heeded that advice. However, one of the great characteristics of any ‘people person’ is the ability to have hope. So, hopefully, the HR profession will take heed of Otter’s – and others’ – advice before it’s too late.