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Employers Consider Post-COVID Priorities, Cornerstone Advances HR's AI Agenda, IT Spending Slows and More HR Tech News

December 02, 2020 Digital Workplace
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

Coronavirus or not, employers are concerned about whether their workers will possess the skills they need to help their businesses succeed, according to Gartner. Indeed, more than two-thirds of HR leaders, 68%, told the Stamford, Conn., researcher that building critical skills and competencies in their organization is their top priority for 2021.

That aligns with executives’ wider business priorities, which include improving operational excellence (65%) and growing the business (64%). Fifty percent said they’ll focus on optimizing costs in 2021, a 13% increase from this year.

Mark Whittle, vice president of advisory in Gartner’s HR practice, said the firm’s 2021 HR Priorities Survey indicates that “HR leaders are moving away from crisis management toward focusing on what will make their organizations strong.”

A number of businesses, HR technology vendors and employees have zeroed in on reskilling as an important component of both business and career success in recent years, as employers sought to drive efficiency and workers aimed to make themselves more attractive as either internal or external candidates.

In response, Gartner has previously floated the concept of “a dynamic approach to reskilling,” which is less about learning technology and analytics than it is about method. In Gartner’s view, organizations should leverage their people, systems and strategies to help HR monitor trends and identify skills to be developed as they’re needed.

However, that concept remains aspirational. According to the 2021 survey, just 21% of HR executives say their peers partner with HR to forecast future needs. Meanwhile, 62% said their company lacks a comprehensive future-of-work strategy. Such plans relate not only to needed skills, Gartner said, but also to the looming changes employers face in the wake of the pandemic, including the increase in remote work, widening use of employee data and new factors impacting employer branding, such as crisis response or workplace safety measures.

Cornerstone OnDemand Establishes Lab to Push Use of AI

Cornerstone OnDemand has established an internal center of excellence focused on developing new ways to apply AI to workplace needs.

The Cornerstone Innovation Lab for AI includes data scientists and machine learning specialists who concentrate on approaches that are both practical and ethical, the Santa Monica, Calif., company said. The lab’s participants were involved in developing the Cornerstone Skills Graph, the company’s skills engine.

In addition to its innovation work, the lab will educate people about the benefits AI can have on the workplace when properly — meaning ethically and responsibly — implemented.

Despite all of the attention that artificial intelligence attracts during discussions of HR technology, Cornerstone believes integrating AI into workforce solutions is still a relatively new concept. The company cited Gartner’s Artificial Intelligence Survey, which found just 17% of employers use AI solutions in HR today, and only another 30% plan to do so by 2022.

Cornerstone’s lab is meant to “propel the research and development of AI in the workplace forward and responsibly incorporate new AI innovations into Cornerstone’s offerings,” said Cornerstone chief technology officer Mark Goldin. Goldin is among the lab’s team members, as is Cyril Le Mat, director of data science, and José Rodriguez, the company's chief data protection officer.

Looming COVID Shutdowns Worry Executives

Corporate leaders are now more worried about additional shutdowns because of COVID-19 than they are about the pressures of a battered economy, according to a pulse survey by New York City-based professional services firm PwC US. More than half (54%) of executives said their biggest concerns relate to COVID, while 41% focused on the economic landscape.

At the same time, more than two-thirds of these executives, 64%, are concerned about policy and regulatory changes that might take place when President Joe Biden’s administration begins in January. During the next 12 months, 71% said they’re likely to reconsider their current investment plans.

Executives believe their companies are resilient and are optimistic about 2021, PwC said. The pandemic has left them feeling more agile and better prepared to adapt to whatever the future holds. Interestingly, they’re least concerned with lack of demand (12%) and a decrease in consumer confidence (14%).

Ninety-three percent of executives plan to expand their efforts to support workers, with 72% planning additional well-being and mental health programs. Just more than half expect to prioritize upskilling their employees (52%).

Corporate IT Budgets Will Take Time to Recover

Meanwhile, the coronavirus and its economic fallout have forced employers to rethink their technology spending and priorities, with many of them resetting their budgets to address critical projects only. Transformation and growth initiatives, which were expected to gain both attention and money during 2020, have been back-burnered or suspended.

The not-unexpected result: a significant decline in IT spending. According to the UK financial news site Buy Shares, global technology spending will drop this year by about $210 billion, or about 5.5%, compared to 2019.

In an analysis of Gartner data, Buy Shares said organizations will spend 3.7% less on enterprise software this year, and about 3.2% less on data center systems. While the report indicates that IT spending will begin recovering in 2021, growing by 4% to hit $3.7 trillion, that’s still a 1.6% drop from 2019.

News Briefs

Mursion, a provider of virtual reality training for emotional intelligence in the workplace, closed $20 million in Series B financing. The round was led by Leeds Illuminate. Mursion combines an AI-powered VR with live interaction to provide users with an environment to practice communication skills. The company said it extended a number of customer relationships during 2020 due to the pandemic.

Kahoot, an Oslo, Norway-based learning platform, acquired the language education company Drops in a deal worth $31 million, plus $19 million in incentive payments. Acquiring Drops is part of Kahoot's strategy of expanding into new subject areas, and adding languages is particularly timely, Kahoot said, given recent pushes in globalization and remote learning.

Engagement and experience platform People Element released a new version of its product, People Element 4.0, that includes an enhanced user interface and simpler gathering and analysis of employee feedback.

Background screening vendor TazWorks announced an integration with MeasureOne, a provider of academic data. Through the integration, screening companies will be able to access MeasureOne’s education verification products, including real-time information on degrees, attendance dates, GPA and transcripts.

ABD Insurance and Financial Services partnered with benefits app HealthJoy to provide a “benefits wallet” that includes ABD health insurance along with other benefits, such as health savings accounts and dental insurance. The HealthJoy app also provides access to medical experts and customer service representatives.

Talent acquisition platform Phenom completed its Cornerstone Integration Certification and will join Cornerstone OnDemand’s Edge Marketplace. The integration will streamline the exchange of information between the platforms, and also centralize a number of tools used by recruiters.

People on the Move

Digital intelligence provider ABBYY named Weronika Niemczyk to be its first chief people officer. Previously, she was senior vice president of HR at Ascential, and served as Expedia’s global HR director before that. (ABBYY)

WurkNow hired Robert Lawrence as vice president for West Coast sales. A 20-year veteran of staffing and recruiting, he most recently held leadership roles at Horizon Personnel Services and Cornerstone Staffing Solutions. (Business Wire)

Barings, an investment management firm, appointed Caroline Mandeville as CHRO and Chasity Boyce as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. Mandeville has HR experience at TIAA/Nuveen, the Hartford Financial Services and MassMutual. Boyce has worked at real estate investment firm Heitman LLC, and the law firm Skadden Arps. (Barings)

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