We are deep in the throes of conference season, which has some pros and cons. On the cons side, conferences are stacked back to back, and it’s easy to fall behind. On the pros side, reflecting on several of these events before writing allows me to look for patterns. Another pro is my ability to sell my deficiency as an advantage. In any event, there were some strong themes that cut across three events I recently attended: SAP SuccessFactors SuccessConnect, ADP’s annual Analyst Day, and the Zenefits Shift conference.

Platform – There’s a new battle on for the UX platform. Discussing platform can be a little confusing because people are using it in two ways almost interchangeably. There is the core technology platform upon which solutions are built. Then there is the manifestation of that platform as the way in which people access technology and solutions, or the user experience platform. While related, the topic that was front and center at all of these events was the UX.

  • SAP SuccessFactors wants its product to be the portal through which you experience all of SAP’s other solutions, as well as integrated solutions from third parties in the SAP ecosystem. Despite new leadership, this seems to echo the vision former leader Mike Etling shared earlier this year.
  • ADP’s Global Cloud Connect delivers on the promise they made last year to make it simple to connect any internal or external application to any ADP HCM application.
  • Zenefits is shifting from its problematic point of view as a disruptor of the brokerage market to becoming the technology backbone of it. They position themselves as the link between brokers and their clients, and between employers and employees in one unified platform.

AI, and Machine Learning – This is hot everywhere, but there were impressive demos of new capabilities in this area that are making it more than an idea. SAP SuccessFactors is building in digital assistants for things like onboarding and other transitions. ADP is leveraging its wealth of data to help individuals and organizations by suggesting training and offering career planning advice, or even nudging a manager about a potential flight risk. Zenefits demoed its interface with Amazon’s Alexa, using voice commands to put in a vacation request as simply as you would order a bottle of sunscreen. AI, bots, and decision guidance are a big part of the platform movement and focus on UX.

Diversity and Inclusion – This issue has been front and center more than ever. In an environment where there seem to be new revelations daily about discrimination and abuse in the workplace, and particularly within tech companies, this issue is top of mind for solution providers. Right now, more of the offerings call attention to the gaps or instances of inequity, with not a lot of solutions. But they do take the important step of at least giving decision makers the opportunity to acknowledge their thought process. Technology will also be an important tool to track and report on the impact of diversity on business results.

It will be interesting to see who wins the platform wars. But in the long term, the opportunity for tech to truly help us improve our businesses is real. Technology will never run our companies for us. But the way it can track and communicate information back to us so quickly can give a great manager the edge they need when making tough calls.