Flextrack team group photo with the Flex mascot at the CWS conference.

Fall 2023 Conference Season Recap: Fasten Your Seatbelts!

With the Fall 2023 conference season winding down, we are seeing posts and articles with titles like “Three Takeaways from the XYZ Conference” or “What I Learned in Las Vegas.” These summaries are as inevitable as the 2024 HR Trends we’ll see in the next couple of months, and are helpful in extending the experience with people who couldn’t participate in the conferences. The perspectives shared by analysts and influencers in these posts can also be useful in making sense of a chorus of firehoses saturating our consciousness with content and calls to action online and with all the event follow-up outreach.  

My part in the chorus this year is to connect the dots between three different but related events to broaden the view beyond a single industry or conference. This helps promote a more comprehensive, “ecosystem perspective” of what’s coming in the world of people, work, and technology. My Fall conference run included the following:  

Dreamforce

This year marked my first deep dive into Dreamforce, which in the past had docked cruise ships in San Francisco Bay to accommodate all the participants as the city sold out of hotel space. This year was more subdued (over 40,000 people attended), and vibrant with Trailblazers, technology buyers, and ecosystem partners seeking to connect and to learn from each other about what’s coming from Salesforce.

A picture of the Dreamforce conference

Most of the people I spoke with at Dreamforce hadn’t considered how a VMS built on Salesforce could help them manage contingent workforces and suppliers in new ways, however, after just a few minutes of discussion they were sold on the idea.  

Salesforce is investing heavily in its on-platform data management and artificial intelligence capabilities to spread innovation and trust throughout its ecosystem. In particular, Einstein GPT brings features like dynamic grounding, data masking, zero retention, toxicity detection, and audit trails to safeguard data and establish a trust layer for delivery of functionality like generative AI, chatbots, and easier development of innovative new applications on the Salesforce platform.   

HR Tech

This huge conference is always a great way to connect with former colleagues and current collaborators to keep things human, while staying up to date on all things work and technology. It’s becoming clear that people and work management practices are picking up speed in terms of innovation and agility from all the investments in technology and digital transformation over the past decade.

Jeff Mike at the HR Tech conference

The field is shifting its focus from seeking efficiency of processes and optimizing return on investments to applying new capabilities for solving urgent business problems as they emerge.  

More specifically I heard numerous calls for analytics teams to shift from providing data and backward-looking reporting to generating solutions and new forms of value for the business. The conversation around skills has evolved from an abstract trend to real experimentation, lessons learned, and progress. And, of course, AI dominated the landscape, especially chatbots and their ability to upgrade workforce experiences. Perhaps most encouragingly, the HR audience is starting to realize the value of including the contingent workforce in strategic workforce planning to ensure access to talent and manage costs in a volatile and unpredictable market.   

Contingent Workforce Summit

Flextrack branded bus at the CWS conference

The contingent workforce industry could use some tough love. It is about a decade behind HR in terms of digital transformation and rethinking the way work is done to generate value. This industry needs to keep shedding fragmented technologies and insular mindsets to match the current workforce, customer, and market realities. For example, too many silos and manual processes in how organizations source, select, deploy, and track non-employee workers restrict agility and innovation while creating massive overspend, risk, and duplication in contingent workforce practices. 

Fortunately, a movement is growing to transform contingent workforce programs from Generation 1, focused on cost and risk containment, to Generation 2, which combines innovative thinking, new technologies (including AI), and real-time analytics to solve problems and generate value in the same way HR being asked to do. The contingent workforce industry needs to engage HR directly to help close the gaps in strategies and capabilities for delivering value through people, and to finally reach the vision of a complete, total workforce practice that includes FTEs and non-employee workers.  

Putting it Together for Agility, Innovation, and Value 


Not surprisingly, a common theme among these events, and throughout the world of work, is what we currently call AI. While we have been through a number of technology hype cycles and
AI winters previously, it’s become clear that investments in data, machine learning, and conversational interfaces are starting to generate real returns in the way we manage people and work. The most striking examples of this value, but certainly not the only ones, are coming from the TA space where AI, skills, and better data management are resulting in dramatic improvements in time to fill, candidate placement, and new hire retention rate, in addition to saving tens of thousands of hours in recruiter time each quarter.  

Perhaps the most important takeaway from these events is that AI has moved from science fiction to hype to experimentation and application in real-world situations. As a result, the business and talent world is going to get much faster, much more innovative and much more effective in finding new ways to create value.  It’s time to strap in and join the race.  

Jeff Mike

Jeff Mike

Head of Insights and Impact, Flextrack

Jeff Mike works closely with HR, Procurement and IT leaders to design extended workforce ecosystems that fuel and future-proof enterprise talent strategies. Jeff brings over 16 years of experience leading HR functions, along with six years leading global HR- and workforce-related research, to combine the best thought leadership, business practices, and platform technology into purpose-built solutions.

Jeff Mike
Jeff.Mike@flextrackservices.com