Cutting-edge startups battle to transform HR into a powerful corporate tool

Companies at the cutting edge of HR technology battle in a Dragon's Den-type challenge to convince a panel of experts of their commercial potential

Companies at the cutting edge of HR technology battled last night in a Dragon's Den-type challenge to convince a panel of experts of their commercial potential.

A series of seven startup companies demonstrated the potential that analytics, social media and augmented reality have to transform human resource management (HRM) into a powerful, and even sexy, corporate tool.

Their stories, presented at the iHR Awards, at a major HR technology conference in Amsterdam, demonstrate the level of innovation in a sector that, until recent years, has been as something of a backwater for technology.

Now, employers are seeing the potential of cutting-edge HR technology to transform their businesses, and give them a competitive edge. 

Multimillion pound HR technology projects are becoming increasingly common.

Winner: Appical

Appical's founder, Gerrit Brouwer, turned up dressed as an airline pilot, highlighting the company's mission to turn a rather pedestrian and neglected area of HR – onboarding new employees – into something more exciting.

The Judging panel

  • William Tincup, Tincup & Co
  • Ilonka Jankovitch, Ranstad
  • Jerome Ternynk, Smart Recruiters
  • Thomas Otter, SuccessFactors
  • Philippe Botteri, Accel Partners
  • Grechen Alarcon, Oracle

The company's stated aim is to become the Angry Birds of employee induction programmes. It uses cutting-edge technology and social media to make staff induction fun.

Forget about dull briefings on company policies, and think about completing interactive storylines and missions to get you up to speed with the way your company works – and all of this served up on a tablet or iPad, complete with augmented reality videos.

The business case sounds impressive. Companies that have tried the technology claim to have reduced employee boarding costs by 30% and raised productivity by 50%.

The Dutch company must be doing something right. It has been offering services for just a year, but is already approaching €1m in revenues and delivering boarding services to 25 companies.

Judges scores: 4,5,4,4,5,4

Second place: Zao

Israeli startup company Zao has developed sophisticated social media technology to help companies fill job vacancies by tapping into referrals from existing employees.

Many firms already have referral programmes in place, but often they are only marginally successful. Employees simply find them too much effort.

"We want to make it really easy for employees to refer someone," said Ziv Eliraz, Zao founder and CEO. "We show them people in their social networks who are likely to be good candidates for the post, and they can refer them with just one click."

Zao keeps employees motivated to take part in the referral system, by awarding them reward points as their candidates progress through each stage of the recruitment process.

So even if candidates don't get the job, it is still worth putting them forward.

Eliraz has used the software to recruit his own team. Some 80% of the employees he has hired through referrals are still with the company, compared with only 20% recruited through more traditional means. His customers report similar results.

Judges scores: 5,4,4,4,4,4

Third place: ConnectCube

ConnectCube uses computer games to match job candidates with suitable roles. It does that by extracting psychological insights from the way candidates perform.

More stories from HR Tech Europe 2013

  • Technology will make businesses more 'human'
  • The perfect storm comes to talent management
  • Charity uses cloud HR system to keep track of staff working in danger zones
  • Engineering firm aims to 'Googlise HR'
  • Computer Weekly HR Technology Guide

The software is able to match the personalities of the candidates with the personalities of existing team members in the company, giving employers a good indication of whether recruits are likely to fit in.

"This person is a lot like Bill, Bob and Sue. Gee, they are our best employees. We definitely want to talk to them," said CEO Michael Tanenbaum, explaining the concept.

The Canadian company says anyone who comes into contact with a company's brand is a potential recruit, and games are a good way to find the top candidates.

"The tools we develop are fun to play and people spend a huge amount of time engaging with them," he said.

Judges scores: 5,4,4,3,4,4

Runners-up: Apploi, jobFig, Macromicro,

Apploi has created a mobile application that makes it easy for people to apply for jobs in the retail services industry. The app uses interactive video and audio, rather than form filling. And employers can reach candidates any time to follow up applications. Launched five months ago, Apploi has signed up 200 companies, including some in the Fortune 500.

Judge's scores: 3,3,4,4,3,3

An engineer and a neuroscientist walked into a bar. The result was jobFig, a company that is combining software with psychology to work out the best candidates to fit in with an employers' existing teams. A seven-minute personality test provides the answers. The application has had interest from 18 Fortune 500 companies.

Judge's scores: 4,3,3,4,2

Macromicro offers what it claims is a totally new approach to HR analytics. Its application presents a graphical view of all the employees in an organisation, allowing managers to drill down and ask questions that they may not otherwise think of asking, such as which high-flying employees are likely to be thinking of leaving.

Judge's scores: 3,3,3,2,3,3

US startup aims to help companies build happier workplaces by making smarter hiring decisions. Its software is designed to answer questions such as: If I hire these 10 people for my company, what impact will that have on my company culture? The company is just about to go through a round of venture capital funding.

Judge's scores: 5,4,4,3,3

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