A Genius’ Next Act!

By: | September 19, 2018 • 3 min read
HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik, as chairman emeritus, was at the recently concluded 21st annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition®, in Las Vegas, Sept. 11-14, 2018. Get a primer on Artificial Intelligence from Bersin Deloitte’s Christa Degnan Manning on the 37th episode of the broadcast-quality video series, Firing Line with Bill Kutik®. He can be reached at [email protected]
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Lots of really smart people have built talent-acquisition software. But then there’s jobs2web creator Doug Berg.

 

We saw more vendors offering talent-acquisition software on the show floor of last week’s HR Technology Conference® than any other application. It’s been that way for years because the process is still broken.

But be sure to check out ZAPinfo in booth #428A in the Startup Pavilion and talk to its father, Doug Berg, who created the second most successful new category in recruiting software—naturally before anyone even gave it a name, because he started it!

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The first was ATS; his was jobs2web, sold to SuccessFactors in 2011, when $110 million was still real money for a small software company. It did most of what everyone now calls “recruitment marketing”: enabling recruiters actively to seek out and sell qualified candidates on their open positions, instead of posting them to a job board and waiting for the flood of mostly useless resumes to pour in.

In the recruiting trenches, they call that “attract and retain versus post and pray.” The problem is the new model can be way more expensive, but that’s just one of many problems ZAPinfo addresses.

HR technology has long been held captive by buzzwords. I’ve seen it happen so many times since 1989, when PeopleSoft offered the first HR system with real client/server architecture running on a server and PCs at a time when every large company was still using a mainframe.

Suddenly, all those mainframe software vendors were waving their hands in your face saying, “Client/server, come right over here. We’ve got it, too!” The fact is there wasn’t another one real oneuntil 1993 when SAP entered the U.S. with a pretty awful client/server HR system (but great process-manufacturing software for the oil and gas industry) and not really until 1995 when Oracle released EBS.

Imagine, six years of buzz and empty claims before there was a second product you could actually use! By the way, thanks to Mike Gioja, now CIO/SVP at Paychex, SAP came out with a solid client/server HR system in 1998.

I won’t bore you with the many other examples, except to recall that what you were so excited about four years ago—predictive analytics—is now infrequently mentioned today.

That’s because it’s been rolled into artificial intelligence, the king of buzzwords at the moment, generating thousands of mentions every day from every conceivable source: HBR and McKinsey to the New York Times, HRE and endless blogs. And you know all those recruiting vendors on the show floor will tell you they’ve got AI, plus machine learning. They have to because all their competitors are saying they’ve got it! That’s what’s buzzing right now.

Now, I certainly don’t know all those vendors, as I once did. Probably only a few experts, including Elaine Orler—CEO of Talent Function and chair of next year’s Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference—can even name them all and maybe describe what they do.

But I’ll wager very few of them actually have AI. In fact, John Sumser, who is running the HR Tech conference’s AI track, thought none of the 29 products he analyzed some months ago had it, at least by his strict engineer’s definition of AI. No stricter than Naomi Lee Bloom’s definition of SaaS, of course, but whatever could be?

Doug Berg has it!

To be more precise, ZAPinfo has a feature that certainly functions like AI, though strict constructionists of AI will certainly reject the label. But who cares? It is just one of the several astounding features in his new product that so increases recruiter productivity I predict they will be changing jobs in order to get to use it.

Note, it is not the holy grail of AI recruiting software, picking the perfect applicants from a pile of thousands and matching them to a perfect dozen jobs. Stop searching for that, please, because it is years off. Instead, ZAPinfo offers user functionality identical to the first baby step of AI that many major corporations are already using today called robotic process automation.

Because it works—now!

RPA automatically and correctly copies fields of information from one application to another when the two are not integrated, even to share data. Boring just to think about it, right?

But imagine if your job required doing it eight hours a day? Or even six times a day, as lots of recruiters must do to get every applicant or candidate they find through whatever outside applications or online services (job boards, corporate employee pages, etc.) they use and put them into their recruitment-marketing or management (ATS) software?

Plus they must match each field correctly and type without a mistake. Is that how they should spend their time?

Berg calls his feature “copy anything anywhere.” Go see a demo and let your jaw drop as one click takes all a person’s information structured one way and copies it into a completely different format! Note that unlike machine learning, ZAPinfo will not learn new fields on its own. Customers have to report them to the vendor, which tweaks them into the application. Call it crowd-sourcing, if you must.

But Berg has already normalized the process of taking data from 24 brand-name online sources and can seamlessly copy them into 30 different ATS, recruitment-marketing and candidate-relationship-management systems, plus the recruiting modules of the major HCM vendors. Oh, but you’re using something else?

“With you or without you,” Berg says (quoting the band U2) about having made all those connections without partnering with anybody. Now he is going back to create real partnerships and maybe reseller agreements. ZAPinfo is already in several online marketplaces and has 4,000 users, but Berg can’t detail how many companies they represent (beyond saying “hundreds”) because he hasn’t counted.

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OK, that’s one feature. The second is also incredibly useful for marketing—no surprise, since all good recruiting must become marketing. Take a list with just people’s names and companies, feed it to ZAPinfo, and watch with astonishment as it makes it useful by automatically adding nearly all their emails and phone numbers! How can that be?

Berg’s company has subscriptions with the seven biggest personal-data aggregators, which among them get data from just about everywhere. ZAPinfo simultaneously searches all of them at a low wholesale price per search, compares the results from each for each field and picks the best.

ZAPinfo does so many other things faster—posting to job boards (which everyone still does), one-click searching for new candidates across the internet, managing recruiters —that Berg has very impressive numbers about how much time and money it will save individual recruiters and an entire department. Maybe they’re real, but how would I know? Ask him for references not named “Berg.”

But since he’s offered me no equity in his company, I offer no more details, except to quote my favorite TA tech expert Orler, who agrees with my headline about Berg. “He has a unique ability to listen to the challenges and then build solutions that address them today and tomorrow,” she says, “In short, he aims for where the puck is going to be, not where it is now.”