Article: How AI is going to augment work: Oracle's Gretchen Alarcon

HR Technology

How AI is going to augment work: Oracle's Gretchen Alarcon

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Oracle's Gretchen Alarcon talks about AI at work, the changing role of HR and leadership and new emerging technologies.
How AI is going to augment work: Oracle's Gretchen Alarcon

Gretchen Alarcon is Group Vice President for Oracle's human capital management strategy, responsible for the development and go-to-market initiatives through the adoption of Oracle's HCM cloud apps. Prior to Oracle, Alarcon worked at Icarian, National Semiconductor, Ford, and Silicon Graphics, where she drove the management of workforce suites and aided in the redesign of worldwide human resource functions.

Oracle recently launched the findings of "AI at work", a global research study. What stood out for you from this research study?

There's a lot of interest and awareness around AI in general. What was startling to me is that 64 percent of respondents said that they would trust a robot more than their managers. And 25 percent said they would always or very often ask AI the question, instead of asking the boss.

People are relying on AI for things like providing unbiased information or guidance on basic information. There is a sense that AI is going to be better than humans at such tasks. And that's very different from what we expected to find.

Job automation is one of the major themes in the context of AI. By 2020, artificial intelligence will create more jobs than it destroys, according to Gartner. What's your view on AI's long-term role in business and the economy?

AI is going to augment work. I don't see AI taking over. Some of the things that AI is doing really well are things that we ask people to do now. Tasks like allocating budgets, scheduling workers were done by humans, but AI can do it much more efficiently and effectively. If you're a store manager, for example, and scheduling was a part of your duty, I see this as an opportunity to give people more space to do other work. In general, most respondents see AI positively. That came through when we looked at the Indian respondents as well. Take, for example, organizations using drones for the delivery of packages. There will be new jobs with the responsibility of managing drones, scheduling them, etc.

For many organizations, there's still a sense that HR as a business process has to be 'one size fits all.' But we need technology to move to a 'one size fits one' model

According to you, what are some of the top challenges that you think companies will have to deal with?

  There are a number of new challenges. There's a significant focus on the personalization of experience. Research has shown that one-third of the people are unlikely to go back to a company if they have one bad experience. That's a pretty high bar for success. When you look at it from an HR perspective, how are you giving people who are entering the company a personalized experience so that your company stays on the list of the companies they want to work at? For many organizations, there's still a sense that HR, as a business process has to be “one size fits all”. But we need technology to move to a “one size fits one” model.

One of the biggest themes in the future of work is about augmenting skills. How do you see the rise of a new skills economy, and what are implications of this for HR professionals?

For the longest time, investment in employee development focused on high potential employees and future leaders. But there are a lot of employees, who aren't high potential, and they aren't on the “grow-promote-move” track, but they still contribute immensely to the organization. That's where we see an opportunity to engage employees, whether you call it enrichment or skill growth. Among the things we're researching right now is the idea of an opportunity marketplace where people could say if they want to explore a new role. One could also join a task force and grow. So there's a lot of different ways to think about how growth can happen in the organization. It doesn't just need to happen on a promotion track.

One thing we introduced in our learning product is to target learning to a community – it might be people who work on the same shift and have a similar job or people who joined the company at the same time. This helps in augmenting content and practicing skills. To up-skill doesn't just mean taking a class but to grow as a community, and to find other ways to grow people.

Do you think AI will impact soft elements of leadership the personality traits, attitudes, and behaviors, while it's given that AI will supplant many hard elements of leadership?

The leadership job doesn't get any easier. I think the thing that changes is how AI identifies issues that can point to opportunities and recommendations. So the leader can target where they are spending their time, that's where I think there's a huge value.

So rather than saying I have to have a regular one on one for all of my direct reports and see them all the same amount of time, AI might help leaders realize that some people are more attuned to more frequent check-ins, some people respond better to task-oriented check-ins. It can help the leader understand what kind of leaders are best for the type of jobs that people are performing as well as what are their personal preferences.

Similarly, we see an opportunity for AI to raise flags. For example, if someone is at risk of leaving. AI can help point out the risk, and the leader may schedule a detailed conversation with them. AI might say that there are some trends that we're starting to see over time that is concerning, that a manager or leader may not see for another three months. But AI can do something about it before it becomes a problem, so there's a huge opportunity to find those connections to the leader to suggest they take action.

From your research, are there any specific observations about the APAC region when it comes to AI?

I was pleasantly surprised to see that China and India were two countries that were leading the way in AI adoption. To me, that talked about where innovation is happening. What I'm finding in my conversations with customers on AI is that they're very focused on the business process. So it's not just about awareness or educating themselves, but it's a case where customers have a specific business problem and want to know if AI could help. There's a degree of openness to augment business processes with AI. While in other countries, they're delaying adoption based on perceived challenges.

To up-skill doesn't just mean taking a class but to grow as a community, and to find other ways to grow people

There are a whole host of technologies that companies are talking about. What excites you the most, and what are you excited for the next five years?

I am most excited right now with the growth in voice technology – along with chatbots and digital assistants because if you think about it, we've only really been typing for 100 to 200 years. And people want to interact with systems. A digital voice assistant helps you navigate the HR process much more effectively – where you could talk to a device.  

From an Oracle standpoint, we have already introduced digital assistant on the software so it can be leveraged across devices, whether that's your phone or any other voice bot device like Google assistant, or Alexa. Overall, the pace of technology continues to grow, and so a large part of cloud adoption has been about getting access to more technology faster. We don't see that going down. 


Image source: Oracle


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Topics: HR Technology, #ExpertViews, #FutureIsNow

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