John Sumser is a principal analyst for HRExaminer, an independent analyst firm covering HR Technology and the intersection of people, tech, and work. His work includes deep research into the nooks and crannies of HR Technology to identify and explain rapidly evolving trends. Built on a foundation of engineering, design, and philosophy, Sumser’s seeks to understand and advise the community on where their technology works best, for whom, and in what context.
Sumser brings insights from the insides of hundreds of companies, their products, and ecosystems. He delivers vendor analysis by building the framework from which to deliver the critique. He is constantly connecting and making visible the front end of change.
At People Matters TechHR India 2020, John will speak on ‘A Brief Look at AI in HRTech Today’- the successes, failures and learning processes the industry has experienced so far. As a precursor to the event, John spoke to us about the biggest learnings of 2020 so far and the role AI can play in the HR tech today and going forward.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview-
What are some of the learnings from 2020 so far?
The first thing we learned is that hard and fast policies are very fragile and that our view of what is or isn't permanent was flimsy. We changed seemingly permanent things overnight. We need to remember how to do that.
The second thing we learned is that fast answers, without really understanding the problem, are deadly.
The third thing we learned is that the bare minimum is more minimum than we thought.
The fourth thing is that much of our quantitative understanding was rooted in measuring the wrong things.
The fifth thing we learned is the value of scenario planning. Never bet on just one future again.
How do you think employers need to re-look at deploying AI in the post-COVID world?
First, what makes you think there will be a post-COVID world? What if this is just the first pandemic of many hundreds? What if the economic disruption engenders decades-long social unrest?
Then, we are going to have to rethink what and how we measure things.
“All of the things that Machine Learning was able to predict depended on consistent historical data. We don't have any of that. We don't have any idea of which of the old data is still relevant.”
For the time being, we will see a lot of NLP instances. Job applications will skyrocket, employee questions will multiply, HR staff will shrink. That means getting systems in place that can reliably answer questions. This, of course, involves inventorying and cleaning up the existing policies, procedures, and data,
Right now though, we should be focusing on small things that ensure business continuity and slowly expand to bigger ideas.
What kind of HR Tech investments are the most necessary to create a technology environment that will allow companies to thrive in the next normal?
It's funny. Most people don't understand that data cleaning, core analytics, and requirements definitions are the most important part of any technology investment. Even though things are really busy, this is the time to get the whole house in order. Put the recruiting team on it. They're not doing much right now.
Compensation management is becoming a critical function. There will be a ton of variation in wages (pay cuts, hazardous duty pay, market differentials, inflation) accompanied by a shift in the workforce composition (employee, contingent, contractor, gig worker).
“Do you pay someone who works at home, less because they save money personally or more because they tend to work more hours?”
There are a lot of fundamental questions to ask about privacy, time tracking, compensation, communications infrastructure, and new performance standards. We haven't begun to understand the problem because it isn't finished.
You may need management software for your restrooms because they require one person at a time and cleaning after each visitor, therefore, requiring a public schedule. This could be the actual most important element of your opening attempts.
Do you see a new tech infrastructure in the making for organizations after COVID-19?
Again, I think you're assuming that there is an 'after'.
Many things are changing in HR and the change is far from complete. It's very difficult to articulate the complete differences between centralized and distributed work. We won't really know for a year. In that time, wisdom and technology will both emerge to solve problems that we barely glimpse today.
“I expect human network tools that will identify conversations that are necessary for the health of the company. I expect to see offerings that monitor the health of the organization). You might even wonder if HR will become the 'department of individual and organizational health'.”
I'm not sure that a new infrastructure is implied. But, I do think we are going to have new definitions of succession and a host of other conventional HR concerns.
What role can AI play in the HR tech today and going forward?
So much depends on getting payroll right and on time. Everything else depends on this simple yet complicated function. AI in the Machine Learning sense is effectively sidelined. If you have systems that make predictions or forecasts, be very careful of them. VERY CAREFUL. Meanwhile, NLP tools for communicating with employees or managing job applications are super useful.
We could really use an AI tool that examined existing job descriptions and recommended ways to update them for the work that is currently being done.
Meet John and many more trailblazing leaders from the world of HR and Work Tech at People Matters TechHR India from 10th -14th August.