Article: Why HR needs to be 'client zero' for AI: IBM's Nickle LaMoreaux

HR Technology

Why HR needs to be 'client zero' for AI: IBM's Nickle LaMoreaux

In a conversation with the global CHRO of Big Blue, People Matters got the perspective of an AI-pioneering firm and its top HR leader on the importance the technology holds for the HR function.
Why HR needs to be 'client zero' for AI: IBM's Nickle LaMoreaux

"In HR work, the magic really happens when our HR professionals, our managers, our employees, are working together with the AI."


In 2022, IBM's HR professionals had 5,000 fewer errors to deal with - and that was just in employee transfers alone.

This was the example People Matters heard from Nickle LaMoreaux, global CHRO of IBM, in a recent conversation about the role AI has to play in HR.

"There are three main dynamics affecting the HR function in very real ways," she said. "One is cost pressure. HR has to optimise its operations as much as possible. The other is a very high standard for accuracy. You must get your paycheck correct, you must get your benefits correct, onboarding must be perfect. And the third thing, which accelerated during the pandemic, is that employees want consumer grade experiences."

And so, IBM set about making its entire HR department more effective with technology and AI.

The starting point, said LaMoreaux, was manual and high volume processes, and processes where HR professionals were spending a lot of time to achieve accuracy - such as the example of employee transfers.

"In HR, coaching is a big skill that we want professionals to have – the ability to give advice, to counsel, to do leadership coaching. That's what I want more of my HR professionals doing, not transactions."

Read the full interview here

How do we get the most out of AI without suffering its downsides?

Companies need to have some kind of guiding principles in place before they start implementing AI, said LaMoreaux. She shared IBM's principles:

AI is never a decision maker. It may offer recommendations to a manager or an employee, but the human is always the decision maker.

The data AI uses is owned by the data's creator. Implementing AI is not about letting data out into the wild, and companies need this ownership principle to address the ethics and privacy issues which otherwise emerge.

AI must be transparent and explainable. If the tool is making a recommendation, it must be able to show all the data it used and how it came to that recommendation. This is critical to avoid 'drift', or the divergence of output that arises from changing data.

The technology that underlies the AI must be secure. HR data is highly personal and private and companies cannot afford any possibility of cybersecurity attacks.

The model must be robust. AI algorithms work best and come to the best conclusions when they receive a lot of data inputs - which makes HR, with its huge volumes of data, a great test bed for the technology.

But beyond principles, one very important thing to remember is that AI is not just about reducing head count or driving productivity, despite the amount of buzz around these effects.

"For 90-95% of all of us, myself included, our jobs are going to change," LaMoreaux pointed out. "10% or even more of my job might get replaced by AI. Another 50% or so of my job will still exist, but I'll be doing it with AI. And then the more important question is, do I have the skills to now do those same things with this technology that I've been doing manually or on spreadsheets or by with meeting with people?"

What this means is, organisations need to understand what portions of their workforce are creating incremental value, and what these people should do instead. And HR is well positioned to make this analysis.

Read the full interview here

How do we prepare HR professionals for the implementation of AI?

LaMoreaux identifies two major roles for HR.

Firstly, HR professionals will have to look into how AI might be able to enhance their own jobs, and how they are going to develop the skills for it.

"I would go so far as to say all HR professionals, regardless of their domain, need to start learning a little bit about AI," she said. "Some might decide to code, others might go into how natural language processing works, still others might be heading programmes and have to think about where to fit AI into the process."

Secondly, HR has to prepare the rest of the organisation for AI.

"I think HR needs to lead the entire organisation, from finance to sales to product development, and really helping those functions think about what's going to be the impact of AI," LaMoreaux said. "How will they train people? How will they onboard people differently? How will they forecast what type of roles they need in the future? HR plays a really critical role in getting all these in place, and will be the primary value driver of getting this right in organisations."

Read the full interview here

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Topics: HR Technology, Technology, #Artificial Intelligence, #Future of Work, #BigInterview

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