Blog: Is this the Future of HR Tech?

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Is this the Future of HR Tech?

Here is my take on this coming era of automation, from the perspective of an HR professional
Is this the Future of HR Tech?

Morpheus: “….at some point in the early twenty-first century all of mankind was united in celebration. We marvelled at our own magnificence we gave….A.I.”

These seemingly prophetic lines are from the iconic sci-fi movie ‘Matrix’, one of my favourites. (so I will refer to it again in this article!)

And they have come true. 

We are in the early 21st century and all around us we hear of this coming revolution, this major disruption called Artificial Intelligence or A.I. It is a technology which is already playing a role in our daily lives through our smartphones, virtual assistants like Siri/ Cortana, chatbots and other ‘intelligent’ devices.

People in the HR community are no doubt aware of the phenomenon, though I suspect that for most, it is something at the fringes of their attention as they rush about their work.

However, those following the developments closely would have realised the extent of disruption that may occur, in next 5 to 10 years, in the way HR activities are carried out. We will see some jobs completely disappear and some new ones emerge, centred on the nexus of AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, VR/ AR and Mixed Reality.

Here is my take on this coming era of automation, from the perspective of an HR professional:

Talent Acquisition – This is one of the jobs which is most likely to disappear and perhaps will be the first to disappear. The nature of a ‘Recruiters’ job is to search, screen & shortlist potential candidates against a set criteria. Most of this has shifted to the online space – online job boards, Facebook, LinkedIN etc.   Now imagine that instead of a recruiter sitting at a PC and searching for candidates, you have an ‘intelligent program’ or Virtual Assistant who does the same. The TA manager feeds in the requirements / hiring criteria and the program will search the digital space and your own database, shortlist the candidates who match and even contact them through a chatbot for initial screening. And this will be done faster and with more accuracy than any human recruiter can match. 

So, would you require Recruiters or even Recruitment Consultants in this scenario? For Recruiters it is imperative that they enhance their skills beyond the basics of TA i.e. posting jobs and searching for resumes, to prepare for this scenario. They must emerge as SMEs for creation of a delightful candidate experience.

For corporates, these developments could provide a low cost, always-on candidate search engine which will provide a perpetual pipeline of prospects, provided they can put in place clear, crisp job descriptions and well defined hiring criteria. And of course, they will have to re-skill their TA teams, move them up the learning curve, especially in negotiation and persuasion facets of the role.

Attendance & Payroll – This is one of the easiest areas to automate as it is based wholly on rules and calculations which can be programmed readily into an AI based software. This area is already the most automated activity of HR, but what will change with AI is that these software’s can be trained on how to respond to special scenarios, reducing need for oversight to a minimum. 

HR Analytics- This is one of the youngest specialisations of HR and likely to be shortest lived one also!  Even in its current form, Analytics requires special software which publishes dashboards and provides certain predictive analysis, based on data provided by a human user. An AI powered software will be able to do the same without human intervention as access to data and the analytic software can be built-in. In fact there is a distinct advantage that an AI software has over humans - the ability to deal with unstructured data.

Organisations who are not going digital in the next couple of years will find it difficult to take advantage of Analytics, while those who are using technology will have to strive towards greater integration across data sources.

Comp & Ben- By now, I am sure you get the drift- anything based on rules, data and involving calculations can be automated. So Variable Pay structures, Insurance premium calculations, Tax planning, alignment with Budgets, analysis of salary inequities… AI program can be ‘trained’ on all this and will run on its own subsequently.

How do organisations prepare for this? They must have well documented compensation policies, with deviations and approval levels clearly mapped out. A lot of compensation fixation is arbitrary and out-of-sync with the industry, in a majority of organisations.

Employee Relations- Major impact will be felt in the area of employee grievances and queries which can be handled by chatbots instead of humans. 

Engagement- This is one area where a Virtual Assistant can be of immense help. Gathering intelligence for engagement initiatives, predicting attrition or analysing workload on employees at similar levels – all of this can be done through AI. A combination of human and machine intelligence will drive this area. Startups like Infeedo have already made a beginning in this field in India.

Companies will need to rejig their engagement strategies, make them more holistic. Culture will need to be clearly defined – what traits, behaviours and values will the AI measure and how.

Learning & Development – This is the most interesting one.  Automated Training Need Analysis? Personalised training programs for each employee? These could become the norm 10 years from now.

Aside from this, most radical change could be in delivery and content of programs. Think of the virtual training program in ‘Matrix’, having training modules for anything from weapons to flying helicopters! 

MORPHEUS: “This is the Construct. It is our loading program.  We can load anything from clothes, to weapons, to training simulations. Anything we need…”

How about employee training delivered through Virtual Reality / Mixed Reality modules? 

No requirement for trainers, training rooms or expensive equipment, all you need is a smartphone and a Google Daydream like VR headset. With the right content available, you are ready to go! It is the content that will be crucial and this is where the L&D professionals will find their bread & butter, either as part of in-house L&D teams of large organisations or as employees of specialised VR content development agencies.  

Some people might be sceptical, as the spectre of AI has been around for past 50 years without any major impact on our lives. Why is there so much noise about it now? Primarily because of developments like neural networks and machine learning which have made this technology more effective. For those who want to read more on this, some links are given at the end of the article.

In the Indian HR space, we are already seeing the first experiments with AI in the form of Amber, the Virtual Assistant from Infeedo and Jinie, the chatbot from People Strong.

After having read through this article, you would probably be feeling that the entire HR function is in the danger of being taken over by AI powered machines!

But the intention is not to create a paranoia about losing your job to intelligent machines in the future. The purpose is to generate interest, fuel debate and direct attention towards the possibility of these machines causing a sea change in the HR activities are carried out. All jobs will become not become obsolete, all humans will not be replaced by machines. In most cases the jobs will change and involve a combination of human and AI powered elements.

Another key to success of AI (in fact all technology in HR) will be the ability of corporates to make three changes in the way HR functions : 

  1. recognise the criticality of collecting meaningful data 
  2. drive integration of all HR tech into a single organisation-wide platform
  3. re- skill and upgrade skills of existing teams as people with AI-ready skills will be scarce

Whatever I have written is something which is likely to happen in next 5 to 10 years, based on my understanding of the developments in the areas of AI & ML. The reality might be very different.

In fact, we can be sure reality will be very different from what it is today.

Links for more information:

The Great A.I. Awakening

The Race For AI Domination Is Heating Up

7 Technology Trends That Will Dominate 2017

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Topics: HR Analytics, HR Technology

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