AI in HR: Everywhere and Nowhere

Karen BeavenScience Tech2018 03 27
AI in HR: Everywhere and Nowhere
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You can hardly have a conversation these days without someone mentioning AI in HR, and it certainly seems to be a running theme at UNLEASH London.

Should we be welcoming this with open arms? Or getting ready for a “Terminator”-style rise of the machines — something that does spring to mind when you hear unsettling stories about programs developing their own languages that even the people who created them can’t understand.

In her UNLEASH London session, Christa Degnan Manning, vice president of solution provider research at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, set out to help us discern where AI is in the marketplace, and really prompted the audience to think in terms of what’s relevant to their businesses in providing value and delivering better employee experiences and productivity. An important point to remember is that context is a key factor in determining the successful implementation of this technology in any business.

From the outset, Manning reframed the perception of AI by positioning “augmented intelligence” rather than “artificial intelligence” as a more accurate way to view developments in this area. And with a whole basket full of technologies that can be applied in different ways, it’s more important than ever to find solutions that are meaningful to your individual workplace.

Manning described AI as software algorithms that can do a lot of things to essentially mimic what human beings can do. So, what are the major capabilities of AI technologies? In short, this was summarized as perceiving, predicting and processing data. Manning then expanded to look at speech recognition, computer vision, rules-based systems, machine learning and robotic process automation as examples of how existing technology is being used. Based on data from the Deloitte State of Cognitive Survey, it appears that among these possibilities, robotic automation has the highest adoption rate, with 59% of companies adopting this technology.

Manning’s observation is that HR is somewhat of a laggard in this space, with companies choosing to adopt in other business areas first. However, what HR professionals need to consider is that AI doesn’t just affect the HR function. It affects the workforce and how work gets done. In that context, it’s easy to see that most people in the HR profession need to be ahead of that — and be a part of the conversation in order to anticipate developments and apply them to the businesses they work in.

Data from the Deloitte HR impact study show that the benefits of early adoption are clear with organizations that have experimented with RPA: Those companies are two times more likely to be financially high-performing. Seventy-eight percent of high-maturity companies are using data from robotics, cognitive or AI methods. Companies that are adopting and moving forward are already seeing correlation with financial and business success.

But Bersin High Impact Talent Acquisition research finds that fewer than half of firms have adopted this technology, and only 14% see effectiveness. At this point in time, only 7% of data for people analytics comes from AI methods, with 87% of data still coming from internal HR systems. So, though the indicators look promising, it’s clear the journey has only just begun here.

Manning observes that AI technology solutions in the marketplace exist in three major areas: infrastructure, platforms and apps. And there are various solutions available, providing you have clarity on purpose and context for your organization. With AI being a series of algorithms that need to learn and be trained, it’s essential to be clear on how it will be used.

Manning’s advice is to partner closely with IT departments as developments in AI and technology begin to converge. It’s now possible to leverage existing infrastructure to achieve progress, and there may well be potential solutions within the productivity packages of systems already embedded within organisations.

To summarise, AI should augment what humans want to do, but don’t have the time or brainpower to do. This is about making humans more productive and making life simpler. There is a lot of fear about AI replacing workers in jobs, but we should also consider that it will free up people to do the work that really needs to be done and that cannot be replicated by an algorithm.

AI is most definitely everywhere — but can it be nowhere right now, too? I’ll be looking forward to seeing additional research from Deloitte on this, and watching with interest how startups and scaled enterprises adopt and respond.

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