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Does HR need more (artificial) intelligence?

2017 has seen a marked increase in discussions and debates on the effect of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation in the workplace.

Does HR need more (artificial) intelligence?

Visitors stand behind a robot at the booth of THK at the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2017 in Hamburg, Germany April 4, 2017. PHOTO: Reuters

2017 has seen a marked increase in discussions and debates on the effect of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation in the workplace.

Setting aside debate about whether automation will result in job losses, AI and machine learning present numerous opportunities for the human resources sector, particularly in large organisations.

AI is being integrated into software and systems that support processes across the entire employment period, starting with the hiring process (automated cv screening) to the post-employment relationship (alumni relations).

Depending on the specific HR role and level, the day can be filled with tasks such as scheduling a candidate to meet with several interviewers, getting comments from colleagues on a promotional candidate, or collating and assessing 360 degree feedback during an appraisal.

Time-consuming tasks such as scheduling and logging data are exactly where AI can help.

For example, AI supported software can collate information and prepare a pre-meeting briefing, allowing participants to focus on the key decision and action points.

Another development that can assist HR are the incredible advances in natural language processing in the past year. Think of chatbots on shopping and retail websites, or how we use Siri and Alexa.

These applications are broad, but not particularly deep, and therefore not especially helpful in the HR context.

After we optimise an assistant by introducing it to our organisation's workflows (and quirks), it can be used to answer questions about internal policies, procedures and, "How do we …?" type questions that usually go to HR.

IBM for example, is already using "Augmented Intelligence" to answer queries from new comers during the onboarding process. Expedia employees can use an AI-supported tool to review job adverts to weed out language demonstrating unconscious bias before posting them.

By synthesising and processing more information, AI can also integrate functions that have traditionally been stuck in silos.

For example, it can track employee training and feed it back to both Learning & Development as well as Compliance, helping them identify gaps and plan for future sessions.

Similarly, salary reviews can take account of multiple data points more easily in a fraction of the time previously needed.

Not only can these applications free up HR from these activities to focus on more strategic work and goals, by sharing data across traditional silos, AI allows an organisation to be greater than the sum of its parts.

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