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AI for HR: an introduction

“We live in a world of disruption.” 

These were the first words that Albert Loyola, AI specialist and consultant at Accenture, shared with us when we interviewed him. 

This pandemic has seen robots taking over more and more instrumental roles, assisting doctors with their diagnoses, delivering food to the sickly, and even providing companionship and emotional support to the elderly. The applications are endless.

It’s evident that technology is evolving at an incredible speed - so, what is there to know, and, as an HR professional, how can you use it to your advantage? 

Let’s start by defining three main concepts: Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning. 

The basics: what are RPA, AI, and Machine Learning?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Automation is the foundation of AI. It refers to “software tools that partially or fully automate human activities that are manual, rule-based, and repetitive.” They can replicate the actions of human beings interacting with one or more applications, performing a variety of tasks, like responding to simple customer service queries.

Artificial Intelligence is an umbrella of different technologies. It involves computers with the ability to sense, comprehend, act, and learn.
It’s changing the way we build relationships across the world, touching both our lives and businesses and affecting us deeply. It involves a series of components, among which: Natural Language Processing, which is the ability to read human languages, understand them and derive meaning from them, and Machine Learning.

The latter is the subset of AI that gives us computers with the ability to learn over time. Machine Learning is something we see daily when using applications like Netflix or Spotify. Apps like these fine-tune their offerings through their algorithm, studying the audience’s taste, and recommending content that they might appreciate.

What issues can AI help us address?

Let’s touch upon the main areas in which Artificial Intelligence is impacting Human Resources.

First of all, we have re-skilling and internal mobility. As businesses evolve, their needs change. AI can help HR identify the skills they need to meet the customers’ demands. Furthermore, it assists Human Resources as they assess the talent they currently have and their potential. Finally, it helps them design new roles, accompanying the employees during the re-skilling process.

Collaboration affects both Employee Engagement and productivity. It helps you improve the way your people interact with one another and with technology.

Sentiment analysis, once exclusively a Marketing tool, is now adopted by HR departments to understand their employees’ needs and concerns. At the same time, personalized learning paths help your talent achieve their goals within your organization, letting them thrive in their career.

AI can also be precious in the talent marketplace, helping you match the right people with your job openings internally.

Our list is not exhaustive, as there are a plethora of possible applications. If you want to learn more about this matter, we recommend this article on the 20 AI trends for HR in 2020. And if you’re curious about how AI can be useful for your Employee Engagement, you can read this Forbes piece.

Is there an application of AI for DEI? 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are more vital to a business than they’ve ever been, and their importance is only growing. 

AI can help you tackle diversity issues and reduce bias in the treatment of your candidates and employees, but this depends on how you’ve built the system you use.

The model’s only as good as the data you feed it. If the information is inaccurate or insufficient, the algorithm and the training module that compose your AI solution won’t be able to make up for those flaws. 

It would be best, for this reason, to have your data reviewed not solely by data scientists, but also by psychologists and lawyers, to ensure that you're going in the right direction with your efforts. 

Is AI financially accessible? 

Yes, and, as a Forbes article on AI stats reports, 34% of businesses in the US, EU, and China have deployed AI, and 39% are ramping up exploratory phases with it. Chatbots, or virtual agents, have been a frequent application of this technology in recent times, and there are over a thousand solutions of this kind currently on the market. 

The cost for your business also depends on how you go at it: you can build your AI solution internally or partner with a pre-existing ecosystem. 

Will AI take your job away? 

In Dostoevsky’s words, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”

Simply put: no. AI is not here to replace humans but to empower them. It will cause a shift in the marketplace, but not a decrease in opportunities. Its effect will be a reduction in the number of menial jobs over time, and an increase in the quality of your talent’s output, by fueling their creativity with higher computational power.

You’re considering implementing an AI solution, but you aren’t sure where to begin?

There are 6 steps you must take to implement AI in your HR department, as Albert Loyola shared with us. 

  1. You must assess your current digital capabilities. Do you have the right digital tools and talent to meet your clients’ needs?
  2. Address your pain points with AI. How can technology help you? 
  3. Create a business case for HR. Your report cannot only impact the Human Resources department - you should be able to show it to different executives and have them understand the benefits this solution would have for the entire business.
  4. Take care of the planning! It’s best to start with a pilot: a solution that’s easy to build and provides you with immediate benefits. This type of application could be used, for instance, for cultural transformation, to answer your employees’ questions about HR operations such as their holidays or PTO (Personal Time Off) balance, and more. 
  5. Set up a team within your organization or department. 
  6. Upskill your Human Resources department.
Gerry Crispin on adopting new technological solutions for your business
Gerry Crispin on adopting new technological solutions for your business

If you watched our interview with Gerry Crispin, Principal and Co-Founder at CareerXroads, the first step Albert Loyola recommended will sound familiar. When asked about the role of technology in Talent Acquisition and Human Resources, Gerry Crispin said: 

“You shouldn’t wait for vendors to guess what you need. Decide what you want to change first. That’s what drives me nuts about technology. We get enamored of all the cool stuff we could do, and then we don’t do it or we turn it off because, you know, we’re not ready for that yet - we’ll put that on next year’s list of things we’re going to get to, and never do.”

Find a solution that can truly solve problems for your business - an improvised investment can be a wasted opportunity to better use your resources.

The expert’s crystal ball prediction

When asked what he’d think would be the next big thing in AI in its HR applications, Albert Loyola mentioned humanoids or avatars. These human-looking computers have been in the market for a few years, and their uses are endless. For one, a business application that’s now taking place sees Artificial Intelligence supporting recruitment by sustaining interviews with the candidates. 

As fascinating as it may sound, the subject is still controversial for some. There are still many doubts about this type of solution in people’s minds, and for these solutions to be widely adopted, it will require a significant shift in the way we relate to machines.  

TL;DR - Too Long; Didn’t Read

Technology has become a central part of our lives, and so AI is also impacting our businesses and daily activities far more than we’d think. 

Before tackling AI’s applications to HR, we defined Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning. 

RPA is the foundation of AI. It refers to software automating human activities. 

AI has to do with computers with the ability to sense, comprehend, act, and learn. It contains Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning. 

The latter defines software capable of learning over time.

Artificial Intelligence can be useful to Human Resources in a variety of ways. For instance, it can help you reskill your talent and support your internal mobility. 

It can also foster collaboration, both among your employees and between them and technology.

Sentiment analysis helps you stay on top of your talent’s needs and concerns. Finally, personalized learning paths can support them as they grow as professionals. It helps them focus on the right areas of improvement for the career they desire within your organization, and an application of AI to the talent marketplace helps you match the right people with your current job openings. 

AI can have exciting applications in the DEI field, too, for instance, trying to de-bias your processes. Just remember that when it comes to it, a system is only as good as the data you feed it. If you want to approach diversity, equity, and inclusion, your analytical process should include not just a data scientist, but also a psychologist and a lawyer.

Artificial Intelligence can be an affordable investment - implementing it is as simple as adopting a virtual agent solution if that’s what your business needs.

Will AI take your jobs away? No. It will change the job market, though, creating new roles, as it gradually removes positions involving repetitive tasks.

Now to the 6 steps that can help you adopt Artificial Intelligence solutions in your business:

  1. Assess your current digital capabilities
  2. Ask yourself how AI can help you bid farewell to your current pain points
  3. Create a business case for HR to showcase to your organization’s executives how the entire company would benefit from the Human Resources department adopting an Artificial Intelligence solution
  4. Plan out your implementation. It’s best to start with a pilot: a solution that’s easy to build and provides you with immediate benefits
  5. Set up a team to take care of your AI development
  6. Upskill your HR department

When asked for his crystal ball prediction, Albert Loyola, AI specialist and consultant at Accenture, told us he thinks that, despite it needing a significant mentality shift, humanoids could be the next big thing in HR Technology. 

The only thing we know for sure is that it will be interesting to see how many different applications AI will end up having within the ever-changing HR landscape.

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