Embracing AI as a powerful enabler in the modern workplace

Artificial Intelligence (AI), the current technology buzzword will have key implications for a broad range of business processes—most notably the people-centered activity of human capital management.

These days we’re used to doing all manner of tasks without needing input from another person. Using a mobile device or computer, we regularly manage our finances, buy clothes, book doctor's appointments… the list is seemingly endless and only getting longer.

And yet, a relatively high level of bureaucracy exists when it comes to managing everyday tasks in the workplace. In many companies, even the most basic HR services – like an inquiry about tax or employee benefits – cannot be managed by employees on their own. Workers still need to send their query to HR and wait for a response. The desire for more efficient self-service is as strong at work as it is in our lives as consumers.

Automating administrative tasks

Manual admin tasks take up much of HR’s time, especially in large organisations where an HR Director might be responsible for up to 200 employees. The aim is therefore to reduce this burden so that HR teams can spend more time on strategic initiatives. This is why there is currently so much buzz around the potential role of AI and machine learning in HR, specifically in the form of chatbots. The technology is still in its early stages, but the prospect of automating even some of the daily administrative HR tasks has huge implications. The more AI automates processes and extends humans reach, the more HR leaders can apply the uniquely human capabilities that they bring to a situation—their judgment, creativity and empathy, freeing them to do a better job of relating to their colleagues as people and leaving the mundane tasks to their robo counterparts.

Improving the performance review

Performance reviews are a necessary part of most managers’ lives, but for many of them it’s a repetitive exercise as they have a number of them to complete and don’t have time writing each review individually. The process can be greatly improved with the use of natural language processing and the ability to have various types of data about the employee in one place. Natural language processing already exists in the publishing world, whereby AI-powered systems write basic news and sports stories. The same technology can be applied to a performance review, taking data from various sources and assembling it for a manager to review. The system could, for example, review data on an employee’s work and include a suggestion to give him more flexi time because his child just started primary school or it could recommend a new project based on his volunteering activities. The ability to bring all this content together and extracting value from it will make HR managers’ work more efficient and rewarding. They will save a lot of time, enabling them to prepare sufficiently for a performance review conversation.

Chatbots as a powerful enabler

It’s not hard to imagine AI software being used to help employees check and amend their HR records, book holidays, or view their previous performance reviews. However, chatbots will have limits of course. AI and chatbots will never replace HR completely. They are simply powerful technologies that are reducing the administrative burden on HR teams so they can focus on the more strategic tasks in their ever-expanding remit. Although HR leaders are showing a growing interest in exploring AI, they are still hesitant to bring it into the workplace. This resistance is the same that cloud technology faced five years ago – we are ready to explore it and know it is a game changer but we fear how it could potentially impact us. The question should move from if to when we should adopt AI.

By Ronnie Toerien, HCM Sales Development and Strategy leader, Oracle Africa

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