The Future of HR, Big on Artificial Intelligence

It seems counterintuitive to discuss artificial intelligence and human resources in the same conversation. After all, how could any organization have an HR staff without . . . humans?

The reality is that HR may be the next frontier for AI systems that are transforming businesses at a rapid pace.

A new white paper from Works Applications, the largest HR software provider in Japan, offers some insights into how AI can transform HR departments now and in the years to come. In short, the report concludes that the future isn’t about HR staff being replaced by robots, but AI freeing up workers to focus on higher-level tasks.

Questions remain, however, about how quickly AI can be implemented into HR departments and precisely how it can help each organization.

Emphasis on Efficiency

Imagine HR staff freed from the drudgeries of data entry or repeatedly answering the same inquiries from employees.

In its report, The Future of HR, Works Applications notes that there has always been a natural urge by companies to free workers from repetitive tasks. Consider the fact that many companies will publish “Frequently Asked Questions,” or FAQs to avoid the need for staff to answer the same inquiries over and over.

Artificial intelligence can offer a souped-up version of the FAQ, with more comprehensive responses and even chatbots that can provide answers.

“The benefit of using these AI systems are simple—they can gather, process and analyze data much faster than humans,” Works Applications says.

And the application of AI for HR is clear: freeing workers to focus their energies on broader, strategic HR work, rather than spending their days neck-deep in data.

“As AI in HR gets people to move away from the repetitive tasks their talents are wasted on, they can target their energies on more high-level tasks, such as finding promising employees and working to keep them in the company,” Works Applications notes. “HR staff will be able to focus on being a strategic partner rather to business divisions rather than just crunching data as a task processor.”

But does this mean that HR workers will be made redundant and expendable? After all, isn’t the biggest shift in today’s workforce caused by automated systems replacing human workers? Not necessarily. Works Applications believes AI in the workplace frees workers from menial tasks to elevate them to make value-added decisions.

The Implementation Challenge

Will artificial intelligence be a ubiquitous part of HR departments in the near future? That’s still unclear. Surveys suggest that some HR managers are still not on board with the technology, or are just too small to need it. A 2017 survey from the Human Resources Professional Association revealed that 52 percent of respondents said they were unlikely to adopt AI in their departments within five years.

Consulting firm Deloitte observes HR is one area of business where AI implementation is lagging:  Just 22 percent of “high-performing” HR organizations have implemented AI technologies; that number drops to 6 percent among low-performing organizations.

“It’s time for HR to step up,” Deloitte warns.

On the flipside, in a survey of 6,000 executives performed last year by IBM, 66 percent of respondents said they believe cognitive computing can drive significant value in HR. Another 50 percent said they believe cognitive computing has the power to transform key dimensions of HR; 54 percent believe cognitive computing will affect key roles.

The growth of AI overall may eventually mean HR departments have no choice. Corporate spending on AI systems is projected to top $47 billion by 2020.

Going Deeper

In the short term, it appears that the chief role of AI in HR is to bring efficiency. But that just scratches the surface of what AI could eventually impact. Artificial intelligence can also help with recruiting, assist in employee retention efforts and serve as a consultant on workforce strategy.

Consider how AI could help in recruiting and retaining talent. Using data on current employees and applicants, an AI system could issue recommendations on candidates, saving a company time and money.

“An AI system in HR can suggest the type of people that would fit well in a new position,” Works Applications says. “The system can help HR try to fit personality types, skills and education with a particular position in the company. HR can also use AI for succession planning for higher-level positions.”

HR experts said it’s still important for humans to remain engaged in the hiring process. This is especially true if the organization is looking to change the makeup of its staff.

“Companies will need to be mindful of existing biases and work to ensure that AI does not perpetuate the problem,” Ben Reuveni, the CEO of Workey, tells HRDive.

The ability of AI to free up HR staff to engage in higher level work can transform the department into a full-fledged strategic consultant. HR staff will now analyze data rather than collect it, and be a partner with other departments that need guidance.

“HR will be better positioned to effectively manage their current workforce,” says Richard Harris, Global Strategic HR Development Director at Works Applications America. “It’s developing new strategies and having the time to develop those strategies that add value.”