Is HR Ready for AI?

AI artificial intelligence and HR

It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s the future. But are we ready for it? Or, more appropriately is AI ready for us?

In case you have never heard the term, AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. Essentially, AI refers to teachable computer software applications, or machine learning. The more you use it the smarter it gets. Apple’s Siri and those new smart speakers are good examples of AI’s practical application. Ask Siri “restaurants” and she not only assumes you are asking for restaurant suggestions, but it assumes you are interested mainly in places near your current location and possibly serving your favorite cuisines.

Chatbots are another good example. Have you ever initiated a chat session online only to realize well into the conversation that you are interacting with a computer “bot”, not a live person? “Hello, my name is Andy. How can I assist”? Andy is in fact…an Android.

IBM’s Watson computer is probably one of the most well-known and comprehensive examples of AI in a real world application. First used in the healthcare industry (not including its debut on the game show Jeopardy) and spreading rapidly into many other markets, Watson is a shining example of AI at its best. A lot of power for IBM’s nearly $2B investment.

Most of today’s HR applications are transactional by design. Every interaction between employees and HR systems (such as Help Desk) is impersonal by nature; ask a question and receive a response, hopefully with the right answer. In a future AI scenario, all interactions will be much more engaging. My question will kick off a dialog with the system. The system will be parsing my every word and phrase in an attempt to fully understand the nature of my question, not just the obvious. Questions about healthcare benefits may push articles on preventative health programs to the employee. Requests for loans against the employee’s 401(k) plan may present articles on financial planning or retirement blogs rather than just answers on taking 401(k) loans. The employee might further be able to ask for and receive names of certified financial planners in his/her area. A true interactive dialog.

It’s all about improving employee engagement in this digital world. Your employees are already experiencing AI in their daily lives. So is now the time for HR to embrace AI in their mission critical business solutions? And are there worthy vendors delivering such solutions?

The successful examples of AI that I mention above come as the result of millions and even billions of dollars in Investment, and are developed by world-class technology companies. That start-up vendor who just demonstrated their sexy new system with AI-like functionality may or may not actually be able to deliver as promised. The only way you will know for certain is to take control of the keyboard and go for a test drive. Most HR users will probably be sorely disappointed with vendors’ V1 edition of AI features. In my business we call it demoware — not ready for prime time but demos well…in a controlled setting.

First and foremost, HR must confirm any system in consideration fully meets your core business requirements. Focus on the must-haves. Until mainstream AI evolves beyond the sizzle stage, consider it nice-to-have and you won’t be disappointed. The only thing worse than experiencing errors in AI responses (i.e., incorrect chatbot responses) is paying a premium for that ineffective glitz.

The technology is improving rapidly, so the future is near. In time (probably a few short years), AI will become reliable and commonplace in HR. It will be tomorrow’s SaaS. The question is do you want to be a trailblazer or take the safe road? The choice is yours.