Managing human capital is a tough job that requires staying on top of your game all the time to attract and keep good people. While this has been the case since the dawn of the industry, it was only around 1989 that automation was first used to streamline human resource functions. That was when PeopleSoft, now owned by Oracle Corporation, introduced a purpose-built HR management system (HRMS). Following technological advancements, nearly all of the core functions of an HR department were covered by the 1990s. HR management systems today streamline everything from onboarding and training to payroll, talent management, benefits, employee engagement, and attendance.
In this day and age of AI and ML, it’s only natural that these systems would get better at using data science to improve the candidate and employee experience and automate mundane HR tasks to free up HR professionals’ time for more strategic work.
Perspectives and potential
Artificial intelligence is a broad term that includes things like machine learning and cognitive computing. It is the simulation of intelligent behaviour in computers. It has been used successfully in natural language processing, the translation of languages, speech recognition, speech-to-text conversion, and so on.
In organisations, AI is being used to automate various HR functions, especially tasks that are repetitive and high in volume. For example, the cloud-based platform Moveworks uses conversational AI, which allows organisations to automate and solve IT issues instantly; some organisations have started using AI-enabled chatbots to interact with new recruits, though a recent study showed there is a need for more mature chatbots in this area; and still other organisations are now automating their recruiting process with customised artificial intelligence solutions like Zwayam, Darwinbox and Adrenalin.
AI can be used in recruiting in a way that fits with an organization’s culture and adds a layer of security. Most purpose-built AI-based solutions can also be changed as the organization grows.
Recruitment leaders such as Tejashree Talpade, Group CHRO, SRV Hospital are excited about AI’s potential to revolutionise HR processes. Though she cautions that algorithms may keep even good candidates out of the running at times, Talpade says, “Artificial intelligence can be applied to streamline processes, improve efficiency, reduce operational costs, and increase productivity.” Indeed, an IBM report states that in its human resources department in 2017 alone, IBM realised $107 million in savings as a result of AI.
Rohan Vaswani, CHRO, Nexus Malls, adds that “AI will play an important role as an enabler; it will automate routine processes and provide powerful insights”.
Functions that are time-consuming—like, talent management, including acquisition, which is not just about interviews and onboarding but also involves a lot more behind-the-scenes work—will be among the tasks that move into mechanized formats – Joy Banerjee, Group Head, Human Resources, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited
Joy Banerjee, who heads recruitment for a non-banking financial conglomerate, explains why this is more important than ever. “The pandemic has led to a paradigm shift, and professionals are now used to working remotely or in some hybrid model. Recruiters must consider the fitments for jobs and also the different ways in which different generations work. It’s complex to put all this together while evaluating candidates, and what we’ve seen—although it’s still early days—is that AI tools are very effective.”
Calling on his own experience with AI, Banerjee says, “We have started using artificial intelligence, on some level, for certain tasks—for example, to streamline the fitment of a particular job profile while also understanding the ‘culture’ fit. With AI, this is achieved through the use of complex algorithms that are triggered by psychometric analysis and tools. And, the net result is phenomenal – not only is AI able to identify how good a prospective employee will be in a role, but it’s also able to predict the longevity of professionals in various roles”.
Besides, as Talpade points out, “AI can also help assess the training needs of existing employees and track trends of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the organisation. Through AI, organisations can deploy self-learning modules, to address employee up-skilling needs; it can help combat burnout by taking care of repetitive tasks and leaving employees with free time to take up more creative and intellectually challenging work, and AI-powered internal survey assessment tools can help HR teams to sharpen strategies. This may even help prevent ‘quiet quitting’.”
Surveys are conducted at particular times of the year, while AI allows for constant feedback in real time. AI tools can, thus, help HR professionals monitor teams more closely, identify important issues as they happen, and better pinpoint areas of concern. – Rohan Vaswani, CHRO, Nexus Malls
AI in HRMS: What’s the holdup?
Yet, for all the enthusiasm around the potential that AI has to revolutionise HRMS, a new McKinsey report points out that most organisations haven’t taken full advantage of the opportunity the technology presents. The reason for this, the report states, is that “companies aren’t investing in the resources needed for the organisational change required to effectively implement AI.” For organisations to adopt AI-powered HRMS seamlessly, they’d require the expertise of a data scientist, data engineer, machine-learning engineer, product manager, and designer—and there aren’t enough skilled professionals available. Addressing the scarcity of talent, and/or upskilling existing HR professionals to switch over to these systems, will be critical to increasing the adoption of these technologies.
That said, as Banerjee puts it, “It’s not a question of whether this [a shift of HR functions to an AI-enabled HRMS] will happen. It’s happening.”
AI is replacing menial tasks, not jobs
Banerjee, like many experts, isn’t worried about this shift, though.
“Functions that are time-consuming—like, talent management, including acquisition, which is not just about interviews and onboarding but also involves a lot more behind-the-scenes work—will be among the tasks that move into mechanized formats,” Banerjee offers by way of example, pointing out that automation is nothing to be feared.
“Today, when people apply for jobs online, resumes are sorted automatically; but, back in the early days of my career, people performed that task, reading through CVs and then sorting them painstakingly. AI will further streamline such processes, allowing HR professionals to focus on areas where they use more cognitive sense. This could enable greater calibration of mentoring, engagement programmes and so on. Meanwhile, all the arduous work, including payroll, rewards and recognition programmes etc. can be managed with AI.”
Banerjee is certain that humans will be needed to add a human touch—”say you conduct a session within an office where family members are present, there you’d need HR professionals present.” And, using the same example to expound on what he sees as the way forward, Banerjee says, “Such an activity will require humans, but the outcome may be measured with AI.”
“A combination is required,” Vaswani agrees. “For example, currently, to work out the state of engagement [ of employees], companies may rely on proprietary engagement measurement metrics, but the information gathered [from surveys and so on] is not at a micro level. Besides, surveys are conducted at particular times of the year, while AI allows for constant feedback in real time. AI tools can, thus, help HR professionals monitor teams more closely, identify important issues as they happen, and better pinpoint areas of concern.”
AI can help combat burnout by taking care of repetitive tasks and leaving employees with free time to take up more creative and intellectually challenging work, and AI-powered internal survey assessment tools can help HR teams to sharpen strategies. This may even help prevent ‘quiet quitting’ – Tejashree Talpade, Group CHRO, SRV Hospital
Pointing out that the Great Resignation trend has amplified the need for recruiters to attract talent, Talpade adds that AI can provide recruiters with much-needed insights and predictions to facilitate this process. “Recruiters can source candidates by screening large databases quickly, which improves their ability to select the best talent, and eliminates human bias. It also allows for a database to be built and managed easily, meaning that information can be retrieved at the click of a button,” says Talpade, adding, however, that humans will still be required to run AI systems “and to ensure that there aren’t any machine-related issues or discrepancies.”
Pointing out that he believes there’s “no better meeting place for human and machine-based intelligence than our human resources (HR) departments,” Banerjee says the current movement will see these departments entirely transformed through this synergy between man and machine.