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Artificial Intelligence provides wonderful opportunities for HR.

After years of having robotics in the manufacturing industry, the concept of “robots” in the HR field is finally becoming a reality. Although we will not be having robots as portrayed in the movies moving into the offices of the HR team, the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will certainly help the HR team to provide a far more comprehensive and user-friendly service to employees, through the use of Chatbots.

AI is playing a far more significant role in business now than ever before. In a recent survey they conducted, PwC found that 72 per cent of executives now believe that AI will offer sizeable business advantages in the near future. It’s therefore safe to predict that not only will AI start benefiting businesses across all functions in all sectors; it will also start having a major impact in the field of HR.

We find ourselves in the situation where we are already able to experience AI in our private lives, which puts pressure on organisations to meet these same expectations in our place of work. If we look at what is happening on a global scale, there are nearly two million people who are already using Amazon’s Alexa to control their lighting at home, being able to unlock their cars and even receive the latest share prices based on their investment portfolios. And it does not end there, currently Alexa is said to have already learned more than 3,000 skills, with this count continually growing.

In the workplace, we see how AI is rapidly evolving into an intelligent assistant, helping people in working a lot smarter and efficiently by being able to take over many of their routine and mundane tasks. Those who think that AI in HR is still some sort of pipe dream should take note that AI is no longer what is being predicted to happen in the future, but is in fact happening right here and now.

And as with any new innovation so too comes new terminology, with “Chatbots” now becoming a new buzzword in HR, with the role of the Chatbot being there to assist HR in automating responses to many of the day-to-day communications and queries they receive from employees.

Think of the now “old” self-service model where an employee had to login to a self-service portal and then access their leave balance before going through the process of completing their online leave form. It was not too long ago where this online technology was seen as the panacea for the HR team, bit the world has changed once again, to where this entire process can be completed by a simple text conversation with a Chatbot.

It also important to note that the process of communicating with a Chatbot is the same experience people have when communicating through applications such as WhatsApp, thereby reducing the change management and training requirements to a minimum.

When thinking of communicating with a Chatbot, it’s as simple as asking a question or stating an objective, like wanting to go on holiday and then being prompted with various responses. Based on the replies received, the Chatbot is then able to provide you with real time intelligent responses such as, “You do not have sufficient Annual Leave. Would you like to take unpaid leave?” or, “You currently have training scheduled on that day. Should I cancel this?”

CHATBOT Graph

Another hidden benefit is that, once an employee starts communicating with the Chatbot, for example, initiating a leave transaction, nothing stops them there and then asking a totally unrelated question such as, “By the way, when is the staff year-end function?” or, “When does my network password expire?” As Chatbots are intelligently programmed to respond to key words in questions, and can also expand their intelligence through learning based on questions asked, answers can be provided as and when needed. In some of the more advanced Chatbot applications, it’s become hard to believe that you are in fact not communicating with another person on the other end of the line.

I truly believe that once we start using Chatbots in the South African environment in all our official languages, this will change the face of HR as the employee base sees HR as Chatbots can break down those invisible barriers that often arise between workers and HR.

Another huge advantage of using Chatbots in HR is that Chatbots can collect real-time data, enabling HR to identify the most frequent questions employees are asking. By collecting and analysing this data, HR can then determine what the current issues are, where things are going wrong or in what areas employees seem to need the most assistance, thus providing HR with the ability to start proactively solving issues before they escalate.

In summary, it may seem strange that we are now faced with the situation where we have Chatbots replacing humans in Human Resources, but what is really happening is that Chatbots are enabling HR to free themselves from mundane administrative and time consuming tasks, allowing them to start focusing on practising as true HR professionals – thereby adding value to the organisation where it matters most – through its people!

Rob Bothma is an HR Systems Industry Specialist at NGA HR, ngahr.co.za, a Fellow of the Institute of People Management and past non-executive director and Vice President of the IPM, co-author of the 4th Edition of Contemporary Issues in HRM and member of the Executive Board for HR Pulse.

Reference
PwC, April 2017. http://www.pwc.com/CISAI?WT.mc_id=CT1-PL52-DM2-TR1-LS4-ND6-BPA1-CN_CIS-AI-AIsocial

This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of HR Future magazine.

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