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Workplace Automation and the Future of I-O Psychology

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“We’re infusing technology in what we do and dynamically changing the way we work.” That’s how Jackie Ryan started her contribution to the panel session on workplace automation at SIOP 2017, the annual conference for industrial-organizational psychologists.
Jackie, fellow IBMers, Jenna Shapiro and Chris Lovato, Jerilyn Hayward from ServiceMaster, Steve Kozlowski from Michigan State University and Nathan Mondragon from HireVue explored some of the advantages of growing workplace automation, including cognitive systems.  Here are just a few insights from that session:

Technology is augmenting the real-time processes of human behaviour in organizations

  • This is a critical point made by the panellists. Cognitive systems in particular are not about replacing human beings, but helping them. They are freeing people up to do more strategic work. There is an understandable fear of the unknown and people wonder what’s going to happen to their contributions when they see algorithms start giving advice. In fact, what cognitive systems do is give recommendations based on the analyses and data provided. What people do is bring the interpretation of those recommendations in the context of the workforce and how people think.

I-Os are critical to the success of cognitive HR systems

  • Workplace automation is forcing a multi-disciplinary approach. Mathematicians don’t always think about the biases and the implications of those biases, but that’s something that I-Os understand and can help to overcome.  However, the panellists recognized that bringing different disciplines together can have its challenges. Data scientists and I-O psychologists think differently and they may even use different terms to talk about the same thing. While that’s a challenge, it can be overcome and the benefits of collaboration are significant.

 It was also recognized that with new technologies come new ways of working that will be so different from what we know today that our old theories will be irrelevant. That means we need to take a more iterative approach where we interact with the data and build our theoretical understanding as we go.

Data matters



  • One of the major advantages of cognitive systems is the huge quantities of data they can consume. Data is the welcome food of cognitive systems, but that data needs to be ‘trusted’.  Jackie Ryan made the point that businesses that have a culture for sharing data across organizations and validating that data are seeing advantages in cognitive solutions.  With access to trusted data there really is no end to what we can do with regard to improving workplace processes.

This SIOP session was just one of more than 20 that IBM’s I-O psychologists are delivering at this year’s SIOP conference. For more details on Watson Talent solutions, visit our new Watson Talent page.

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