AI in HR: Have you started your journey?

By Dr. Sheri Feinzig

Cognitive. AI. Artificial Intelligence. Augmented Intelligence.

If it seems like AI dominates today’s conversation, you would be right. It’s been featured prominently in the news, dominates the business pages, entire books are devoted to it, and even entire conferences.

What does AI have to do with HR? According to our research, quite a bit.

Whether you consider yourself an AI aficionado or novice, rapid advances in technological development and ease of implementation allow the benefits to be experienced by all, not just those with deep, specialized expertise.

So where do you get started? The first step is to understand exactly what AI is, and what it is not. Clarity of understanding will help set realistic expectations and alleviate fears around this potentially controversial topic.

One of the most common concerns is that AI is all about robots and automation, and will eventually replace all of our jobs. But this is not the scenario predicted by most experts. While AI will likely change many jobs, and reduce or eliminate the need for some jobs through automation, this is not unique to AI. Technological advances have had that very impact for decades. And as we’ve seen with other forms of technological innovation, new jobs are emerging as a result of AI.

Top characteristics of AI systems

So, what can AI systems do and what sets them apart? These systems are characterized by the following capabilities:

They understand – AI systems can receive and process unstructured information in ways similar to humans. They understand language patterns and sensory inputs, including text, pictures, and auditory cues. For example, a cognitive system can quickly examine thousands of hours of HR service center recordings to identify key words and patterns based on frequency, tone, and sentiment.

They can reason – AI systems grasp underlying concepts, form hypotheses, and infer and extract ideas. They rapidly synthesize information to produce relevant and meaningful responses. Consider the case of a manager who is looking to fill an internal role. A cognitive system could look at various data sources, including a candidate’s professional experience and previous performance, and then further analyze the candidate against the characteristics of other successful job holders to determine if he or she would be a strong fit for the organization.

They learn – AI systems learn and improve through every data point, interaction, and outcome, building a deep and broad knowledge base that is always up-to-date. With a constant stream of changing policies and new regulations in the HR field, this capability becomes critical. Rather than addressing a static set of rules, cognitive systems read, tag, and organize HR content from a variety of sources, allowing employees access to the most accurate and relevant information at any given time.

A study by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and IBM Institute for Business Value titled, “Extending Expertise: How cognitive computing is transforming HR and the employee experience,” found that half of HR executives recognize that cognitive computing has the power to transform key dimensions of HR. Even more compelling? Fully two-thirds of CEOs believe that cognitive computing can drive significant value in HR.

The study also included input from over 8,500 workers from companies around the globe, at all levels in their respective organizations, on their willingness to receive guidance from AI solutions. We discovered an “AI sweet spot”—a set of parameters and scenarios where cognitive solutions will have the greatest positive impact on employees and organizations.

Start your journey in the AI sweet spot

The most effective outcomes will not result from replacing human interaction with AI, but rather, from augmenting human capability with enhanced depth, breadth, and availability of information for better decision making. To bring the value of AI into your HR function, look for opportunities where:

  • Decisions are information-rich and highly complex, requiring a wide variety of inputs from different data sources. For example, predicting job fit of a candidate. This requires information from resumes, assessments, interviews, references, etc. to be combined into an overall recommendation score for a human recruiter to make the final decision (and enable them to dig deeper if they wish to).
  • Interactions by users are frequent and varied, where large volumes of requests must be interpreted and addressed. For instance, chat bots can manage routine employee inquiries since these are transactional. Automating the management of these questions with AI can deliver remarkable savings, and people can interact with an AI-powered agent that is available 24 hours a day.
  • High volumes of unstructured information are involved, such as free-form text, images, and auditory cues. Think of situations where intranet chatter occurs following a major announcement by an executive and thousands of comments are posted by employees. It would take individuals on the HR team a lot of time to read these and respond, but with AI, the information can be quickly analyzed for leaders to gauge the reaction of the teams and respond appropriately.
  • The output is expected to be customized and personalized to address the individual needs of a global and diverse workforce. One of the main reasons employees leave an organization is lack of career progression. Providing a personalized career coach to employees will help them visualize a path to their most desired roles, receive recommendations about others that may be a good fit, and identify skills they may need to develop to move forward.

Our research points to three specific HR focus areas well suited to the benefits AI capabilities offer:

  • Talent acquisition and onboarding: AI solutions can tap into multiple data sources and reveal new insights to help companies develop richer candidate profiles, position themselves more effectively in the external labor market, and make better decisions about prospective employees.
  • Talent development: AI insights can lead to more personalized recommendations for learning and career management, delivered when and where employees need the information and guidance.
  • HR operations: AI computing can enable more streamlined and accurate information by equipping and empowering HR advisors. Routine questions can be answered much more efficiently, and HR advisors can spend more time on challenging or less common queries.

Like you, IBM is on its own journey with applying AI to HR. For example, we were facing challenges in managing a training catalogue that needed to remain relevant to our large global workforce. In an industry with rapidly evolving skills and knowledge needs, learning content was often out-of-date and managers struggled to keep up with corporate training programs for their teams. To address this, we introduced Your Learning, an internal tool powered by IBM Watson AI technology, in 2016. It provides personalized talent development recommendations for every employee.

For more tips on how you can get started with AI in HR, check out the full research report, “Extending Expertise: How cognitive computing is transforming HR and the employee experience.”