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AI can help transform HR in three key ways


Artificial intelligence (AI) can bring much-needed improvements to human resources (HR) -- and employee experience.

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Expectations for a compelling employee experience are combining with the virtualization of the workplace, a growing demand for novel skillsets, and a continuing stream of new technology and data. The HR function has a key role in addressing these challenges. Several evolving capabilities, including cloud, mobile, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are helping guide the ongoing HR transformation. Another important capability, cognitive computing, is emerging and can help improve business outcomes by expanding human expertise and improving decision making.

To better understand the impact of cognitive solutions on the human resources function, we surveyed senior HR executives, CEOs and employees across a range of industries and geographies. As part of a larger IBM global survey of more than 6,000 executives, we asked nearly 400 CHROs about their current views on cognitive computing; we also sought input from employees regarding their willingness to receive guidance from cognitive solutions.

How AI can improve HR

Our research shows that CHROs and CEOs recognize the value that cognitive solutions bring to HR and believe its unique capabilities can address the new talent imperatives; however, most are uncertain how and where to proceed.

Our analysis of employee views regarding cognitive solutions reveals a “cognitive sweet spot”—a set of parameters that characterize situations where cognitive solutions will have the greatest impact on employees and organizations.

We have also identified three areas in which HR professionals are starting to leverage the power of cognitive computing: talent acquisition, talent development and HR operations.

Along with the digital age comes opportunities, challenges and trends that are impacting organizations—and HR functions—around the globe. Rapidly changing requirements for novel skillsets signal a need for flexible recruiting practices that scour fresh candidate pools. Today’s employees must be able to navigate the digital world, which includes accessing and drawing insights from volumes of new data. In addition, the workplace has become global and virtual, driving a need to optimize resources in different geographies. And ultimately, there has been an important shift in the expectations of the workforce; employees demand work experiences that are personal, engaging and authentic.¹

Building on existing HR investments in technology and process, including core HR platforms, cognitive solutions provide an opportunity to: improve the overall employee experience, reduce costs, and increase the accuracy and quality of HR services.

Cognitive solutions continually build knowledge, understand natural language and use reason to evaluate multiple pieces of information quickly within context. By combining these three important qualities, cognitive computing enables the discovery of new insights to support decision making and boost engagement.

The unique capabilities of cognitive systems open the door to a very different approach to HR – one that meets the challenges of today’s workforce, benefiting both the organization and its employees. As CHROs focus on transforming the employee experience, cognitive solutions can build on existing HR technology investments to enhance the employee experience, help reduce operational costs and enable the discovery of new workforce insights.

AI is on the C-suite radar

Our study reveals that the market for cognitive solutions in HR is set to increase notably over the next three years: Sixty-six percent of surveyed CEOs say cognitive computing can drive significant value in HR, and almost 40 percent say they expect their HR function to adopt cognitive solutions during that time. Business leaders understand that cognitive computing is a critical differentiator in the ongoing war for talent.

CHROs are aligned with their CEOs; more than half recognize that cognitive will be a disruptive force in their industry. In fact, CHROs from our survey identify five key HR challenges that cognitive solutions can address. Each of these challenges represents an opportunity to impact the bottom line—– either through direct measures such as labor cost management and HR process optimization or through indirect means such as time-to-productivity and employee engagement.

HR executives from outperforming organizations appear to be even more aware of cognitive computing’s potential value in numerous HR disciplines. Companies that report higher performance see strong potential for cognitive computing to address new and diverse challenges across a wide variety of areas. For example, more than twice as many CHROs from outperforming organizations recognize the value of cognitive computing in talent acquisition.

Our findings suggest that business and HR leaders recognize that cognitive computing will play a critical role in the future of human resources. However, many emerging technologies fail to reach their full potential because the workforce is either unable or unwilling to successfully embrace them.

¹Lesser, Eric; Janet Mertens; Maria-Paz Barrientos; and Meredith Singer. “Designing employee experience: How a unifying approach can enhance engagement and productivity.” IBM Institute for Business Value. February 2016. http://www.ibm.com/business/value/employee_experience


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Meet the authors

Eric Bokelberg

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, Talent & Engagement, IBM Global Business Services


Dr. Nigel Guenole

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, Executive Consultant


Dr. Sheri Feinzig

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, Director of IBM Talent Management Consulting and Smarter Workforce Institute



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