The technology terms machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and robotics are being thrown around with increasing ease these days.
We’ve become very comfortable with these technologies, mainly because they are impacting every aspect of life and business. Markets have shifted, and companies are continually looking for ways to digitalise and stay ahead of the curve.
For businesses, the most obvious impact is operational, as technology is leveraged to streamline and automate the working environment. However, technology is also playing a big part in the human resources (HR) space through the likes of mobile applications, chatbots, predictive analytics and even automation.
Andrew Hoseck, chief operating officer at In2IT Technologies, says: “Much like companies are dealing with a more tech-savvy clientele, HR departments are dealing with a more tech-savvy workforce than previously known. Employees expect their employers to “know them”, and to be able to engage with them through multiple channels with the same results.
“Traditional HR processes and systems are simply unable to cope with large-scale employee and employer requirements, particularly in environments where technology is implemented across every other part of the value chain, and staff are accustomed to being tech-savvy.”
Paper based processes are perceived as “old fashioned” and tedious, by both HR departments and employees alike. With many organisations adopting a distributed, mobile workforce strategy, single interface systems can also be slow and restrictive, resulting in backlogs, system blockages and an inability to connect with every employee.
Enabling better HR
Hoseck says that apart from meeting employee demands, technology can help to alleviate much of the pressures felt by HR departments.
“Gone are the days of simple information portals with hundreds of policy and process documents that employees are expected to read through and understand. Smart self-service employee portals let employees interact with a chatbot that can respond to questions in real time, with reference to appropriate policies and process definitions. With minimal effort, HR departments can impart guidance and assistance to staff through whatever medium, without spending hours – and reams of paper – doing so,” he explains.
HR departments typically handle massive amounts of transactions on a daily basis. From records maintenance to training, on-boarding of staff to managing disciplinary action, HR is a hive of activity. Hoseck explains that many of these tasks can be automated by embracing technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), replacing some of the more mundane yet time consuming tasks so that HR can focus on other critical tasks that require more human interaction, such as mentoring.
Identifying areas of concern
Organisations who are adapting to the digital economy have quickly realised the value of interacting with customers on various social media platforms, particularly the analysis of data from said platform which provides insights into the market’s perception of the company.
“Apart from the value of leveraging social media to interact with staff, HR departments can make positive use of predictive analytics to monitor employee satisfaction, as well as their behaviour with the brand,” says Hoseck.
“It’s easy to flag employees who may be behaving in a manner which can negatively affect brand perception in the marketplace, or internal company morale, and discreetly intervene. However predictive analytics may be able to spot potential pitfalls of this and similar behaviour before it happens, and HR can pre-emptively step in with support or assistance.”
While online monitoring may be viewed by some as an invasion of privacy, this method is simply a modern adaptation of the traditional manager who would walk through the company to test the ‘temperature’, personally interacting with staff to pick up on problems or identify possible thought leaders.
Happier employees, better productivity
Organisations who are able to respond proactively to the needs of their staff and implement changes before even employees know they want them, will benefit from a happier, more productive workforce. On top of this, employees won’t need to spend hours reading through monotonous – albeit essential – company information packs, filling out handwritten leave applications and waiting days for approvals.
“Interactive platforms work in employees’ favour as well as employers’,” elaborates Hoseck. “For example, an employee who lies awake at midnight, concerned about a work issue can easily use their WhatsApp to interact with a virtual assistant to obtain guidance on a particular policy, or initiate a complaint or request, which automatically enters the HR system for action.”
Is there a downside?
Hoseck cautions that, while technology is an enabler, it can have its drawback if not carefully researched, considered and incorporated in alignment with HR policies.
“Embracing technology assists with establishing a business as an ‘employer of choice’, which has an impact on talent attraction and retention. If the company is behind technologically, it can create a negative perception of the organisation.”
“Technology can also be a double-edged sword, and the same application that enables more efficient HR processes can also make mistakes just as adeptly,” he adds, explaining that organisations needs to carefully consider aspects such as confidentiality and compliance, ensuring their technology is not in breach of either of these.
Keeping the ‘human’ in human resources
Despite the benefits of automation, chatbots and virtual assistance, there is little danger of the HR function being taken over by technology, according to Hoseck.
“There is still very much a need for human interaction in HR, and nothing can replace the human touch, mentorship, guidance and support that can only be provided by actual people,” he assures.
“Technology is a tool. As such, it is only effective when it is used correctly. HR is a highly skilled profession which can benefit from technologies which complement these skills, creating efficiencies and enhancing effectiveness so that HR professionals can focus on those areas where their personal skills are most required,” concludes Hoseck.