2016 has been the year of artificial intelligence (AI). From the buzz around workplace automation at this year’s World Economic Forum to Stephen Hawking’s recent discourse on the potential windfalls and risks of AI, the future of machine learning is on everyone’s mind.
My recent attendance at a Shared Services Forum event only confirmed the fact. You couldn’t walk five steps without hearing someone discussing the role that robotics and AI will play in the future of HR.
A company’s reliance on shared services has always been about making administrative processes leaner. It’s therefore only natural that this has become the proving ground for technologies that support increased automation, improvements in efficiency and greater levels of employee self-service.
In our world as customers and consumers these advanced technologies have been in use for some time, but their application in the field of HR is still in its early days. There is really only one aspect of HR where robotics and AI have begun to make a real impact – shared services.
Much of the work done by the shared service function involves processing relatively straightforward transactions and handling simple requests. Many of these activities could easily be resolved by an employee themselves if they had access to the right systems and information. That’s where robotics and AI come in.
Just as the virtual assistant on a fashion retailer’s website can tell you whether the T-shirt you like is available in more sizes, shared services chatbots can answer simple questions from employees that would otherwise need to be picked up by an HR team member.
Consider a pregnant worker who wants more details about her maternity leave policy. She could easily use her mobile to contact an HR concierge chatbot in the shared services centre, who could in turn provide all the information she requires. AI systems might even suggest additional actions or activities for her to consider based on the experiences of other women who have been in a similar situation.
Not only do services like these improve the user experience for workers, they also take some of the admin out of HR’s role so teams can focus on more strategic talent management activity. In this way, AI offers companies the opportunity to both replace people and to augment them.
While I’m not quite as apprehensive about AI as Stephen Hawking, all this excitement about artificial intelligence did have me asking some questions about the future.
What does this mean for our workforce, particularly when it comes to skills? It’s been well established that the skillset required by businesses is becoming broader, and in many ways more technical, and this trend will only accelerate as AI becomes more common in the workplace.
Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence are being used to manage processes to higher standards more efficiently… Service centres are now bringing these benefits to higher value management information, and to analytical and expert services. As a result, the skill-sets, capabilities and thinking styles required are different from what sufficed before.
In the words of Chris Hogan, Head of Global Client Relations at CIMA, who contributed to Oracle’s latest report on the modern shared services centre:
For their part, HR teams will need to manage shared services AI technologies and ensure the company is getting the most out of them, which requires a new set of skills. Organizational models will need to adapt as more administrative tasks are taken on by smart software and automated processes. We may even see businesses rethink their decision to offshore shared services given that if they can rely on virtual assistants to handle more day-to-day processes there is less opportunity for cost arbitrage.
It’s no secret we are experiencing a global skills shortage, and following the EU referendum and a volatile year in financial markets companies have never faced a more uncertain future. It’s crucial they commit to investing in skills today and take advantage of faster, smarter ways of working to address the current ‘productivity challenge’, and to ready themselves for whatever lies ahead.
I don’t like the term “future-proofing”, but this is what businesses need to do. The way we work and serve customers is advancing so quickly that the job market is struggling to keep up. Organizations must make it a priority to build and maintain a skilled workforce that will help them stay one step ahead of change.
AI is taking the robotic element out of human relations, and I for one look forward to seeing how HR evolves in response.