Artificial Intelligence

More Human

How AI and machine learning can help personalize and optimize HR

by Aaron Lazenby

February 2017

Do you think Human Resources needs to improve on their personal touch? Reggie Bradford has a surprising suggestion: leave it to the machines. “AI [artificial intelligence] will help enable a dramatically smarter, faster, and more responsive HR function,” says Bradford, senior vice president of product development at Oracle. “Ironically, machines will help human resources feel more human and personalized—from recruitment to employee engagement and education.”

Bradford points to a recent survey from Sierra-Cedar showing a solid portion of increasing HR technology spend going toward cloud-based intelligent applications. Here, Bradford talks to Profit about unlocking the potential these applications hold for improving and enhancing HR—and why we shouldn’t be afraid of machines stealing our jobs.


Profit: What does AI have to do with HR?

Bradford: AI-based technologies are impacting every business function today, including HR, and this will only continue to advance. Think about sifting through thousands of résumés and millions of social and digital conversations for recruiting purposes; that doesn’t scale at the human level. But AI tools can complement humans and make that process immeasurably more effective and efficient.

AI technologies are behind the scenes mining all that data 24/7. HR executives can therefore uncover incredible information that they might not have even known to look for. It can help in identifying hiring patterns, driving employee engagement, building better education programs, spotting trends in sick days and turnover rates, and much more.

Think of the laborious process of scheduling interviews and juggling multiple calendars—AI can automate that. Chatbots can help with ongoing engagement throughout the interviewing and hiring process—a time that is often a “black hole” of sorts from the viewpoint of a candidate and new hire. An engaging bot that learns from each interaction can help that process be much more personal and rewarding.

I think AI will also be able to help evaluate and assimilate softer areas such as cultural fit; create more team chemistry and cohesion; and evaluate for tenacity, business acumen, and critical thinking—all of which today are more-subjective criteria.

Profit: Human resources is a “high touch” practice. How should HR leaders distinguish between what can be automated and what requires human intervention?

Bradford: That’s the strategy part, and it’s absolutely critical. Again, machines should enable better human performance and free HR professionals from laborious tasks. Company leaders will need to take a comprehensive look at all their HR-related tasks and ask themselves which are best automated and which require more human interaction.

And involving your IT team will be key. Some tasks are obvious: sifting through large data sets to find insights—clearly automation. Engagement during the hiring process—that requires a hybrid approach, but one that automation can absolutely play a critical role in.

Profit: What are the barriers to adoption?

Ironically, machines will help human resources feel more human and personalized—from recruitment to employee engagement and education.”

Bradford: Well, it’s not the technologies. The tech is here and innovating every day—take, for instance, our Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud and intelligent applications. I think the biggest barrier is knowing what you want AI to do for your HR organization.

I’d suggest a comprehensive review of all your functions alongside your IT colleagues, as well as leveraging the strategies employed by other lines of business. Test-and-learn needs to be adopted. And of course, addressing cultural fears of AI will be critical. Often when people hear AI, they think their jobs will be replaced. But these AI-based applications are going to complement employees—and make them more efficient. Will some traditional human tasks now be automated? Yes, of course. But it will free up time for more-human-focused tasks and allow companies to better apply their resources.

Profit: What is the downstream benefit to employees? How will the employee experience improve?

Bradford: Although the buzz and interest around AI have increased over the past few years, we have all been using AI in our everyday lives for quite some time. Netflix knows what content to suggest and recommend based on past interactions and machine learning algorithms. Facebook knows what content to surface that best fits your preferences. And digital assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Cortana are powered through AI. Think about how excellent and valuable those personal engagements are to you. Now think how that user experience can translate to your workplace.

We are just scratching the surface around the potential for AI—in our businesses and personal lives. Consider chatbots, newsfeeds, conversational interfaces, data-mining tools, location-aware technologies, search engines, smart appliances, and self-driving cars. AI is being used to help automate tasks, predict outcomes, and in general transform our lives and our businesses for the better.

Photography by Shutterstock