Artificial intelligence is transforming our lives at home and at work. At home, you may be one of the 1.8 million people who use Amazon’s Alexa to control the lights, unlock your car, and receive the latest stock quotes for the companies in your portfolio. In total, Alexa is touted as having more than 3,000 skills and growing daily. In the workplace, artificial intelligence is evolving into an intelligent assistant to help us work smarter.
IBM and a number of startups are targeting intelligent assistants, also known as chatbots, or computer algorithms designed to simulate a human conversation, to recruit employees, answer HR questions, or personalize learning experiences. A survey of nearly 400 chief human resource officers conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value found that half of the survey sample recognize the power of cognitive computing to transform key dimensions of HR, such as HR Operations, Talent Acquisition, and Talent Development.
Just as marketers have discovered the power of chatbots to personalize a shopping experience, HR leaders are starting to pilot chatbots to transform the employee experience.
Investment in AI has accelerated from $282 million in 2011 to $2.4 billion in 2015, a 746% increase in five years. In 2016, this continued to increase with roughly another $1.5 billion being invested in more than 200 AI-focused companies in 2016.
AI In Our Lives And In Our Workplaces
Immediacy is one reason why a host of consumer brands are building AI into their products. According to research by Desk.com, more than 22% of millennials expect a response within 10 minutes of reaching out to a consumer brand. The solution: consumer brands are increasingly turning to chatbots to offer 24×7 service, rapidly engage with consumers and answer their questions. For example, Staples now uses machine learning to automate ordering and customer service, engaging customers in real time through their Facebook Messenger app.
But it’s not just millennials who expect instant answers. All of us have become digital consumers. Expect 2017 to be the defining year for conversational experiences online. According to Gartner, nearly $2 billion in online sales were performed exclusively through mobile digital assistants in 2016.
IBM uses Watson to transform healthcare. Watson is able to treat rare forms of childhood diseases such a a kidney disease in children under the age of two. Watson can read all the medical literature and quickly connect patterns to provide better ways for doctors to pinpoint treatment options.
Perhaps, that’s why Bernard J. Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, says, “I don’t think any physician today should be practicing without artificial intelligence assisting in their practice. It’s just impossible (otherwise) to pick up on patterns, to pick up on trends, to really monitor care.”
Will we be saying the same thing about CHROs using artificial intelligence in the workplace? Will we consider it unthinkable not to use intelligent assistants to transform recruiting, HR service centers, and learning and development? I believe the answer is yes. As intelligent assistants become more widely used in our personal lives, we will expect to see similar usage in the workplace.
For employees, chatbots deliver an unmatched level of employee experience, from real time answers for HR questions to personalized learning and development. In addition, they are critically important to the 3.7 million workers, or 2.8% of the workforce, who work remotely at least half time and do not have easy access to an HR department.
For HR leaders, chatbots are well suited to improving talent acquisition and on-boarding processes by increasing speed and providing greater consistency in answering frequently asked HR questions, improving the talent acquisition process, and enhancing the online learning experience.
Chatbots To Answer Frequently Asked Employee Questions
Let’s consider Jane, a chatbot created by Loka, in 2014. Jane provides real time answers to a range of HR questions, including, “Are we off on President’s Day?” or “What are my dental benefits?” Jane is capable of answering any question and answer set that can be stored in a database. In addition to answering frequently asked questions, CEO Bobby Mukherjee says Jane is designed to proactively promote benefits to employees they may not yet know about. Says Mukherjee, “Companies are coming up with lots of new benefits, but they do not have an effective way to promote usage.” Imagine Jane can reach out to employees with, “Hey John, have you tried our Yoga class that we are offering in your building today at 3:00 pm? Click here to automatically book yourself. You’ve been working hard and you deserve it!”
Another value of Jane is the opportunity to track employee issues using real time analytics and then apply sentiment analysis to address these issues. Let’s say that a majority of employees are asking questions about late payments for travel reimbursements. This data can indicate something in the system isn’t working correctly. Before things become a full blown issue, HR leaders can uncover the issue and communicate a solution.
Granted there will be questions Jane can not answer yet, but the opportunity is here to provide AI for all types of HR related questions that might be coming into your HR Service Center.
Chatbots To Improve Talent Acquisition
Talent acquisition and new hire on-boarding are ripe areas where intelligent assistants can tap multiple data sources to develop candidate profiles, schedule interviews, and make decisions about prospective job candidates.
Talla is a chatbot designed to augment the HR processes that source job candidates. Talla can provide a set of interview questions based upon the role, and can even conduct a Net Promoter Score survey following the recruiting process. Rob May, CEO of Talla, sees, “an intelligent assistant as being able to augment a mid level HR professionals’ job so she can focus on more strategic HR issues.” The vision behind launching Talla is to ultimately become a real time advisor to HR professionals in how they source and on-board new hires.
May estimates that Talla will save many hours in recruiting and on-boarding new hires and will greatly enhance the employee experience. Improving talent acquisition and new hire on-boarding is a priority for CHROs. According to Eric Lesser, Research Director of IBM Institute for Business Value, “More than half of of the CHROs surveyed believe cognitive computing will affect a wide range of roles in the HR organization, ranging from senior executives to individuals working in service centers.”
Chatbots As Teaching Assistants
A long overdue application of intelligent assistants is now being piloted by professors who teach online courses known as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. As the number of students enrolling in MOOCs explode, with 35 million enrolled at the end of 2015 up from 16-18 million the previous year, there is more work for university professors and their teaching assistants.
Enter Jill Watson—so named because she’s powered by IBM Watson analytics. Jill was one of the nine teaching assistants for the 300 plus students of an online course taught by Professor Ashok Goel at Georgia Institute of Technology, entitled Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence. Since this course was offered in 2014, Professor Goel estimates roughly 10,000 questions have been asked by students in the online forums.
In 2016, Professor Goel added a new Teaching Assistant, Jill Watson, to provide faster answers and feedback to the students. Professor Goel estimates that within a year, Jill Watson was able to answer 40% of all the students’ questions, freeing the human TAs to tackle more complex technical or philosophical inquiries, such as, “How do you define intelligence?” In fact, one student reported, “Just when I wanted to nominate Jill Watson as an outstanding TA, always there reminding us of due dates and posting questions to engage us mid-week, I find out she is a chatbot, I was flabbergasted.”
As enrollments in MOOCs and SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses) continue to grow, intelligent assistants like Jill Watson will be used to augment the role of human Teaching Assistants. Professor Goel stresses that Jill Watson was trained to operate at the level of an expert providing answers to questions where she has a confidence rate of at least 97%.
Ed Miller, CEO of NovoEd, sees the power of AI to provide the type of learning experiences we dream about today. Quite simply says Miller, “AI will make it easier to scale learning experiences that are personalized and adaptive to the learner.” This will impact all aspects of HR, not only the corporate learning function but the HR Service Center and Talent Acquisition. HR team members will need to acquire more knowledge about what chatbots are and how to experiment with them so technology is used to streamline and improve the employee experience.
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