Artificial Intelligence Enables Humanity In Human Resources

Pekka Makkonen

New innovations, new technologies and new ways of thinking are driving business forward at an unprecedented pace. Digitalization changes everything. Robots will take your job. Artificial intelligence makes you an extension of a machine. Escape from your old job, because it won’t exist in 5 years anymore, and become an IT nerd while you still can!

Quite shocking phrases. Is everything above true?

In a way it is, so where did the humanity go from Human Resources?

Digitalization has already started changing everything that we do in Human Resources. It started long ago, before digitalization became a buzzword. It started when we wrote and printed the first employment contract using Word Perfect or Lotus computer program. And oh, the monotonous song of that matrix printer. Then we entered the new hire’s details into a tailor-made personnel database. Sometimes it was only a floppy disk that was passed around and copied—or, if we were not advanced enough, at least into a payroll accounting system.

Many of us weren’t even born back then. But even then, people were saying that the computers will change everything and will make a bunch of personnel administration employees lose their jobs. But we still do these things, right? Word Perfect is Word now, and the matrix printer has changed to a laser printer, and we sign “papers” electronically.

So what has changed in about 30-40 years or so? Why do we talk about digital transformation as if it is at least as big a thing as global warming?

Everything

Let’s start with—everything: Until the ’70s and ’80s, when computers started to change how we work and process data, the evolution of work had slowly changed from manual to processes and more efficient use of tools and machines. Appreciation of efficiency replaced the appreciation of professional craftsmanship and hard physical work. When factories became more efficient with assembly lines in the early 20th century, using computers to automate them expedited the evolution. The same thing is now happening in “knowledge work,” or work that is a bit harder to define, as much of it is done inside the human brain.

During the past 30-40 years, the processing of data using computers has become more and more effective, but when you look at the development now versus what’s coming, development has been quite moderate. Now we are on a threshold of what some thinkers say is a new Industrial Revolution (e.g., the Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab). This revolution is not happening so much in how we produce physical goods, but with enormous data processing capacity, use of Big Data, and connecting not only humans via social media, but also all kinds of devices, and even the clothes we wear. We also have the capability to let machines think for us, a development that began with the invention of the pocket calculator. That was OK for some time, although today many of us are unable to make even the simplest calculation without using the mobile calculator app.

The Personnel function is now called Human Resources. That’s pretty much a huge paradigm shift on its own: Personnel has become “Human.” Employees have become the biggest asset to the company. And to support that idea, all the enabling HR systems, processes, and tools have been created. The role of HR has become more strategic and more business-oriented. And it does not stop there; there is already a post-HR in sight! From personnel to Human Resources, and then to what? The Industrial Revolution happening right now will change the way we think of HR.

Will robots take our jobs?

Some of the work in HR can be repetitive and, to be honest, a bit dull. Making sure the systems are reflecting the current situation, maintaining data, drawing out scheduled or ad hoc reports. Receiving a service request ticket, making the required transaction, closing the ticket, hoping the customer is happy and gives a good rating, then opening the next inquiry… Many people have said they work like a robot and they would like their job to have more meaning.

Well, guess what? Today, software robots can take the robot out of the human by taking on those repetitive, “robotic” tasks that are not value-adding (such as updating a database, transferring data from system A to system B, creating a same type of report each week from exactly the same sources of data, etc.). Using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), these repetitive, rule-based tasks can be given to a software robot, allowing us to focus on tasks that only a human can do.

Today, software robots are already working alongside humans in many knowledge work functions like finance, administration, and HR. They are giving us more time to do the value-add tasks: talking with our customers and employees, thinking of ways to improve work processes and add a more human touch in their work—and don’t forget innovating! The robot will be your new colleague to whom you outsource the part of your work that is not value-adding.

Artificial intelligence or augmented intelligence

Will artificial intelligence make you an extension of a machine? In a way, it will. But you should be happy about it! Here’s why.

First of all, robots are stupid by default. They do only what they’re told to do. They don’t bring you any surprises, positive or negative, they work 24/7 if needed—as long as the plug supplies electricity and the software is bug-free. But when it really starts adding value to you, as a human, is when you augment intelligence into it.

Augmented Intelligence may be a more descriptive term to use here than Artificial Intelligence. It better reflects the role of the machine and the human working together to get a better result than either could achieve by themselves. A powerful example is when you try to resolve a complex problem through analyzing data from dozens or even hundreds of sources. Or when you try to predict what could happen in the future using predictive analytics. A human being alone can use only a limited amount of factors to get any result within a reasonable timespan. But when you add enormous amounts of computing power, Big Data, machine-learning algorithms, etc., you can forecast quite accurately future actions, behaviors, or trends.

Here are some other application areas of AI in HR that already exist or will in the near future:

  • How to keep your best talent, and how to identify some trends that increase the risk of losing talent.
  • Finding specific ways to reduce attrition in your organization.
  • Quickly filtering top candidates from hundreds applicant CV’s by identifying not only the words used but also how applicants express what they can do.
  • Simulating the effects of a major organizational change to focus your change management activities

Escape or become an IT nerd

Now we are getting closer to understanding how Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Intelligence, and Machine Learning can help HR to become “post-HR:” A true “people function.” When you combine all the technologies already in use in a company’s business processes and add the data from a robust cloud-based HRIS system, HR can help companies to become people-centric: Decisions are made based of valid data and high predictability, minimizing assumptions and subjectivity. This increases fairness and transparency in decision making, employee engagement, and trust.

So should you escape or become an IT nerd? No to both.

However, we need to get used to our job requirements changing faster than ever. We must become data-driven and understand enough about how the new technologies work for our benefit. Augmented Intelligence and machines will allow us, in all levels of HR, to use our time on more value-adding and motivating tasks. Data will be our friend, because it’s enabling us to be innovative. The investment: We will be on a journey with continuous learning and change. The reward: We can bring more Humanity to Human Resources!

Where robots take the robot out of the human, artificial intelligence will not take out our intelligence. It will enable more humanity.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.


Pekka Makkonen

About Pekka Makkonen

Pekka Makkonen is the HR Director for Nordic and Baltics at SAP. His responsibility is the overall leadership of the HR Agenda in the Nordics. Focusing on the word “we” instead of “me,” he is a true believer in collaboration and information sharing across all borders. Pekka is committed to ensuring a first-class employee experience and supporting SAP’s transformation into one of the most innovative cloud companies in the world. Throughout his 20 years of HR leadership experience in international high-tech companies, he has built and developed international HR teams and helped multiple organizations in their business transformations. Pekka holds a Master’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Helsinki.