A thought which has permeated each and every industry since their inception is “what’s next?” We’ve witnessed the invention of the steam engine, the assembly line, electronics and the internet — but there is plenty more innovation still to come on the horizon.
In recent years, we’ve seen a shift toward interconnectivity, including the progression of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Systems. A true blurring of the lines between the physical and the digital, as defined by Klaus Schwab, this “fourth Industrial Revolution” will drastically improve business efficiency and may also redirect focus on undoing the societal and environmental damage caused by its predecessors.
However you interpret it, the integration of man and computer we’ve seen over the last few years has shown the potential to elevate our workflow productivity and efficiency in a way that was previously thought impossible without a gargantuan infrastructure.
This begs the question: What lessons can we learn from this encroaching industrial revolution? How are some of the more current trends in technology and software changing the game for HR and other industry professionals?
Donald Norman, design lab director for the University of California at San Diego, remarked in a 2011 interview that “everything has a personality; everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions.”
Over the last seven years, if anything has changed about that statement, it’s that the focus on User Experience (UX) has increased to an unprecedented high. Often confused with User Interface (UI), UX refers to an individual’s emotional response to a product, system or service, whereas UI refers specifically to the input by which humans and computers interact, i.e., a software platform.
Creating an easy-to-navigate UI is important, but UX is tantamount to success when it comes to getting your people to adopt and be receptive to new processes and platforms.
For HR departments, poor UX can cost a company obscene amounts of money. This is especially prevalent when companies switch vendors without proper communication or implementation.
It’s key for HR teams to coordinate with internal IT stakeholders as well as third-party vendors and to make sure you’ve reached the limitations of your current software before jumping ship.
Another tech buzzword right now is artificial intelligence (AI). A term applied to a broad spectrum of software systems that are designed to emulate human-level cognitive tasks, its core purpose is to supply information about the real world to computer programs in order to encourage them to analyze the data and make their own inferences.
Examples of AI in the media include facial or voice recognition (think virtual assistants like Siri) and self-driving cars. One of the most practical business applications for AI, and certainly the most widely-used by HR professionals, is through workflow or project management platforms. AI platforms like Zendesk point to the advent of automated ticketing for HR issues, while tools like Asana help with projects and tasks. The idea is to automate some of the administrative tasks that limit output while building a better idea of an efficient workflow.
Many people regularly confuse AI programs with machine learning (ML). ML is a sub-field under the AI umbrella that is concerned with the development of computer systems that can “learn” through repeatedly analyzing data without being repeatedly programmed or otherwise tampered with by humans.
In the real world, this translates to a system that gets progressively more accurate as it accumulates and interprets more and more data. The desire for ML algorithms has resulted from a direct need to analyze complex data sets and accurately predict probable outcomes based on that information in a practice commonly referred to as predictive analytics.
Predictive analytics has a place in the HR arsenal because it’s an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to analyzing a virtual mountain of historical and industry data across a variety of function areas, including retention and attrition rates, recruiting and productivity. An HR team can use software to accurately predict, and thereby impact, employee engagement, attract top-tier talent and identify areas of weakness within their company compared to others.
Another tool employed by many HR teams are chatbots. Although these bots are technically a branch of AI, they are often programmed with more complex ML and natural language processing algorithms. This enables them to respond to a more diverse command set and adjust to an unfamiliar request with more agility. Chatbots can make onboarding a self-serve process and can also help engage employees in training, answer FAQs and assist in benefits enrollment — all tasks that are traditionally relegated to HR.
Perhaps best known as the foundation for popular cryptocurrency brands like Bitcoin, blockchain is an encrypted digital ledger or series of records that is distributed over a shared network, or “chain,” and cannot be changed or deleted. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, blockchain has some exciting potential applications for the HR industry.
Imagine being able to accurately and efficiently verify the educational history, technical certification or previous work experience of an applicant (particularly a freelancer). Think of all the benefits you could incur by simplifying global payroll, a process that has historically been bogged down in back-and-forths with banks acting as the middlemen.
Blockchain holds the key — quite literally — to reducing costly resume fraud, establishing a secure process for hiring qualified full-time and contingent workers, cutting down on the intermediary process of paying an international workforce and potentially providing a secure way to house and view employee records. In today’s “gig economy,” all of these things are crucial to the integrity of any workforce.
While we have yet to see true “cyber-physical” systems (or “robot people”), industry experts are noticing causality between human-digital collaboration and industry efficiency. That isn’t to say that our workforce is becoming less human.
The growing focus on user experience, as well as the push to understand employee metrics like retention, emotional health and productivity, means that HR professionals have the tools at their disposal to better engage their workforce. By supplementing institutional and industry knowledge with tech that helps make smarter, data-driven decisions, we can become the best “people managers” we can be.
At HR Soul we are proud to partner with thought leaders & disruptors in the space of HR and Technology. The following post is written by Maddie Davis, Co-founder of Enlightened Digital and self described tech-obsessed female from the Big Apple.
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