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How HR Can Up Their Tech Prowess

This Articles originally appeared on Reworked on March 1, 2021.

Human resources doesn’t always have a say when it comes to technology initiatives, unless the initiative specifically impacts an HR system. But the digital workplace is all about how people communicate and collaborate, and knowledge and information access is at the core. People create value, and the tools are the enablers. HR can — and should — take a more proactive role when it comes to fully leveraging technical capabilities. Knowledge is the currency of business, and even front-line workers are increasingly knowledge workers. New and emerging tools in the artificial intelligence space, the so-called cognitive applications, are built to reduce the cognitive load on humans and to make it easier to work with technology and information. 

Here are five critical elements HR professionals should consider when wading into the technology waters. 

1. Define the Problem You're Trying to Solve

It sounds obvious, but with so much technology available, and a lot of pressure to just “use AI,” it is tempting to start with the technology and look for the problems to solve after. That is the reverse of what you should be doing.

Begin with your top business challenges, and then look for the enabling technology solutions. Be as specific as you can in identifying what’s needed. Map out the processes and use cases that you want to address in the HR department because you need to understand your processes before you automate them. If your processes are not efficient, this is the time to fix them; don’t try to fix them using technology.

What processes are involved in onboarding and supporting employees? Can any of them be automated to reduce routine administrative tasks? How can employees receive the corporate information they need in an automated or more streamlined way? How can they collaborate more effectively in remote workplaces? Organizations are not static entities, so when you map out the current processes and workflows, try to anticipate ways in which they could change, and build in that flexibility.

2. Pick Out a Quick Win

If your employees need access to corporate policies or to receive notifications when policies change, then a cognitive search engine that understands employees’ roles may be the answer. This process requires an information architecture approach: in order to make the information accessible, it needs to be properly organized and tagged. Developing appropriate workflows is key to providing information proactively, including personalized recommendations.

Many intranets fail because employees cannot find what they need or get a relevant answer to their question. Natural language processing capabilities can help interpret intent, leading to better results. Adding intelligence to search in order to improve access to HR resources is another option that can have enterprise-wide benefits. On the other hand, if employees’ primary need is for better collaboration, focus on that first. Some collaboration tools are more user friendly than others, so look carefully at your employee’s specific requirements.

HR can play an important role in needs assessment to help determine priorities for employees. HR should take the lead in ensuring compliance with employee privacy, establishing policies and understanding how technology can support them.

3. Define Benchmarks for Success

Measuring success is a key part of gaining support, both from stakeholders involved in the implementation, and from the decision-makers who fund the initiative. Make sure the stakeholders understand and trust the baseline measures, and are aware of the expected improvements. If people don’t trust the baselines, they will not trust the improvements.

In the case of searching for information on an intranet, getting the metrics is relatively easy. A mix of objective measures, such as time to find an answer, and subjective measures, such as user reaction, is a good combination. “Was this information helpful?” is a common feedback option in search engines. Other readily available measures include how long an employee spent looking at a document, which indicates whether or not it was useful. If self-service aids such as chatbots are used in any new HR-related application, measures of customer satisfaction should be a part of the implementation. Employee ratings visible on the site are two other forms of feedback that can be used to fine-tune employee-related applications.

Too often in the rush to get new applications in place, before and after metrics are often neglected — don't fall into this trap.

4. Build a Relationship With the Proposed Vendor and Your IT Department

If an outside vendor is handling the deployment, ask for a thorough explanation of the technology. Draw clear lines of responsibility that are reflected in contractual documents. In the case of the promise of out-of-the-box intelligent search, ask the vendors how they developed their domain models and validated the data. Have the vendors demo their products using your data, rather than theirs. Whether you are outsourcing the deployment or handling it internally, having open lines of communication will aid greatly in problem solving. Validate any vendor promises either with your data or by speaking with other customers in your space with similar problems. Picking a vendor that has the right capabilities aligned with your specific use cases is a critical factor in the success of your initiative.

5. Educate Yourself and Share Your Knowledge

Chances are you didn't go into HR looking for an opportunity to deploy technology. But technology took on a stronger role following the spike in remote working during COVID-19, particularly in supporting collaboration, and many companies were unprepared. In a study of chief HR officers, Gartner found that although AI/automation is one of three primary areas expected to impact organizations, only 9% felt their organizations were prepared for the future of work, which of course will also be affected by factors other than technology.

However, maintaining and improving employee productivity as well as job satisfaction and retention will depend in large part on successful use of technology. AI can help identify knowledge gaps and can proactively deliver the appropriate training. Knowing in at least general terms how this can be accomplished is essential for the future of work. HR has long had a primary role in identifying training needs and delivering the appropriate resources, and the need for this will only continue. It takes some time to become conversant in how chatbots work or the options for employee self-service, or how to organize documents to make them more findable, but now is a good time to take on that challenge.

Every department in every organization is tasked with doing more with less. HR can lead the way in initiatives that can have a meaningful enterprise impact. Don’t leave technology to the technologists — be sure your voice is heard. 

Seth Earley
Seth Earley
Seth Earley is the Founder & CEO of Earley Information Science and the author of the award winning book The AI-Powered Enterprise: Harness the Power of Ontologies to Make Your Business Smarter, Faster, and More Profitable. An expert with 20+ years experience in Knowledge Strategy, Data and Information Architecture, Search-based Applications and Information Findability solutions. He has worked with a diverse roster of Fortune 1000 companies helping them to achieve higher levels of operating performance.

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