Beware the AI Hype in HR Technology

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Insights from Gallagher’s HR & Benefits Technology Consulting Practice

In 2001, Steven Spielberg directed the movie, “A.I.,” bringing the concept of artificial intelligence to millions of people. The fact that this movie was released in 2001 is ironic as this is the same year that Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” was set. Kubrick’s film features intelligent supercomputer HAL 9000 (deemed unable to make a mistake) who decides to kill two astronauts because he is unable to reconcile an order to conceal the true nature of the mission. HAL is considered by many to be the best example of AI in film.

Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence is the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior, make decisions and take subsequent action…with no human input. In 1968, this type of technology was so advanced that it seemed pure fiction. That fiction is a reality today (think driverless cars), but less so than many in the HR technology industry would like you to believe.

Intelligent software

Attend any HR technology conference and you’ll find nearly every new product claiming to have some AI component. It’s hot and everyone wants it, which is pushing service providers to label new intelligent software as AI, when it’s not. I’m a big fan of John Sumser, author of Navigating the Maze: The 2019 Index of Intelligent Technology in HR, who argues that, currently, “there is no ‘AI’ to be found anywhere in the industry.” Sumser says: “There are tons of really interesting new intelligent tools that feature massive information processing, machine learning (ML), data models, natural language processing (NLP), algorithms, decision trees and regression analyses. They do amazing things that were not possible even five years ago.” Referred to widely in the industry as “AI,” these technologies would better be labeled “intelligent technology” or “intelligent software,” as they use smart technology to take automation to a whole new level.

Smart technologies are changing our industry and, largely, in a good way, adding value across the HR and benefits administration ecosystem. Examples include instant verification of eligibility, ease of plan selection by employees using a bot to guide best-fit selection and streamlining the recruitment process using keyword review and analysis of resumes to identify top candidates.

AI applications in HR technoloy

While it’s easy to think of all this as artificial intelligence, consider the last example of hiring talent. A true AI application would mean that the machine not only reads the resumes but decides whom to interview and hire...without the intervention of a human being. In the HR world, the role of a human remains critical. Regardless of what the technology is called (expect to continue to hear providers refer to advanced automation funcations as AI), HR professionals must determine the appropriate use of technology. In my view, hiring an individual without any human involvement would be an inappropriate use. There are, however, many functions that lend themselves well to the use of intelligent technology. Training is needed to help managers understand how to effectively use these tools to inform their thinking — not to replace their thinking.

Among the most popular form of smart technologies are chatbots, which quickly pull data from a table in response to generic questions. The more data available, the better the chatbots function. Global research firm Gartner predicts that chatbots will power 85 percent of all customer service interactions by next year. Younger generations are accustomed to (and expect) this type of technology for most basic informational needs.

Chatbots are sufficient for most rudimentary tasks and, increasingly, use consumer technology such as Amazon Alexa to manage work-related tasks. For a great example of the use of this type of technology, check out the promotional video for Ceridian’s Dayforce Voice which demonstrates how conversational smart technology manages a shift swap by an employee, using predictive analytics to solve the problem and complete the task on demand. We think this is a great use of smart technology, but please don’t call it AI.

Technology is a “how,” not a “what”

There is no end in sight to the integration of smart technologies into the HR arena. The various models of intelligent technology will evolve to work together, taking the intelligence to a higher level. This could mean the introduction of true artificial intelligence that determines the consequences of various actions in real-world situations, ultimately taking the human out of the decision-making process. Until then, be mindful to recognize the advertising hype, but don’t discount the value intelligent technologies bring to many HR solutions.

If you are struggling to make sense of the hype around AI and other innovations in the HR technology market, remember that technology is a “how,” not a “what.” (Read our article, Don’t fall under the spell of the “bright shiny ball”). It’s important first to determine “what” you’re trying to accomplish before moving on to “how” technology can help you achieve that goal.

Gallagher’s HR and Benefits Technology Practice consists of expert consultants who can guide you through the process of identifying your requirements and assessing options available in the HR technology market. This comprehensive consulting approach ensures the best possible service provider fit. Contact your Gallagher representative and ask how we can help you find better organizational wellbeing with better HR technology that supports your people strategy.


About the Author
Rhonda Marcucci, together with Ed Barry, co-leads Gallagher’s HR and Benefits Technology Consulting Practice. Their team provides unbiased, well-researched HR technology and benefits administration consulting including sourcing advice and service provider capability audits. Rhonda’s extensive and broad-based experience in finance, accounting, administration, strategic planning, information systems, sales and marketing, and operations is instrumental in helping clients identify a comprehensive strategy and execute against it.