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When you think about artificial intelligence, two competing images come to mind. One is of the friendly digital assistant who lives and travels with you—Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri—whose job is to make your life easier. The other is more menacing: the dispassionate robot who is coming to take your job.
It’s true, automation is taking over jobs, but what’s more interesting and more immediate is how AI is taking over tasks. McKinsey’s 2017 A Future That Works report reveals that the number of occupations with the potential to become fully automated is very small, less than 5 percent in the United States. Nonetheless, automation will affect most jobs to some degree: about 60 percent of occupations have at least 30 percent of their activities that are likely to be automated in the short term.
As an HR leader, it’s important to know how to talk to your employees about this sensitive topic—that their jobs aren’t likely going away, but their jobs as they know them will likely change. HR has the opportunity and responsibility to shape the AI conversation in the workplace; it is friend rather than a foe, one that frees employees up to do more of the work that they, as humans, were meant to do. It might sound contrary to the scary stories about robots taking our jobs, but AI actually can make work more fulfilling by eliminating the highly routinized (and often the most tedious) tasks.
For HR professionals, the real discussion is about creating a workforce in which technology can help sustain the necessary skills and experiences workers need to be efficient, happy and successful. HR is vital for future-proofing the workforce and leading the charge in implementing the technologies that will help close the skills gap. According Accenture’s Harnessing the Revolution 2017 study, retraining employees will be one of the most critical steps to shaping and preparing the workforce for a more automated world.
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It is key that your business gets ahead of these changes, and automation can be a powerful partner for HR to do so. Here are four ways AI can help HR professionals and the employees they serve be better at what they do:
Virtual Assistants Help Handle Customer Service
Virtual assistants seek to reimagine customer service as a frictionless interaction between customer and machine. Cognitive agents like IPSoft’s Amelia communicate with customers using natural language and can even automate business processes across industries: from processing claims to opening bank accounts, and more. With virtual assistants on the phone to help customers with smaller needs, this frees up employees to focus on resolving more complex and higher impact issues.
AI Helps Build a Better Salesperson
2016 saw the release of Salesforce’s Einstein, an artificially intelligent platform that enables smarter interactions with customers. Any good salesperson knows charisma and communication is key, but what he might not know is the underlying intricacies that could positively or negatively affect a sale. These kinds of CRM platforms are helping salespeople up their game. Einstein is like having your own personal data scientist who can analyze your data, emails, calendar, social, ERP and IoT (Internet of Things) and tell you how a current deal relates to another, keep you up-to-date on market trends that could impact a sale, or analyze the tone of the latest email exchange to suggest the best course of action.
Machine-Learning Makes Humans Better Managers
Too often, managers and HR professionals are viewed as retroactive critics rather than proactive helpers. However, the advancement of data analytics and machine-learning can provide a better picture of what is driving an employee’s work. There are now tools that visualize work data in a way that allows managers and HR to get out in front of potential issues and provide the proper resources, support and feedback. I foresee more machine-learning analytics tools entering the workplace to help drive employee engagement.
Technology Streamlines Schedules and Administrative Duties
Ever feel like your whole day is rearranging meetings, booking rooms and reserving resources for projects? Or, at the least, have you experienced the frustration of having to break your focus on something important so you can re-book a conference room? Syncing AI with current scheduling and resource-booking systems will let the machines take care of administrative duties so employees can focus on work and deadlines that are more in line with their purpose.
Artificial intelligence does not have to be a threat to the way your employees work. It should augment habits and empower our education on how to be better in our respective fields, and it’s up to HR professionals to lead a healthy dialogue about how employees can actually benefit. Love it or fear it, automation is a trend that is not slowing down, so it’s best for businesses to embrace the applications AI provides and work in tandem with the technology that will only make our work lives better.
This piece was originally published on the SHRM Blog here. Its author, Stuart Sackman, is Corporate Vice President of Global Product and Technology at ADP.