Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cognitive Computing in HCM:  Walking the Line between Cool and Creepy

Cognitive computing generally refers to having a system mimic the way people think, learn, solve problems or perform certain tasks.  In HCM systems specifically, the system leverages what it knows about us -- including our job, social network and interests – to yield solid benefits in areas such as social recruiting and social learning.

We are also seeing take-up of some newer entrants into using NLP (natural language processing) in the form of chatbots and intelligent agents.  Examples highlighted in my recent POV “Intelligent Automation in HR Services and Solutions” included an employee having a conversation with the system about an error on their timesheet that the system had the wherewithal to resolve … or the HR technology platform proactively pre-filling a timesheet based on items in the person’s calendar and previous timesheets.
So far, generally no controversy surrounding these type of cognitive capabilities … efficiency gains and better customer service without any apparent downside.  But what if a near-future incremental step in the cognitive HR tech journey goes something like this:

Employee:  Hi there, kindly initiate a PTO time off request for me for this Thursday and Friday after confirming that I still have the 2 PTO days to use.

HR System:  I can certainly do that sir, but are you sure you want to take 2 days off this week given you have a major project deadline next Monday, the project seems behind schedule, and as you know, you were late on your last major project deliverable?

Can we say C-R-E-E-P-Y?
The norms regarding leveraging these capabilities in the HR/HCM realm will likely not be established anytime soon.  We probably need a few high-profile lawsuits to be the catalyst, followed by consultants developing practices as quickly as they did for Y2K.  In the absence of this, it’s reasonable to assume companies will start to get feedback from employees and job candidates that they were put off by the intrusive nature of their HR system interaction.

Until such time, here are four cognitive capabilities in HCM that go beyond (or way beyond) intelligent HR agents and chatbots.  Some may still become standard HR systems capabilities and practices in the months or years ahead.  For the time being, this is arguably a matter of weighing business benefits (ranging from efficiency gains to improving employee satisfaction/engagement) against potential liabilities that could include a total distrust of using the HR system -- for anything!
·        Upon “clocking out” late one evening, the system notices that excessive hours have been worked by that employee in the last 2 weeks, and auto-emails the person’s supervisor a suggested communication advising the employee that … “the company values work-life balance, and they may want to consider getting back to a more normal schedule.”

·        The system recommends internal or external training courses to look into, or even a personal development coach, based on formal or informal feedback received (the latter from corporate social collaboration tools).

·        The system alerts a business unit head that a certain employee has initiated the processing of a leave of absence or early retirement, and identifies key “institutional knowledge” they possess (again based on formal or informal feedback) that should be transferred to other colleagues at the earliest.

·        A personalized, auto-generated on-boarding communication from soon-to-be team members who let the new employee know they have some things in common … e.g., school attended or outside interests or reside in same part of the city or birthday … and also expresses how excited they are to have them as a team member.  (Of course, in this example, the “sender” would receive it first and have a chance to modify.)

Bottom Line:  Cognitive capabilities within HCM systems will keep pushing the envelope, perhaps until lawsuits, governance issues or perceived creepiness get in the way. 

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