HR, meet AI - making work more human, according to Oracle

Profile picture for user jmilne By Janine Milne March 27, 2018
Summary:
When it comes to AI, HR people aren't always sure whether it's A-I or A-1, says Oracle's Emily He.
Emily He Oracle HCM
Emily He

Oracle’s motto for the recent bevy of updates to its Oracle Human Capital Management (HCM) Cloud release is to “make work more human”. The irony of that statement, of course, is that it entails employing more technology, in particular, Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Oracle is doing what it can to gently introduce AI to an HR audience, as there’s still some fear and lack of understanding which needs to be overcome. Emily He, Senior Vice President HCM Product Marketing, at Oracle, explains:

The other day I went to a customer meeting and while there was a break one customer came to me and said, ‘When you have AI, does it stand for A-1 or A-I?’. This is a very new concept to HR professionals and there is a great deal of fear about whether this is going to take away jobs and what’s the best way to start experimenting with AI.

To help HR professionals kick-start their AI endeavors, says He, Oracle has included some out-of-the-box apps:

It’s about making AI actionable and giving them a starting point so they can start seeing the benefits of AI and start becoming more comfortable.

This includes AI and chatbot recruiting capabilities so that candidates can search and apply for a job and can also have any questions answered. The system can also recommend actions candidates should take. Recruiting and other data can be used to pinpoint successful recruits within the company and use that algorithm to predict which candidates are likely to make successful recruits.

AI will also help cut the manual overload for staff. When someone is promoted, for example, the usual steps, such as changing someone’s job title, salary or direct report will be done automatically. He points out that recruitment and learning are the two most obvious front-line areas where AI is making its impact:

Recruiting is very similar to marketing and marketing is faster in adoption technology innovation than HR, so recruiters typically have a marketing-oriented mind-set and are trying to use the latest and greatest communications vehicles…There’s a lot of talk about AI for recruiting either in using it to support the candidate experience and to use AI to identify the best candidates possible.

Front-to-back

From front-line applications, AI will then begin to make its presence known in back-office HR – and things will begin to happen quite quickly, says He:

If you think about mobile – it happened very, very quickly in the consumer world and the corporate world had to catch up. There is this great sense of urgency around AI because people are already using it in their daily lives, whether it is taxi app or shopping. It’s everywhere. Enterprises have learned from their mobile experience that they really have to catch up or their employees are not going to be happy and not as productive.

It’s not only enterprises who need to act fast, the vendors need to accelerate faster and incorporate more “which is what we’re trying to do with this release”, notes He. Another aspect of Oracle’s aim to make work more human is to make work more enjoyable, primarily by improving the user or employee experience, bringing consumer-grade experience into the corporate environment.

As part of the recent HCM upgrade, Oracle has simplified the homepage, which now has a newsfeed appearance that is easy to navigate. This is all part of a shift towards making things easier for employees, automating where possible, simplifying everything that can be simplified and improving the way we can find out information, such as voice.

Rather than relying on employees to know where to direct enquiries – contacting HR for a holiday request and finance for an expenses query, for example, employees should just be able to ask questions generally and have the technology root out the correct information. He adds:

Across HR, Finance and CRM, the enterprise systems don’t behave that way yet, but that’s what employees want. So conversational UI and bots and AI are going to push the different functions to come together and deliver a new generation of employee experience that’s much more about teamwork and much more human.

That’s all well and good, but how near are employees to having an Alexa or Siri-style conversation with enterprise systems? He responds:

I think we are definitely in the early adoption phase here. Our customers are interested; more importantly their employees are interested. In the HR world, the workflow goal is going through a mind-set change from ‘do I design the app for the HR audience or do I design for the employee? And the answer you have to design for the employee. So, inevitably you need to transition to what we are already using in consumer world.

But it does involve a change of focus for enterprise software away from being workflow-focused, where you into an app, and put data in a pre-determined field and then wait for the outcome to appear. With conversational UI and AI, the system needs to be intelligent enough to provide the answers without the employee entering the data. He says:

This has implications for how we categorize and manage data and implications for how we manage the workflow and implications for how we deliver the suggestions or actions to end users.

So, for example, employees can now start an action on one device, such as a work laptop, and then pick up and finish what they were doing on their tablet or mobile at home.

Full circle

He believes that enhancements in AI and user experience are taking things back to where we started:

We’ve kinda gone full circle – when we started it was all about breaking things down into logical steps…and now we’ve got to back where started which is to use voice to guide that experience which also places a much heavier burden on the back end because the back end has to be able to support that experience.

Meanwhile, the front end is all about making things as easy as possible for people to use, notes He:

AI brings humanity back to work; it will make work more human. …People can truly be themselves and use their natural capabilities to interface with systems and the systems can automate the things that humans don’t want to do, so that humans can focus on things they do really well, which is to be innovative and creative and make strategic decisions.

And Oracle, believes He, is well placed to help enterprises take the most advantage of AI and the way we interact with our systems:

One thing Oracle has been good at over the years is managing data. And that has come full circle as well. It all comes back to the data - you can develop apps, but apps they are just a collection of workflows underpinned by data.

My take

AI meets HCM - an interesting liason. HR professionals haven't adopted new tech at the pace of other executives.  The 'people person' aspect of the role is one that's potentially going to sit uneasily with machine-learning and automation of process. A softly-softly approach is likely to a wise one here.