We’ve become used to doing all manner of tasks without needing input from someone else.
Using our mobile device or computer, we regularly manage our finances, purchase theatre tickets, buy clothes, book doctor appointments … the list is seemingly endless and only getting longer, writes Ronnie Toerien, HCM development and strategy leader at Oracle Africa.
There is no room for downtime in the age of self-service. As consumers, we increasingly value the option to be productive at any time, from any place.
And yet, a relatively high level of bureaucracy exists when it comes to managing everyday tasks in the workplace. In many companies, even the most basic HR services — like an inquiry about holiday allowances or maternity leave — cannot be managed by employees on their own. Workers still need to send their query to HR and wait for a response.
The desire for more efficient self-service is no less strong at work than it is in our lives as consumers. Consider an employee who has five minutes to book a trip before a cheap flight deal expires — the wait for their line manager to see their request and check their holiday allowance would be excruciating and may result in a missed trip. It would be much easier if that same worker could just find the information him or herself.
Manual admin tasks like this take up much of HR’s time, especially in large organisations where an HR Director might be responsible for up to 200 employees. The aim is therefore to reduce this burden so they can spend more time on strategic HR initiatives.
This is why there is currently so much buzz around the potential role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning in HR, specifically in the form of chatbots that can simulate intelligent conversations with HR team members.
The technology is still in its early stages, but the prospect of automating even some of the administrative tasks HR must manage each day has huge implications.
A powerful enabler
When Oracle launched its ChatBot virtual assistant at OpenWorld in 2016, Larry Ellison gave a live demonstration of how it could be used to make the process of ordering business cards less painful. The bot was able to automatically create a virtual preview of his card, complete with his name, title, and contact details, and place the order for delivery. The exciting part is that this was all done in seconds via an SMS-style conversation.
This is a great example of how an HR chatbot becomes an enabler. It’s not hard to imagine AI software being used to help employees check and amend their HR records, book holidays, or view their previous performance reviews. Chatbots will have limits of course, and in this case a request can simply be passed on to a “real” HR team member.
This is an important point. AI and chatbots will never replace HR completely. As mentioned, they are simply powerful technologies that are reducing the administrative burden on HR teams so they can focus on the more strategic tasks in their ever-expanding remit.
A few thoughts on making chatbots work
HR chatbots will become more refined in the coming years, but here are some points to consider when implementing the technology today:
* Chatbots are not automated messengers. They are intended to be interactive and must therefore be able to interpret what users are asking of them.
* Very clearly define the scope of what services chatbots will and will not deliver. It is crucial HR is involved in defining these use cases to best serve employees.
* Chatbots must be able to deliver accurate and relevant information. They need to be linked to the company’s HR platform and be able to source the right data fast.
* Think bigger than Yes and No. There’s nothing particularly useful about a system that can only provide a binary answer, and employees don’t want to ask 20 questions to get the information they need. The best approach is to build decision trees directly into the chatbot software based on frequently asked questions, and to make sure these are continuously updated.