From chatbots to blockchain to virtual reality, there’s plenty for HR to learn
Vendors of HR, payroll and time management regularly promote the latest technology on offer. And while these tools all sound very interesting, some employers are still unsure about the benefits. Here’s a rundown of the latest offerings:
Artificial intelligence (AI): This is what makes a robot vacuum smarter than us. Imagine robotic thinking. It can be applied in many situations, especially those that are more administrative. Not only can it be more efficient and effective than people, it can also remove bias, intended or not. At this stage, it is suggested AI be used to augment human input rather than replace it.
To use AI, you must be able to clearly define your processes, decision options, and any criteria that needs to be considered.
Biometrics: This ranges from finger or palm prints, retina scans, or RFID (radio frequency identification) chips embedded under the skin. Used primarily as security tests for access to buildings or systems, they are expensive and in limited use, and have experienced challenges based on religious beliefs.
Bitcoin and blockchain: Bitcoin is the first of many cryptocurrencies that exist only in the digital world. Bitcoin is known as the favoured currency of criminals because it completely avoids the banking system with its audit trails and links to policing agencies.
Blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions, such as those when people buy or sell bitcoin. Blockchain can unlink processes and create cross-platform architecture that makes volume processing more effective and efficient.
Bitcoin can be bought or sold by individuals or organizations, but because cryptocurrencies are not part of the banking system, they also do not offer traditional safeguards. At this early stage, blockchain is probably best left to very large firms.
Bring your own device (BYOD): Organizations are unable to stop employees from bringing personal devices (such as laptops, tablets and smartphones) to their workplace and using those devices to access privileged company information, applications and databases.
Three-fourths (77 per cent) of the respondents to a 2016 survey by Syntonic said they expect personal smartphone use for work purposes to increase in the next six to 12 months. And 87 per cent of companies are dependent to some extent on employees’ ability to access mobile business apps from their personal devices.
The challenge for organizations is how to control access and how to maintain security and privacy. Meanwhile, research is divided on the pros and cons of BYOD. It’s a good idea to work with IT to establish a policy and the means of enforcement.
Business intelligence: This is a business approach (and sometimes involves specialized systems) to combine data and provide analysis across an entire organization. It includes the concept of “big data” — data from across an organization that is too voluminous or complex to be analyzed by a single system like a human resources management system (HRMS). Neither concept works unless the core data is complete and accurate.
Chatbots: We have all experienced a chatbot when we skim shopping websites. That use models how chatbots could be used by HR — as part of a website, perhaps providing information to workers about employee benefits or organization events, for example. They could also be used to provide employer information to potential workers. Unlike several other technologies on this list, the chatbot concept is ready for use by an organization.
The cloud: This means the servers where an HRMS could reside — not inside an office. It also implies a system that is essentially one-size-fits-all. IT may like it because it reduces direct investment in IT equipment inside an organization and can simplify system management. It can also make mobile access easier.
Gamification: These are activities and processes to solve problems by using or applying the characteristics of game elements. In HR, it can be used to improve recruitment and evaluation and learning, and it is generally considered to be an effective tool.
Virtual reality: VR, and its companion, augmented reality (AR), use ski-style goggles (and sometimes earphones and avatars) to simulate and immerse users in environments that can be fantasy or reality. The concept goes back at least to the 1950s and is still experiencing development.
Various militaries have used the technology for training purposes and there have been training developments in health care, as well. As exciting and useful as it may seem, it is expensive and a long way from being a proven and affordable technology.
Workflow: The term may mean different things to different people (and software vendors) but is essentially process mapping gone wild. Imagine a performance management form that is sent from HR to workers and supervisors where it bounces back and forth before eventually returning to HR — hopefully completed and signed. Now imagine the same scenario in an electronic form — that’s it. Properly implemented, it can significantly increase process efficiency and effectiveness while reducing the demand for paper and filing cabinets.
Social media: When it comes to the likes of Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest, along with texting and email, there are three key issues HR needs to be concerned about:
First, a documented trail. Using any of these tools except email may leave trails around the digital universe, but not in a linked, traceable manner. Unless everything is printed and filed — which sort of negates the idea of digital communication — any communication to or from workers will not form part of a worker’s record. That’s bad.
Second (and third), are the co-joined issues of privacy and security of personal data. Even if IT has wonderful security measures in place, none of these tools offer reliable security (and, therefore, privacy) — as seen with the recent flurry of concerns about Facebook.
Many of these technological offerings sound exciting, and they are. The breadth and depth of technological innovation is inspiring. But these offering are distractions from a key task for HR: To have a fully functional HRMS that contains complete and accurate data.
Ian Turnbull is managing partner of Laird & Greer HR Management in Toronto, specializing in HR, payroll and time management system selection. He can be reached at (416) 618-0052 or at email@example.com.