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How do HR professionals feel about artificial intelligence?

5 Mar 2019 By Dr Benjamin Bader

A new survey considers the pros and cons of technology for HR, and global mobility in particular, says Dr Benjamin Bader

Digital transformation is certainly one of the most important changes and challenges that society and businesses face today. However, in the commercial world, it would seem that HR functions are sometimes a tad behind when it comes to taking steps towards enhanced digitalisation. 

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies and robotic process automation (RPA) applications could be the answer to help HR catch up with other areas of the business. In fact, there already appears to be a marked increase in the demand for – and use of – these technologies for HR function in general and for global mobility (GM) in particular. The RES Forum wanted to explore this development in more detail, so it recently surveyed GM professionals from around the world to find out what is happening in their own particular organisations. 

Our core findings were that RPA technologies are more frequently used organisation-wide than solely within HR departments. Companies already making use of RPA seem convinced of the benefits, although they indicate they are only just at the beginning of what may be a long journey. 

For instance, regarding recruitment, 22 per cent of GM professionals indicated that their company made use of forms of AI and RPA in the organisation as a whole (versus 15 per cent in the HR department). Interestingly, 15 per cent report that their company made use of AI and RPA for reporting and predictive analytics in the HR department, whereas only 4 per cent do so in the organisation as a whole. In other words, there are some fields where HR lags behind the entire organisation and others where the HR department is leading. 

The GM professionals surveyed expect RPA usage to increase, though not in all areas to an equal extent. For instance, they believe that within the next five years AI and RPA technologies are most likely to be adopted in HR services in general and in payroll administration (61 per cent each). They are followed closely by process management (60 per cent), compensation and benefits (59 per cent) and chatbots (53 per cent). The likelihood that RPA will be used for the selection of expatriates is regarded as low (28 per cent), probably because GM professionals do not see great potential for the application of AI in this area – maybe they don’t trust a computer to do a proper job here. 

Despite all the potential, there are also limitations and some concerns regarding the use of AI-based technologies, and these should not be overlooked. For example, there are fears of a further loss of human interaction between GM teams and assignees. This becomes especially problematic when unexpected problems arise and a solid, trust-based relationship would prove useful. Another concern would appear to be the fact that further outsourcing and automation of key mobility tasks may lead to a reduction in GM corporate headcount. 

AI-based decision-making can only be as good as the data behind it and if data quality issues arise, there can only be a negative outcome; RPA and other AI-based technologies can only perform the tasks they are programmed to do. With a lack of emotion, moral values and common-sense reasoning, and despite eliminating errors in things such as financial calculations, it’s believed that moral or common-sense errors will be made. Despite the hype and the obvious potential benefits, GM professionals are not convinced AI and RPA technologies are the panacea to all HR problems.

Yet even though there are also some barriers to the introduction of AI and RPA (mainly financial constraints and the availability and quality of data), there is little doubt they are a genuine step forward. After all, one great benefit remains: these technologies have the potential to (at least partially) free HR managers from mundane and tedious tasks so they can invest their time in something more important. When asked what they would do with any additional time gained through the use of technology, the majority stated they would be focusing on tasks that have a greater strategic influence on business success. This is a great outcome and demonstrates again the key role that human beings will always have to play. 

This article is based on recent research for the RES Forum carried out by Dr  Benjamin Bader and colleagues. Dr Bader is an academic partner and strategic adviser to the global mobility forum and community The RES Forum and senior lecturer in international human resource management at Newcastle University Business School. Contact the RES Forum at office@theresforum.com if you are interested in reading the full report

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