Technology

HR Is About to Meet its New Artificial Assistant

By Sarah Fister Gale

Nov. 8, 2016

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Artificial intelligence could be a boon to HR leaders.

Artificial intelligence is coming to human resources, but it’s not going to be as exciting as Hollywood would have us believe. There will be no tiny humanoids roaming the halls offering AI benefits counseling, or shiny silver robots hosting AI yoga classes in the cafeteria.

But in the not too distant future, there could be a Siri-like service that can answer employee benefits questions or tells people where the yoga class is, said Anthony Onesto, executive adviser to technology start-ups and vice president of Razor Fish, a digital marketing agency. Onesto is working on a project, currently in beta, called SueAI, an artificially intelligent human resource associate who answers human resource questions for HR leaders and their teams. The technology uses machine learning and algorithms to be able to respond to natural language questions and to learn from the responses it gets back.

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Anthony Onesto is working on SueAI, an artificially intelligent HR associate who answers HR questions for leaders and their teams.

“It’s not another app,” he said. “Sue understands the questions, and if she doesn’t have the answer she knows where to find it.”

It may sound gimmicky, but Onesto argues that these kinds of tools could eliminate a lot of HR touchpoints that employees expect to be immediate but don’t provide significant value — like answering the same question about the new benefits package 15 times in a week. That will free HR leaders to focus on more strategic work without adding headcount, he said.

Taking over mundane tasks is only the beginning. As AI technology advances, he sees these tools offering coaching sessions, encouraging culture building, and analyzing reams of employee data to identify trends like which managers have an unusually high rate of turnover, or who the high performers are.

Venture capitalists agree. Start-ups that offer AI solutions have become a hot commodity in the VC space, including Glint, a real-time employee engagement platform that secured $27 million in a Series C round in August led by Meritech Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners. That brings Glint’s total backing to $50 million since its launch less than two years ago.

“We are going to be responsible for bringing AI to HR,” said co-founder and CEO Jim Barnett.

The platform, which focuses on companies with more than 1000 employees, uses artificial intelligence to analyze results of pulse surveys in real time, and recommend action plans based on specific trends. “The real-time aspect of the results is what makes Glint special,” Barnett said. The technology can review thousands of survey responses, drawing out trends from responses and natural language comments, in a matter of minutes not months. “It means companies can monitor employee engagement the same way they track financial performance or sales or customer service.”

But HR professionals shouldn’t get too excited — yet. It is still very early days for AI in HR, and the technology has a long way to go before it can fulfill every HR need, Onesto said. HR leaders should take this time to educate themselves about the technology.

“They don’t need to learn how to code, but they should understand how it works,” he said. AI is evolving rapidly and soon vendors will be selling artificial intelligence features as part of their latest HR system. “You don’t want to wait for it to be part of sales pitch,” he added. “To make the best choices for your company, you want to get ahead of it now.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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