While robots may eventually take your job, at the moment, they are also helping companies build better workplaces. It's a practice that's only in the early stages, but the use of artificial intelligence (AI) could upend long-standing procedures while helping companies identify employee pain points.
Visier CEO John Schwarz, whose company works with human resources departments at companies including Electronic Arts, Time Inc., and LinkedIn, believes AI will change how many businesses manage their operations. He also feels the technology can be used to improve the workplace for employers and employees.
"Up until now, management has been practicing what I like to call 'the experience game,'" he said in an interview shared with The Motley Fool. "They tend to assume that whatever worked in the past should work again in the future."
What can AI do for employers?
Schwarz explained that AI can break this cycle. It can also bring modern-day analytics to an area where many managers still use "gut feel" to make important decisions.
"When applied toward employee data, AI can now tell us a lot about what motivates employees and -- perhaps more importantly -- identify the things that make employees unhappy," he said.
AI, he explained, can give a company deep detail on why employees are leaving. That can identify hidden problem areas and allow the company to correct its course. "Is it an issue of compensation? Bad management? Lack of diversity in the workplace? Lack of training or opportunity? A toxic culture? Or, is the person simply bored by his or her job?" he said.
He added that the technology has become so precise that AI can even detect signals down to the particular individual. That means that companies can know "with a pretty high degree of certainty" if someone is likely on the verge of quitting.
"After making these types of discoveries, employers can then make policy or other changes that invariably lead to happier employees," he said. "Moreover, after collecting data over a period of time, we can run machine learning techniques against the data to more accurately predict potential problems before they materialize.
AI can help with hiring
While many people associate AI with job loss as some positions get automated, eliminating the need for human workers, the technology can actually help to identify candidates. That's becoming more important as companies are struggling to find talent. In fact, a recent CapGemini and LinkedIn report found 54% of 1,200 global organizations said they've been affected by the skills shortage.
Schwarz pointed out that many in-demand jobs today did not exist even a few years ago. That has led to a talent shortage for positions like "data scientist," "social media director," and "programmatic advertising manager."
"Closing this skills gap is where AI and advanced analytics offer a lot of promise," he said. "AI can help companies pinpoint very specific skills and past work experience that can be transferable to -- what would appear on paper -- to be a significantly different role. This opens up the job to a whole new pool of candidates."
AI can also analyze data to figure out whether a company should automate certain jobs or staff them with people. Doing that involves analyzing the labor pool available, salaries, and harder-to-gauge areas like whether the job in consideration for replacement is customer facing.
"When the robot in question is replacing a customer-facing employee (the self-serve kiosk vs. the in-person agent, for example) the cost equation can't be reduced to simple accounting," he said. "AI and analytics can help organizations to much more fully understand when human labor is more productive and/or cost-effective than technology."
The term artificial intelligence has scary overtones, but really -- at least in the instances discussed above -- it's just the use of technology to parse data in ways that humans can't.
In many ways the resistance to using AI to improve the workplace is similar to an old-school baseball manager refusing to use data to improve his team and instead going with his gut. The result will likely be the same with traditionalists being pushed out in favor of people/companies willing to use all the tools now available.