Every few decades, a new way of technology overtakes our lives and changes things as we know them. Whether the steam-powered first industrial revolution (18th – early 19th century), the replacement of steam with electricity in the second (between late 19th – mid 20th century), or the automation drive of the third (second half of 20th century), every revolution has brought with it changes that would have been unforeseen before its onset. So, as we stand at the cusp of Industry 4.0, it is almost inescapable to think how it’ll impact our professional worlds.
This latest trend of automation which involves processes and products ranging from driverless cars, smart robots (bots as the cool people call them), artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), big data analytics, cloud computing, and virtual reality (VR) is simply speaking the new face of robotisation and is set to change all aspects of business management. What does this mean for us?
Well, here are a few points to get you acquainted with this new emerging reality –
- A Mckinsey & Company report reveals that half of all existing work activities could be automated by currently existing technologies.
- A PwC report, Industry 4.0: Building the Digital Enterprise, suggests that key industries see rapid increase in digitization by 2020. Case in point, aerospace and defence companies will move to more than 76% digitization from the current 32%.
- Industrial sectors are planning to commit US$907 bn p.a. to Industry 4.0 – around 5% of revenue p.a. 55% of the investments expect a payback within two years.
- 65% of school children will have job roles that haven’t been invented yet.
The pace of change that we’ve seen under Industry 4.0 has made many people ask the question “Will technology replace people, and how will it impact our lives and the way we work?” While the answer to that question may prompt different responses, one thing is for sure – The HR function of today will definitely look different tomorrow.
Through some of my readings and the various TED talks on the subject, I’ve come across some interesting aspects of what HR could look like and am sharing some of these here. It should be exciting to be a part of these changes.
- Redefining sourcing and recruitment – What drives prospective employees to join certain organisations? How do organisations find the right talent as the fight for suitable talent intensifies? And in the middle of it, how do we bring down recruitment costs? The landscape today is dotted with recruiters doing the painstaking job of scouting employment websites for suitable profiles and yet we all know the success rates of this exercise. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to change the way resumes are sourced, searching the same number of resume sites. With predictive analytics using neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), it can analyze the past success records in a particular job profile and then assess the available talent pool to identify the most suitable candidates with the adequate skill sets and experience. With video based interviewing, face expressions, choice words, voice modulation, quality of responses could be reviewed to spot creativity, subject matter knowledge, and intelligence of the candidate while eliminating recruiter’s personal biases.
- Virtual Reality (VR) in Onboarding – There’s an old joke, “The new employees can’t even find a bathroom on their first day.” Onboarding will be made more effective and consistent with VR. Each employee could get the office tour on their smart phones; they could meet their colleagues, listen to their leaders on smartphones, which would speed up the process of acculturalization. Google cardboard is a great example of VR onboarding tool. Hours spent on reviewing powerpoint presentations or chasing speakers will not be required.
- Removing redundancies in HR operations – Imagine a scenario equivalent to a driverless car in HR? The work related to mass documentations like new joining documents, account payable, invoices, etc., is being given to robots. Robotic process automation (RPA) learns how a worker does a repetitive task and can do the same task with zero errors. And remember, robots don’t need a bathroom, team, or lunch break!
- Taking HR services to different level – Even for HR helpdesks, routine queries related to policies, processes, etc., will be addressed with speed and accuracy with chat applications like Slack, Facebook messenger, etc., or robots answering the queries on the phone. Only the complex or unique queries will be directed to specialized HR resources.
- Redefining learning and making it more relevant: Companies today spend a lot time on role based programs, e.g., new Manager program, new Director program, etc. All the new promotees have to go through one common program. But each one of us learns at a different pace and has different progress rates. This is a problem that AI is going to solve. Machine learning algorithms, programs that glean patterns from data and provide insights and suggestions help employees to find gaps in their areas and points to where they should be focusing. AI also enables personalized learning programs based on employee information; skill set, experience, behaviors and learning patterns. It can also provide a customized career path based on the potential, strengths, experience & exposures, career aspirations and learning agility. Game based learning make learning more fun and personalized. TED talk, Youtube, digital books are becoming common platform for learning.
- Employee engagement with wellness apps: Employee engagement activities are no longer limited to fun activities – office parties, offsites, team building events, cooking competition, etc. People and companies are moving towards health and fitness tracking as an important aspect for employee engagement. There’s a significant use of internet of technology (IoT) in engagement health and fitness tracking. Companies where employees are scattered at different locations or are mostly working from home, creating a common engagement program is difficult. With the help of fitness apps and virtual fitness coaches, companies are preparing engagement programs where people could compete with each other and stay engaged through these apps. Lose to win contest, step challenges, etc., are some examples which we could see getting common as engagement programs in the corporate.
- Apps and smart analytics based performance management: Top competitors and high-achieving teams–be they elite athletes, top chefs or winning businesses–stay hungry for day-to-day improvement. A winning coach gives his/her elite performer feedback before, during and after the game, not after the season is over. The companies are moving away from annual or periodic review to instant/real-time feedback. The technology is helping in this big transition where it was discovered that the performance cycle of filling forms and holding meetings consumed a lot of hours. Digital tools, technologies, and intelligent machines can transform people development, enabling supervisors to trace contributions from individuals and teams with more accuracy and solid data. They can also help supervisors measure outcomes with better transparency and impact because evaluations can be more closely linked in time to the particular performance being evaluated. A more fact-based, smart data-driven approach to performance management helps enable at least two important developments. First, it makes the evaluation process more open, fair, and transparent based on clear and understandable data. Second, high-quality data can be used to steer people’s performance in a more powerful way. The coach is no longer just another human being who offers advice but also an artificial intelligence-enhanced app that works alongside you. It helps mentor and guide you to particular actions—maybe to connect with a new group of colleagues or new knowledge sources or even a lifestyle change.
I’m not sure if these points answer the question of whether machines will replace humans but one thing is certain – the work we do and the way we do it will change forever. The change has started and we all need to keep pace. Constant learning and upskilling is no longer the differentiator; it has become a necessity if we must keep ourselves relevant in this changing landscape. Different skills will be needed; some roles will disappear but others will evolve. We’ll see a rebalancing of human capital as organisations adjust. This has wide-ranging consequences for HR – the role of the function may even need a fundamental rethink. One skill which undoubtedly becomes more important is the “life skills.” The ability to communicate, connect, establish relationships will be very important. The companies which will spend equal time and effort in teaching the life skills as they will do in automation, will be able to differentiate themselves in this disruptive market.
I’ll leave you with a great saying by Albert Einstein, “The human spirit must prevail over technology.” It has probably never been more relevant.
About Varun Bhaskar
Varun Bhaskar has over 14 years of experience and has worked with organizations like PwC, MTS India, Reliance Retail Ltd, Hyundai Electronics Ltd, LG Electronics & Maruti Service Masters. Varun holds a PhD, Organisational Development from Jamia Millia Islamia.