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Robots and artificial intelligence working for the SSCs

Many companies have chosen to establish Shared Service Centres (SSCs) to mutualise functions and resources as a way of offering a range of value-added services to their internal clients. HR SSCs, originally created to serve the “back office” functions of administration and pay management, are increasingly being found in HR functions such as recruitment, training and mobility. All SSCs, whether their remit is national or local, address the same issues of performance, optimisation, rationalisation and professionalisation.

In addition to these objectives, one major issue is quality: quality of service, but also quality of customer relations. At a time of digital change, how can robots and artificial intelligence support SSCs in productivity and quality-related aspects of relationships?

Can robots deliver increased responsiveness and reliability?

The portals set up by the SSCs allow staff to access services and information, giving them the maximum possible independence. The resolution rate upon first contact is a critically important factor which influences employee satisfaction. Recent technological changes enable internal customers (local staff, managers or HR) to obtain fast, accurate answers without human intervention. Chatbots linked to knowledge bases can provide relevant, instant and consistent answers, 24/7.

These technologies also address the changing requirements of staff and new digital uses. After all, we’re all used to new, instant ways of accessing information, particularly through social networks. Nobody these days wants to have to wait for answers to their questions. In an ‘ultra-connected’ world, many workers prefer to use their smartphones, company social networks or chat rather than have to speak to an assistant. And robots are part of our everyday lives. We’re already familiar with these ‘virtual’ exchanges – especially in our personal lives – when we call online services, browse sellers’ sites or communicate via social networks. In 2016, 504 million people worldwide are using a digital assistant. That number will rise to over a billion by 2018 (source: Tractica).

Robots for ‘augmented’ HR!

Robots have made a significant contribution in the domain of repetitive, process-oriented tasks which have little variation in content, and concern large volumes or highly seasonal activities. They provide a way of coping with peaks of activity and reducing the workload on teams who may not necessarily be able to offer the necessary flexibility.

Some robots are capable of learning autonomously and even detecting moods – by analysing vocabulary or asking questions – and thus adjusting their level of response, or even alerting an assistant, who can take over and provide the appropriate response.

Some robots are also able to analyse the content of conversations between a member of staff and an assistant. They establish correlations and probabilities, and can provide assistants with suggested answers to increase the relevance of the answers already provided. No individual assistant can have the full range of regulatory content or potential situations to be considered in their heads; the robot can make diagnoses and provide suggestions for additional answers. Robots do not replace human assistants: rather, they complement them for a certain number of tasks and create “augmented assistants”.

Many HR processes are sensitive, and call for human expertise and discernment. Some require the sort of analysis which technology cannot provide. And there are many exceptions… for example, robots will never replace SSC assistants.

However, these assistants – who consequently receive fewer first-level requests – are able to free up time for carrying out expert tasks or expanding their skillsets.

The HR sector is starting to make use of robots and artificial intelligence to improve its own efficiency and agility. SSCs, recruitment, training, well-being in the workplace… technologies are appearing rapidly and the number of applications is booming. Although questions are being asked about the potential risks – and, in more general terms, about the future of humans in the corporate environment – robots are not about to replace HR’s intelligence, nor its ability to innovate, create and form social links. Robots may have a part to play in the creation of an “augmented” HR, but strategy and decision-making will remain the preserve of “natural” intelligence.