The arrival of ‘bots’ in the HR function

Often, without knowing it, we have been invaded by ‘bots’ or robots. Facebook announced that 34,000 bots had been created since the launch last April of a programming interface exclusively dedicated to this artificial intelligence. So, during your online discussions (chat, text, etc.), you can order a train ticket, reserve an Uber journey or have a meal delivered to you using bots, without leaving the messaging system interface. What is more, a chatbot can generate automatic responses to advise you from purchase to payment, all within the same conversation window.

Microsoft and Google are not to be outdone since they also launched their bot development platforms in 2016. Microsoft claimed that 45,000 developers Use Microsoft Bot Framework and Google has acquired the Californian start-up API.ai, claiming more than 60,000 user developers.

These mini on-board apps, which are widely used in B2C, are also spreading to B2B solutions. Various families of robots are now occupying the back and front offices of business management applications.

The HR sector is starting to catch on to this to strengthen the operational excellence and agility of processes which often progress through cycles that are structured by regulations. Here, we are in the field of process automation or RPA (Robot Process Automation) for the back-office.

They can also enrich the user experience, allow dialogue in an increasingly natural language to help you with your searches, by finding or constructing targeted responses which are more and more relevant. You are therefore interacting with a chatbot which can transform itself into a true virtual HR assistant. Drawing from a document database, it pushes the appropriate HR policy to your Employee profile. It can also help you navigate your HR space to find the department relating to your request. The latest generation of bots goes even further. By analysing your data or that of your employees, it can suggest operational, managerial or HR actions. Welcome to the world of HR bots!

We are not talking about science fiction but what is happening right now, which is undergoing a complete revolution. Let’s take an example: Slack is a collaborative platform that is very agile and popular with start-ups. The entry point looks like a cat, with various channels (dialogue groups): one general channel for the entire community, and others accessible only to a subset of members or reserved for a topic. Nothing new so far! But if you think you are interacting only with humans, you may be surprised. Some channels are facilitated by bots. Welcome to the world of slackbots, eager to help you, anticipate your questions and answer you. By going to the list of suggested bots (www.slack.com/apps), you can find a set of already existing and available mini-apps, particularly for certain HR uses.

These HR bots are not reserved for Slack users. They will soon be found in our inboxes, our chat tools, and our business applications. Users may find them as they use future HR applications.

For example, you are an HR director and you are chatting with your HR discussion group. You transmit the idea of organising a meeting. An HR bot will appear to suggest potential dates to you which are possible for all the participants in the HR discussion group. It will have read and interpreted, on its own, the exchanges by using semantic analysis. It will have looked at the calendars of all the participants. It may take part in the discussion to put forward its suggestions.

For example, you are an HR manager and you open a memo to note down an action to be carried out. For example, remember to sign up an employee for a training course. An HR bot is monitoring. It can interpret the memo to prompt you to go further in your HR action. It will search for the skills required for holding the employee’s post, read and understand the employee’s latest evaluations, measure the difference and look for the right course to increase the employee’s skills from internal or external training course lists. It will suggest that you save this action to put it forward at the right time: the day before the planned meeting which it will have read from your business calendar or at the employee’s next evaluation.

For example, you are a manager and you have to draw up an employment contract for a newly hired member of staff. From the information known about the future employee and their tasks, an HR bot will propose the best contractual terms and conditions that are suitable for this situation.

For example, you are a member of staff and you are planning your leave. An HR bot will analyse your request with regards to your team’s schedule. It may, if security permits it, look at your family calendar and suggest the best dates, including school periods or otherwise. It will not forget, after analysing your family profile, to also put forward suggestions for holiday destinations.

For example, you are a manager and you are organising a meeting in your Outlook calendar, a meeting which involves travel. An HR bot will take care of your train tickets and your hotel in relation to your company’s travel policy. It may also make a restaurant reservation for you and your contact like a virtual concierge service, without forgetting to send you both directions on how to get there.

In conclusion, bots will be having an ever-greater role in our HR business applications ecosystem. Might we see a kind of Uberisation of the HR function? Should this be feared as being a dehumanising of the job and the employee relationship? Should this be seen as a source of productivity with the delegation of routine administrative activities to robots? Should this be seen as an opportunity to refocus on the Human element?

The controlled cohabitation of humans and bots is in itself one objective of transformation. There are so many questions and challenges at the heart of the digital transformation of organisations…