How can AI transform employee benefits? We caught up with James Whelan, Managing Director at Avantus Systems to talk about bot-misconceptions, AI for analytics and how the human in HR can be supported by the concept of AI.
“A common misconception about artificial intelligence (AI) – undoubtedly thanks to decades of sci-fi – is that it describes some sort of robot with a mind of its own. In fact, it really comes down to the use of complex algebra formulas being applied to spot patterns and trends.
A major value proposition for AI in most fields is saving time and effort. An automated system powered by AI is able to sort through data and identify key points and patterns far faster than any human and, unlike our flesh-and-blood brain, it will never get tired or complain about the tedium. Aside from the obvious benefits of having tasks completed faster and more efficiently, this also frees human employees from using up their time and energy on tedious and unrewarding tasks, enabling them to focus on more valuable activity.
When you remember that AI really boils down to crunching data to identify key points, it’s quickly apparent that it can be applied to a huge number of aspects across employee benefits, and HR in general.
Using AI to enhance recruitment
One promising area for AI is the recruitment field. Anyone who has been involved in finding a new recruit will know that it can be incredibly time consuming, particularly if the post is in a popular field or at a prestigious organisation. Sorting through a pile of 500 applications will take a huge amount of manpower, but it’s still important that each applicant is given their due attention.
An AI system can be trained to identify the key data points signifying an ideal candidate, such as keywords and even the writing style. This system can then analyse your 500 applications and create a list of the top 30 matching the criteria you set out. From here, your human recruiters can get to work assessing the top CVs and contacting the applications.
This kind of automation can also be extremely valuable when it comes to on-boarding new recruits, taking care of the innumerable tasks that often end up delayed by human error – from misplaced documents to broken printers. Not only does this enhanced level of efficiency provide value for the company, it’s also very beneficial for the new recruits and, if done well, will provide a strong first impression of the organisation.
Just as it evaluated a candidate’s suitability for joining the company, AI can also analyse an individual’s previous experience and determine how they can be supported as a new employee. Individuals can answer questions about their skills and knowledge, and the system can automatically provide them with support material and training that will benefit them.
This same approach can, of course, be applied to existing employees too and can be a powerful asset in supporting career progression. Handling all the data involved – endlessly printing and analysing job specs and benchmarking – can be time consuming work, and automating this will again free up the team for more involved activity where the human touch is more valuable.
Analysing employee benefits
Alongside finding ways to improve their workplace experience, AI-powered automation can also help companies to provide the most appropriate and valuable employee benefits. The company can send around a short temperature test to their workforce asking questions about their personal situations. All the responses are anonymised to avoid prying into personal lives and encourage honest responses.
The results will provide a powerful snapshot of the company’s workforce, allowing them to determine its overall wellbeing, and identify what kinds of benefits will be the most helpful for them.
For example, the organisation could ask employees whether they rent or own a home, whether they are looking for a mortgage, and how comfortable they are with their current payments. Analysing the results could reveal that some of the workforce is having a difficult time securing a mortgage in the first place. The company can respond to this need by partnering with an independent financial advisor and offering discounted support as an employee benefit.
More data – more risk
Before getting too carried away with the possibilities of AI-powered analytics, companies should remember that the more data they take on, the more data they have to manage – and keep secure. This is especially important ahead of the upcoming EU GDPR, which will establish more rights for individuals around how their personal data is used, as well as more scrutiny and harsher penalties for companies failing to secure data.
This means it’s very important to know exactly what employee data is being recorded, and where on the system it is stored. The GDPR also requires explicit permission from an individual for their data to be recorded, so firms need to make sure they have a process in place here. Companies deciding to embark on companywide temperature tests about potential benefits also need to make sure that the data they collect is genuinely anonymised, and cannot be pieced back together in the event it is leaked or stolen.
While storing more employee data can lead to increased risk, as long as it is managed correctly, AI analysis can provide powerful insights into new employee benefits, while creating new levels of efficiency for the company’s HR team.
Ultimately, AI can be delivered in meaningful way, with the upside of GDPR adding comfort to employees that their data is being used securely and intelligently, and only with their consent, whilst adding greater quality value to the employee/employer relationship.”