As I noted last week, I’l be talking at CBIA’s Employment Law Conference on the topic of “Artificial Intelligence & Analytics for HR: Recruiting, Retention & Engagement” next month.

Joining me on the panel is Doug Smith, the SVP Client Delivery at Tallan, which has offices in the Greater Hartford area.  I thought it might be enlightening to ask Doug a few questions about AI and Analytics in the Workplace before our talk. He was gracious enough to humor me with answers to my questions. Really looking forward to our discussion in two weeks. 

In any event, here’s a return of my ongoing Five, Six Questions Series….

Is there really a place for data analytics in HR?

Definitely.  It has the most impact in larger companies, but even the smaller companies can gain insight by tracking and analyzing their data.  It’s amazing what you can find when you start to really look.

Fair enough. What are the opportunities?

There are so many opportunities here, it really depends on what an organization’s goals are. Higher retention, enhanced engagement, recruiting, and corporate culture are just a few. There are data points hidden in so many different places.  How you collect those data and what you do with them depends on what your goals are.

A great example is employee retention.  Companies can predict which employees are at a high risk for leaving by looking at things like commute distance, attendance history, advancement, and compensation.  Changes to one or more of these will change their risk, which can trigger an alert, allowing the HR department to proactively intervene.

What types of data are being looked at by companies who want to stay on top of this trend?

Your standard data is all still valuable. Now we’re able to pair it with more interesting data from many different areas and get a more accurate picture of not only what is going on, but why.  So you start with basic demographic information and add in your timesheet information, performance reviews, PTO usage, and other easy data sets.  Then you can start layering in things like recruiting information, education, corporate involvement, and work output.  You can even ask for data using AI to drive polls or chats to make it anonymous for employees.   Companies are really starting to push the envelope of what’s possible with data collection.

What is the pushback you’ve heard from employers about this and how have you overcome them?

This is a great question, I’d love to find out what types of comments and questions you get after people read this. It might make for a great follow-up post!

The biggest concern I have seen is respecting employee privacy.  As we are able to collect more data, we need to continuously check ourselves to ensure we are not crossing moral boundaries.  You could, legally and technically, use an AI to read all your employee emails to identify upset employees.  Most companies wouldn’t do this, but it scares people to know that you can.  I think what you’ll find is people will start with more innocuous data sources, and slowly progress as both HR and the employees learn to trust each other with this technology.

What about machine learning, predictive modeling and artificial intelligence? Hype or reality or somewhere in between?

These are all reality, and in use to some degree in most places already.

There are some requirements for these more advanced technologies that can create a barrier to entry, like data size.  For smaller companies, predictive modeling through Machine Learning could prove to be difficult, but as big businesses continue getting on board, there will be a collective industry learning, which can eliminate that barrier.  Amazon had a spectacular failure using AI to streamline recruiting, but the lessons learned have benefited everyone, and the next company to try will have a better outcome.  As those successes become more commonplace, their benefits will trickle down to the smaller companies as pre-packaged solutions and industry knowledge.

If someone is interested in learning more about this, are there resources available?

So many!  There are many articles and books, videos, and communities in this area.  And if you want to get hands-on to try it, most of the major vendors offer limited trials of their solutions.  Microsoft has a great set of resources that I refer people to, but you can find similar resources at Amazon, Google, and IBM.  Start looking into any specific area, such as HR, and you’ll quickly find a wealth of information, tools, and people willing to help.