An IBM exec on how robots and AI have transformed human resources jobs and why the company is tapping into the $148 billion HR tech market
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HR departments are getting better at using technology – but many aren't quite as tech savvy as they should be. That's according to new research from IBM, which analyzed how HR departments have transformed over the last 10 years. IBM found the highest performing HR teams automate tasks like payroll and hiring, and spend more time acting as a consulting arm of the organization – targeting talent problems and coming up with creative solutions to address them. CHROs "need to be able to operate as a strategic advisor to larger businesses, and use insights from technology to be more of a strategic driver for the company," Amy Wright, managing partner for talent and transformation at IBM and coauthor on the recent research, told Business Insider. Yet, only about 10% of all HR teams operate this way, IBM found. HR tech is a $148 billion market and companies spend $310 per employee per year on HR technology, a PwC report found. And this is only set to increase. Even though HR teams are spending more money than ever on tech, there are still gaps that exist that prevent them from using it to their best ability. A 2018 study from the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants found that HR and legal departments were the least digitally advanced of any team in a company. But the pandemic may be accelerating HR's adoption of new tools, IBM research found. Business Insider spoke with Wright about some of the ways HR teams are using tech to be more efficient. How IBM is using AI in its own offices and with clients HR tech isn't new at IBM. The company already uses a variety of tools to give raises, automate daily tasks, and upskill. The tech company created a platform that can determine what skills teams might have or lack, and what they specifically need to be trained in, based on materials like their résumés. The tool creates a personalized training curriculum for workers, Wright said, and it also predicts the skills they might need in the future. This ensures that the skill sets of employees will always stay relevant. Belgium-based banking and insurance organization KBC also uses this tech. Since introducing the platform, the firm saw improvements in employee engagement and internal mobility. IBM uses artificial intelligence, or AI, to root out bias in pay. In 2016, the tech giant introduced a compensation advisor that provides HR with salary increase recommendations based on market research. The technology looks at job type, level, and geographic location to determine pay rates. Managers use this information to explain how pay decisions are firmly linked to employee skills, rather than subjective measures. To be sure, some AI tools have been found to be just as biased as humans when it comes to hiring and other work-related tasks. The company also recently partnered with Burger King Brazil to create a virtual assistant called TOP (Technology Orienting People). The virtual assistant, which employees can communicate with via WhatsApp, provides access to HR resources like payment statements, earnings reports, and vacation requests. IBM uses a similar technology in its own office called Watson. "We're now used to the ease and efficiency that we have when hailing a ride share or making a music playlist," Iuri Miranda, CEO of Burger King Brazil, said in an email to Business Insider. "We now want that same ease in every aspect of our lives, even our HR processes." IBM isn't the only company that is doubling down on HR tech. For example, tech company Spoke uses AI software to provide employees with benefit information and candy company Hershey rolled out Bennie the Bot, an AI software with similar capabilities, last year. The pandemic has made the need for this type of technology even more crucial. "Since the pandemic, companies are accelerating their digital transformation to deal with disruption," Wright said. "They're adopting new ways of working new technologies because many of their employees are remote." Automating HR gives CHROs more time to consult The typical HR job involves a lot of administrative work, like coordinating interviews and answering small questions about benefits. AI allows teams to automate these tasks, so they can focus on other more complex problems, like retention and diversity. The most effective HR teams, IBM found, act as strategic consultants for their organization solving problems like how to upskill employees and build an employer brand. In the future, Wright expects CHROs will need to use even more design thinking, or the process of human-centered creative problem solving, and AI to make informed decisions about their workforces. "Introducing AI and automation allows HR teams to allocate the highly repetitive, manual work in most HR workflows to "digital workers,'" software robots that can perform administrative tasks quickly and without error," Wright told Business Insider. This will allow HR teams to focus on helping to make "leaders in their companies social, transparent, and empathetic," Wright said. SEE ALSO: The CEO of Hinge reveals how the dating-app giant uses a 'beta-testing' model to improve company culture and prevent burnout Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why Pikes Peak is the most dangerous racetrack in America
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