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“One could argue that today digital technologies are doing for human brainpower what the steam engine and related technologies did for human muscle power during the Industrial Revolution” – Andrew McAfee

The world of work, the environment and the entire value chain are in the wake of a massive transformation. Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Natural Language Processing, Robotic Process Automation, Machine Learning and other technologies are not only paving way for smarter solutions through automation and new business opportunity creation, but are threatening entire industries with digital disruption. What does this mean for HR who are now faced with driving organizations and empowering the workforce in a rising people vs. automation dichotomy?

The HR of today has a new role to play. The war for talent has intensified in the last few years. In my consulting engagements, I often hear HR leaders of varying organization sizes and geographies talk about the challenges in attracting, acquiring and retaining top talent. Based on research results from Bersin by Deloitte, companies spend $1,400 to tens of thousands of dollars each time they hire a new person. Yet, 61% of CEOs do not believe they are recruiting fast enough or well enough. (Read More) Thanks to machine learning capabilities infused in cloud-based HR platforms, job postings and job vacancies can now reach a wider pool of candidates whereby the machine suggests appealing word choices to help attract diverse candidate pools. Another example of transformational HR capability powered by machine learning is the ability of the system to predict the risk of employee attrition based on key drivers such as compensation, historical performance ratings, time between promotions etc… Managers can use this data to enact appropriate retention techniques.

As machine learning evolves, the more accurate it gets at predicting outcomes. With HR being the custodian of employee data, they can now use this information to devise workforce strategies, thereby systematizing processes that are often driven by instinct. Not just new age capabilities, intelligent technologies have the ability to reduce traditional repetitive, predictable and high touch HR processes by 70%.  (Read my co-authored whitepaper on ‘The Value of Intelligent Processes in the Digital Economy’)

While the benefits of intelligent technologies are staggering, the Future of Work is not the narrative of artificial intelligence and robotics. Rather it’s the story of a mindset shift and HR should be the front and center in enabling organizations and employees to ride the next wave of revolution which the industry gurus term as the fourth industrial revolution. HR needs to help companies build sustainable organizations of the future by restructuring teams, focusing on employee experience and driving a strong, well aligned culture.

Think of the once amazing brands that are effectively no longer with us like Blockbuster, Polaroid, and Myspace.  Transportation (Uber), Automotive and Energy (Tesla), Polaroid and Kodak (Apple) are all industries or companies that did not see change coming or saw it too late.  Synonymous to these examples, HR cannot afford to remain in the current state, change is becoming inevitable.

Machines will assist us with automation, data and insight but they won’t supply human judgement or ingenuity. People will. HR will need to be the torchbearers of this wisdom.

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