Exploring AI? Plan, understand and control

Don't get too enticed by the "AI" label, warns one expert.
By: | May 4, 2020 • 2 min read

Several years ago, Seth Earley, founder and CEO of Earley Information Science, a national consultancy, developed a comprehensive plan to improve the intranet search function at a life-sciences company. Although it wasn’t formally called an AI project, he says it still involved many AI aspects, such as machine-learning algorithms, semantic searches and text analytics.

But early on, he says, his client re-allocated the project’s funds to an AI-labeled initiative instead.

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“Both projects were trying to do the same thing,” says Earley, author of The AI-Powered Enterprise. “But one was labeled AI by a big vendor that didn’t have the right resources or understand the methodology that had to be applied. Two or three years later, the client had spent $5 million and said, ‘We ended up with a crappy search engine no one could use.’ ”

HR professionals want their company to be branded as progressive by employees and job candidates who typically gravitate toward employers that offer hi-tech workplace tools and systems. So, they spend millions of dollars on AI within their organization. Unfortunately, many have also wasted millions through knee-jerk reactions versus following a holistic plan on how AI can help HR processes work together to achieve company goals.

Before investing in any HR project that involves AI, Earley says, HR needs to its prioritize its goals and locate the biggest bottlenecks related to key HR functions, such as recruiting, onboarding, training, management, evaluation and retention. They may occur when reviewing resumes or measuring employee performance, for example. What’s jamming internal processes and may stand in the way of HR achieving its goals? This is where AI may be effective.

“Also, get people aligned on the definitions of terminology like a ‘virtual assistant,’ ” he says, explaining that some could perceive it as a simple chat bot versus a sophisticated virtual agent. “Many times, there’s a lack of clarity and alignment on the things the organization needs. People may use the same terms but are describing different things.”

He says HR must be at the front end of any AI initiative involving HR; otherwise, employee morale and job performance or satisfaction could be negatively impacted. Make sure you understand the overall plan and what the company is trying to accomplish with AI. Among the worst things HR can do is refrain from asking questions. Oftentimes, he says, 90% of people working alongside you won’t know the answers, either.

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“AI isn’t magic,” Earley says. “Understand the basic foundation of the plan. Don’t be controlled by the sales pitch. Remain in control of the process by focusing on your needs.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.