Shaakun Khanna is the Head of Human Capital Management Applications, Asia Pacific, Oracle Corporation. Before joining Oracle, Shakun was the CEO of Right Management, India. He is also the Co-founder of Consentus Advisory, a specialty HR consulting firm. In his earlier roles, Shakun has been the Head of IBM Smarter Workforce and also Head of Employee Engagement & Leadership Development Practice for Gallup Consulting and worked across Asia with clients from diverse industries.
Q. Over the last six months, there has been a lot of conversations around AI. There have been a number of articles written about this topic, and many tech players are introducing these features in their products. What according to you is the most exciting thing about this AI revolution in HR tech products?
A. AI and Machine Learning are getting embedded in every aspect of our lives. In the context of HR, the modern day workplace is becoming an augmented workplace. When we use the term ‘augmented,’ we mean leveraging these technologies to enhance human abilities – these could be cognitive human capabilities or other human capabilities. With respect to HR technology, these are largely cognitive capabilities.
Q. What are the features of the augmented workforce? And what are the capabilities that are being enhanced?
A. At a broader level, I think there are four features of an augmented workplace that AI and ML-based technologies help with:
- Can you stop doing transactional things?
- Can you increase the effectiveness and efficiency of a process?
- Can you support work with intuitive assistance?
- Can you bring in the element of fun?
Take the example of expense reporting. Intelligent systems are capable of creating reports based on the flight taken, and hotel check-in details. If there are 20 expenses on my trip and 18 of them are usual expenses, a system or a bot can process them. Only the two exceptional items, which require special approval or require the attention, go to the manager.
Q. There is a lot of buzz around bots. Where do you see the trend going?
A. When we talk about ML and AI as technologies, bots are a component of the solution. These are like legos; you can create endless possibilities. The use cases largely depend on the creativity and the willingness of the HR teams. In the employee servicing space, bots will get used very quickly. Query resolutions can be handled very effectively with the use of bots. The second level would be the policy automation using bots. In an ML-driven bot environment, you ask one question and if the bot does not know that question, a human answers that question, and the next time the bot will know the answer to that. Over time this repository of answers will keep increasing.
Q. Is there a need for culture or mindset change when we talk about an AI ready workplace?
A. I feel that culture and mindset readiness is overrated. When Uber and Ola were introduced in the Indian market, there was no change management. There was no waiting for the market to get ready.
Traditionally, Indians are faster adopters of technology. The way e-commerce has entered Tier II, and Tier III cities in India is phenomenal. Facebook has the highest user base in India. I don’t think organizations have to think too much about getting ready. But when they don’t adopt these changes in time, then they have the risk of being left behind. To my mind, there is no need for readiness. Having said that, you have to be ready in your capability to identify the right solution in the market.
The HR tech market has low entry barriers; there are many local players. Traditionally, over 40-45% of the HR tech implementations fail. Simply because the people driving those projects would not be ready. In a nutshell, what I am trying to say is that HR teams need to build capabilities to identify the right technologies and bring them to employees.
Q. What are some challenges that companies face when navigating technology for the augmented workplace? Are there any trends that one needs to pay attention to?
A. The first challenge is around openness, transparency, and collaboration. Many organizations still face the problem of working in silos. HR wants to manage their ecosystem, and finance their own. CEOs are increasingly leaning on the CFOs to help with business planning and strategy. Organizations must continue to grow and evolve to remain successful, and with their unique understanding of performance across departments. That said, an operating model involves much more than processes and outputs. The company’s ability to meet its goals ultimately comes down to its people, to the skills they contribute and to how efficiently they use their time. This is the domain of the CHRO.
HR and Finance are two pillars which provide the critical support that any business needs. Historically, the role of these two functions have always been intertwined, but today they are converging. According to MIT Technology report, which came out last year, 35 percent of companies plan to create a shared finance and HR function within 2018.
The case for a closer relationship between finance and HR has never been stronger, and the emergence of cloud-based ERP and HR technologies could not be better timed. It only when we break these silos, can we see the real benefits of all technologies and applications. And that would also give the organization a huge opportunity to innovate and bring in cutting-edge processes.
The other thing is the aspiration or the vision of the HR team itself. We see that organizations are solving one problem at a time. There has to be a point when the leadership takes a call and says let’s do a complete overhaul or get ready for the new-age technology.
Q. Is AI making us more human? Or is the use of excessive technologies like chatbots going to reduce the human connect that we have?
A. This is interesting. The answer is yes. It will make us more human. All AI, ML and Deep Learning will do is, it will bring an element of humaneness to the mundane and dry tasks that are getting automated. It will not dehumanize human beings, but it will humanize the automated processes. There’s work going on Artificial General Intelligence. Imagine a bot is roaming around with you and has a sense of humor. When such technologies come in a couple of years, you will realize that it has become more humanized.
Q. How should individuals and organizations become future-ready for an augmented workplace?
There’s a four ‘M’ framework that captures readiness. Individuals and organizations need to have a high focus on mobility. It refers to a person’s willingness to move between jobs, roles, sectors, etc. Mobility will not mean just geographical mobility.
The second one is Mastery. Humans, whatever field they choose, will need to be a master at it. Gone are the days of being the jack of all trades. Your workforce will have to become master of things over and over again because if you don’t, bots will take over. Organisations need to have an ecosystem where mastery can be rewarded and attracted.
Mastery will depend on what we call meaning. Until and unless work for an individual is meaningful, (s)he will not be able to achieve mastery. Organisations, therefore, will have to become meaningful in their approach. A Deloitte research said only 20% of millennials believe that the modern organizations are meaningful from their values and contribution perspective and they are largely into money-making.
The last thing is mindfulness. From a human and from a workplace perspective, mindfulness will become the single-most defining factor. Humans will have to go back to their essence of being mindful to be able to be more agile, creative, and master in the things we talked about. These 4 Ms are going to be very relevant going forward.