Modeling the Workplace: The Role and Future of AI
An increasing number of companies today are using artificial intelligence to enhance employee experience, automate processes and reduce human error. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report 2020 indicated that 80% of business leaders were speeding up work process automation, with 50% planning to accelerate the automation of repetitive tasks in the workplace.
There are several benefits to artificial intelligence (AI). Self-service AI-based HR portals, for instance, enable employees to do for themselves what used to involve HR staff, thus cutting out meetings and wasted time. But there are many other ways AI and machine learning (ML) can be used in the workplace, especially as the technologies evolve.
According to Anthony Wheeler, dean of the school of business administration at Widener University in Chester, Penn., any jobs or work processes that have repetitive components or little employee discretion will be increasingly exposed to automation through artificial intelligence and machine learning applications.
"While we typically think of these technologies affecting assembly line-type jobs, the advancements of those technologies will increasingly displace what used to be referred to as white collar or office work," he said.
From data mining to task automation and even recruiting new employees, AI plays a growing role in the future of the workplace.
Data Mining and Automation
A recent study by Glean, an AI-powered work assistant, indicated that US employees spend 25% of their work week searching for documents they need. Because AI and ML facilitate the non-trivial extraction of implicit, previously unknown and potentially useful information from data, they are being used in unprecedented ways to increase production, job satisfaction and the speed with which tasks can be prioritized and accomplished.
According to the study, companies such as Grammarly, Databricks and Confluent leverage the work assistant’s AI algorithms to enable employees to locate the info they need across apps like Gmail, Slack and Docs, saving 2.5 weeks a year per employee in the process.
“Businesses can utilize intelligent automation to increase the scope of applicable workflows, mine data within them more coherently and speed up the process of ‘data, analysis, action’ with confidence,” said Eric Tyree, senior vice president of AI and innovation with SS&C Blue Prism. "Businesses can orchestrate workforces intelligently by using automation to tell them what needs prioritizing, allowing them to refocus their labor force on revenue-generating and creative work."
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Automating Finance Operations
Financial operations are one area where AI and ML are already excelling at simplifying what would otherwise be complex operations. For instance, in banking, businesses can utilize AI-infused digital workers within trade finance operations to gain a major competitive edge.
"They can equip digital workers with computer vision and machine learning capabilities to automate the classification and processing of complex trade finance documents," Tyree said. "We’ve seen gains of an astonishing 94% reduction in processing time."
The speed with which tasks can be accomplished through automation is saving financial firms many hours as well as the costs associated with employees that would have otherwise had to accomplish those tasks themselves. In the case of one company whose workforce is 20% digital, the number of hours returned to the business has doubled every year, Tyree said.
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Moving to the 24-Hour Workplace
AI is increasingly playing an integral role in day-to-day workplace experiences. Its applications are no longer limited to search and recommendation systems. Rather, AI is being used in a number of business-critical decisions and processes.
"With AI-based solutions in high-stakes domains such as hiring, lending, criminal justice, healthcare and education, the resulting personal and professional implications of AI are far-reaching,” said Krishnaram Kenthapadi, chief scientist at AI company Fiddler.
AI is providing the intelligence that is needed to create a virtual workforce that is never off-duty. According to Tyree, AI-infused digital workforces can considerably optimize operational performance.
“In some instances, it has enabled a shift from an 8-hour day to a 24-hour day — with no additional headcount — while seeing an 800% increase in work completed," Tyree said. "Existing staff are liberated to focus on delivering higher value work while having the capacity to enhance customer experience, too.”
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AI Leads to Workflow Innovation
AI was once viewed as a technology that would help reduce time and costs, but it is increasingly becoming a strategic asset to optimize the way organizations run their workflows. The benefits become greater with this shift, Tyree said, citing increased productivity, growth with reduced scaling costs, greater customer centricity, along with a shift of human capital toward revenue-generating activity and away from non-revenue generating activity. That shift means enhanced capacity, more fulfilling work for staff and more agility and scalability of resource across the organization.
In addition to chatbots and workplace automation, AI is being used in the workplace to help regain the human element often missing from technology-based businesses.
“While technology is an enabler for influencing change, the crucial moment of truth can only be added with a human touch,” said Harshvendra Soin, global chief people officer and head of marketing at global IT consulting firm Tech Mahindra. "In this direction, we have introduced an AI-driven program such as the ‘TechMighTea’ that virtually connects random associates and invites them to share a cup of tea."
The use of AI doesn’t stop there, Soin said. Tech Mahindra also developed an AI Coach to nudge managers to engage their direct reports as a "success coach."
“The AI Coach assists managers with analyzing the frequency of communication, identifying the tone of communication and assisting them to change negative tones into positive by hyper-personalizing communication and simulating difficult situations and coaching them to succeed,” he said.
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Tech Mahindra is also developing a wellness bot with a voice-enabled facial recognition system that converses with people about their mental well-being. All of this is in line with the company’s goal of creating an enhanced employee experience that is touchless.
“We are working towards transforming our workplace into a touch-free environment by leveraging digital tools,” said Soin.
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AI for Talent Acquisition and Hiring
The story about Amazon's failed use of AI to prescreen job applicants is now common knowledge. But in spite of Amazon’s AI screening shortcomings, and others who believe that AI excludes neurodivergent workers, AI is successfully being used to prescreen potential job applicants.
In fact, to try to avoid previous errors, machine learning is now being used to conduct sentiment analysis on job descriptions to identify potentially biased language. Additionally, AI is able to assist by providing blind screening for reduced bias and visibility into past successful job applicants who have remained with an organization.
“While no company intentionally wants its products and services to suffer from gender or racial discrimination, recent headlines about alleged bias in credit lending, hiring and healthcare AI models demonstrate these risks and teach us that companies should not only have the right intent but also take proactive steps to measure and mitigate such biases,” said Kenthapadi.
Typically integrated with an applicant tracking system (ATS), AI-powered tools are programmed to screen thousands of resumes and reduce time-consuming aspects of the hiring process, such as assessments and interview scheduling. AI is also being used to scout internal talent in large enterprises. Schneider Electric has demonstrated that AI can be unbiased when used intentionally with its Open Talent Marketplace (OTM).
"OTM creates transparency of Schneider Electric’s global, open opportunities and eliminates the potential bias in the hiring process by removing gender and age from the algorithm altogether," said Jean Pelletier, vice president of digital talent transformation at Schneider Electric. "The focus instead is on skills and experiences, not demographics."
This approach has allowed the company to go broad and deep with its sourcing activities, uncovering qualified talents in all corners of the globe. Going far beyond standard AI-based recruiting filters, OTM finds qualified applicants for each position and locates the best mentors for them.
“Our OTM platform uses AI to match employees with projects, full-time roles and mentors. With AI-driven marketplaces such as these, companies can create internal mobility through open markets that employees can take advantage of instead of going out into the external career market,” Pelletier said.
Aside from releasing HR and recruiting professionals from mind-numbing tasks, AI shows promise in its ability to use data to standardize the matching of applicants’ experience, knowledge and skills with the requirements of the job.
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The Future of AI in Business
Over the past decade, AI has found its way into multiple work processes and applications, saving company time and resources while eliminating human error and making behind-the-scenes processes more seamless. From banking and hiring to criminal justice, healthcare and education, AI is moving beyond some of its early stumbles to demonstrate it can help organizations increase their ROI while improving the employee experience.
And it's not over. The capabilities of AI are only limited to the minds of those who are creating workplace applications that are based on the technology.
"I believe the power of AI-driven tools will grow exponentially when the human mind finds innovative use cases to create impact," said Soin.