Technology is taking over everything in our daily lives, in an effort to simplify tasks and make life easy. That said, technology is also massively impacting the way HR functions. With most traditional support functions of HR, such as payroll, attendance etc. being automated, technology is making the role of HR more strategic than being a mere support function. Taking this a step ahead, chatbots are making the whole technological experience furthermore user-friendly, accessible and personalised, leaving HR more empowered than ever.
Although chatbots have been popular amongst the consumer-facing companies that use them for basic customer-service functions, a number of HR solutions and service providers have also lately concentrated most of their efforts on creating bots. Ramco Systems created 22 bots this year for HR functions. These bots work like most consumer-interface chatbots, responding to queries and helping in tasks like checking your leave status and calendar before applying for leave, as well as giving you packing tips, based on the predicted weather before you leave for the holiday.
The concept of workplace assistants is increasingly attracting attention as the use of machine learning and natural language processing techniques is making the machines more intelligent and interactive. A startup called Talla, based in Boston, is also working on chatbots designed to help new workers to be more productive. In addition, even Microsoft has committed to supporting the development of chatbots on its software, and Apple has announced that it will allow third-party developers to use its voice-controlled personal assistant, Siri.
In June, this year, Gartner predicted that by 2019, in at least 25 per cent of households in developed economies, the digital assistants on smartphones and other devices will serve as the primary interface to connected home services. "In the not-too-distant future, users will no longer have to contend with multiple apps; instead, they will literally talk to digital personal assistants, such as Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant," said Mark O'Neill, research director at Gartner, in an earlier press release.
That said, why should employees have to walk up to HR managers for day-to-day queries or any concerns they might have regarding their pay, leaves, performance etc.? To ease out such transactions and communications, between the employees and HR, PeopleStrong recently launched India’s first HR chatbot ‘Jinie’. This chatbot works as an employee’s personal work–life assistant, and can help solve any HR-related query. Be it completing employee data, applying for leaves or managing any kind of employee transactions – Jinie can help an employee with all of that.
Jinie resides inside Alt messenger, a conversational platform which is a simple, smart and secure method to conduct contextual conversations amongst teams/natural groups. Pankaj Bansal, Co-founder and CEO, PeopleStrong says, “The launch of HR chatbots will bring employees to the centre stage. India’s first HR chatbot will eventually have a stronghold in enterprises as they move ahead in the digital HR journey. Its biggest advantage is that it will be available virtually 24/7, giving employees on the field instant access to transactions and HR data, regardless of location or time zone.”
Through such chatbots, HR is hoping to provide an enabling environment and a next-level working experience to its employees. However, there’s a long way to go for these chatbots as companies work to equip them with smarter voice-enabled features. Even Jinie has been launched as a text- based app and the users will have to wait for a while to experience a full voice-based platform. In fact, a big challenge with most chatbots is ensuring they understand what people mean when they say something. Although there has been dramatic progress in many areas of AI of late, language understanding still remains a huge challenge, with different accents and human intonations posing the challenge of uncertainty for machines.
In that respect, Talla is using some of the latest machine learning and language processing techniques in an effort to build a more intelligent system. For instance, its technology uses a deep-learning classifier—a large and somewhat crude network of mathematically-simulated neurons that can be trained to recognise input—to determine whether a message is a question or a command.
So, for now the chatbots seem ready to take up most of the administrative tasks off the HR manager’s plate. However, the time one will face chatbots when appearing for a job interview or a performance review still seems far for the work-in-progress technology.