Article: "Organizations with the right HR technology can manage talent efficiently": IBM’s HR Head, India & South Asia

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"Organizations with the right HR technology can manage talent efficiently": IBM’s HR Head, India & South Asia

Chaitanya N Sreenivas, VP HR & HR Head, India South Asia, IBM talks about how one of his key priorities as an HR leader include building a workforce that is ahead to the market shifts and which can compete in the era of AI, cognitive and cloud.
"Organizations with the right HR technology can manage talent efficiently": IBM’s HR Head, India & South Asia

Chaitanya N Sreenivas (Chinni) is a seasoned HR professional with  more than 25 years of experience in HR and Business. Prior to taking on this role, Chinni was Director, HR for IBM Global Technology Services (GTS) India & South Asia. His roles and responsibilities entailed thought leadership, strategy and support to the GTS Business Unit to help it grow and evolve into a mature centre with Global Delivery Capabilities whilst also working on the larger India strategy.

Having joined IBM in 2003, Chinni has been a significant part of IBM’s transformation and in ensuring a new-collar skill based agile workforce.

Among the new-gen technologies (AI, ML, RPA, Blockchain), which one are you most excited to use and why? Share examples of use cases.

HR is undergoing a massive disruption. The ubiquity of mobile and social technologies and personalization has redefined the bar for employee experience. For example, with the disruption of business models across all industries, the talent acquisition game has changed and the need for a continuous learning culture has never been more urgent. The CHRO stands at the intersection of all these demands.

Over the last several years, companies have spent their time building, implementing, and improving AI frameworks, allowing managers and HR professionals to streamline a multitude of activities, from employee onboarding to learning management to identifying, selecting and developing their top talent. With the amount of data gathered on job applicants – in application forms, through pre-employment assessments and constant interaction with employees, we now have the ability to train AI platforms to improve candidate experience, separate high from low potential candidates and predict who will be successful in a position.

IBM’s HR function was one of the first to adopt AI technology and so we have a wealth of insights and learnings to share to help others get started. IBM HR’s experience is that AI can be applied in almost any area of HR, including candidate attraction, hiring, learning, compensation, career management and HR support. For example, IBM Watson Recruitment (IWR), uses AI to leverage information about the job market and past experiences of hiring candidates to predict time-to-fill and identify the candidates most likely to be successful.

As we move forward, we are looking at major AI-influenced changes transforming HR. With people becoming more and more technology savvy, organizations are looking at implementing several tools and systems that automate repetitive tasks

We believe that real innovation in implementing AI in HR, will be about using machine learning and predictive analytics to develop goal and utility-based AI systems. By evaluating candidate characteristics and information, AI can predict who an organization’s future high performers will be, who will stay on the job longer and who is most likely to receive a promotion

To what extent do you think AI will become a regular part of HR in five years?

Any job opening in a major organization typically invites hundreds of applications; yet only a fraction of the incoming resumes are relevant! Thanks to AI supported systems, this extremely cumbersome process is now taken over by software and search algorithms that are able to successfully shortlist few people matching one’s requirements from a pile of irrelevant applicants.

This is just one example of the way AI is reshaping and revolutionizing every sphere in our lives, including HRM. Not just talent acquisition, human resource departments have comprehensively benefitted from AI supported systems and software throughout their work domain. Processes like onboarding, performance review, feedback, training, retention etc. have not only improved from an efficiency standpoint but also have reduced on a lot of administrative tasks, thereby allowing HR managers greater time and energy to focus on strategy, mentoring and motivating employees.

Many HR leaders have already begun experimenting with varied facets of AI to deliver maximum value to their organizations. Organizations with large employee base are turning to AI to reduce the cost involved in managing operations, to improve employee engagement, to drive bias-free decisions in employee screening and recruitment. AI can also help HR to focus on strategic business initiatives and can enable them to streamline and modernize HR operations, especially in the following areas:4

  • Recruitment and on-boarding
  • Automating repetitive tasks
  • People analytics and retention
  • Learning and development

As we move forward, we are looking at major AI-influenced changes transforming HR. With people becoming more and more technology savvy, organizations are looking at implementing several tools and systems that automate repetitive tasks. A survey of HR executives by IBM in 2017 found that half of them recognized the power of cognitive computing in transforming key dimensions of HR. This is clear indication that AI is set to become a redefining force in HR.

Organizations with large employee base are turning to AI to reduce the cost involved in managing operations, to improve employee engagement, to drive bias-free decisions in employee screening and recruitment

Performance management has long been an important HR function. How can analytics help drive the next data-driven phase of performance management?

Performance management via annual or semi-annual reviews has been a mainstay for businesses for decades. Managers, HR personnel or others in supervisory roles meet with workers every six to 12 months to go over goals, performance metrics and various rankings. These assessments are used to make advancements, determine promotion, to identify training needs and to address periodic raises, bonuses and other compensation.

While this has been the most common method of rating employee performance till now, things are changing at a rapid pace. Performance management is now taking a more fluid approach that uses data analytics and ongoing feedback for enhanced effectiveness. 

In late 2015, IBM set out to shape a whole new performance and appraisal management system designed for the era of cognitive business, called Checkpoint. At IBM, we have created innovative offerings across the whole value chain of employees’ work experiences using Watson technology and its analytics capabilities. For example, through appreciation, coaching, evaluation (ACE) app, users can give feedback, receive feedback, participate in surveys and review feedback.

They can ask for feedback from anyone - a manager, a direct report or a teammate at any time. In each instance, employees have the option to submit open-needed questions about how they performed or to use the prompt already programmed into the system. All ACE users have the option to check out an IBM learning tool that outlines best practices for giving and receiving constructive feedback. For example, employees can learn to identify what task they have done, how did it affect them or the team and how can they improve in the future.

In the pre-digital era, HR was looking to optimize for efficiency and standardization, with shared services and the separation of front and back office activities, today, HR is characterized by speed, personalization and democratization

With all these tools, performance management has now become holistic by bringing together multiple sources of data, created a platform for feedback on performance as well as career development.

Will technology eventually help elevate HR's role to HR being a strategic partner for organizations by simplifying administrative tasks and freeing up our time and resources to make a more strategic impact on the organization?

HR departments were once primarily administrative functions. But the view of HR has evolved considerably in the last 5 to 10 years. Today the phrase ‘strategic HR’ is used to refer to HR practices that provide a competitive advantage to organizations. The strategic HR movement has seen a shift in HR’s focus from administrative to high performance practices like Talent management, Leadership development, teamwork, and performance management at an organization level.

In the pre-digital era, HR was looking to optimize for efficiency and standardization, with shared services and the separation of front and back office activities, today, HR is characterized by speed, personalization and democratization. In the digital era, we are focused on the end to end experience and this can be delivered seamlessly with the new technology, with personalization. Our slow but efficient bureaucracies of the past are being out-performed by this new model. The most exciting aspect is the two-way nature of the technology. HR used to announce new programs, and the conversation was essentially one way. The new technology makes all our employees co-creators of the culture and our programs. They are no longer consumers of HR, but co-producers.

How should organizations assess HR technology solutions with viability, scale, alignment to business?

With the growing pace of automation and change in the digital era, success in organizations will increasingly depend on human talent, creativity and innovation. Only those organizations with the right HR technology can manage talent efficiently. While looking for an integrated HR solution, one should keep in mind the following characteristics to arrive at a decision:

  • Enable the company and their activities to be organized by the demands from new digital business models - the HR technology solution should enable the creation and coexistence of various existing organizational structures
  • Promote the digitalisation of the HR functions: Technology solutions must also enable all or most HR processes, to be developed digitally at the internal (HR department) and external levels (employees, managers, work units, etc.)
  • Evolve in pace with the transformation of the digital ecosystem: Enable the company to be aligned with the needs of their business model as well as the needs of their partners, suppliers, shareholders, etc., and thus contribute to its success at all times
  • Maintain digital experience among users: delivering a true digital experience that is also attractive and simple, bringing value to the user
  • Transform data into knowledge: Transforming large amount of data meaningfully into useful information that we can fully exploit for a given knowledge-related goal and for decision making
  • Inclusion of smart tech such as social networks, mobility, analytics or big data, cloud and the internet of things along with AI and ML
  • Agility -HR function must adapt to the rapid pace of action their organisation’s demand and become a facilitator rather than a burden so that the organisation’s business goals can be achieved

How have technologies like virtual reality evolved for learning and development over the last few years? Any examples?

Beyond keeping things fresh to sustain the professional creativity and passion, learning keeps people relevant in our ever-changing world. Organizations cannot grow if their employees are not learning and their skills are not aligned with the changing business demands. It is important for organisations to create an environment that encourages learning.

Employee satisfaction is often linked to opportunities for development and progression. Usually, the more opportunities for professional development and career progression that are available to employees, the happier they will be.

Skill is the new currency across businesses globally and in India. One of my key priorities include building a workforce that is ahead to the market shifts and which can compete in the era of AI, cognitive and cloud

To help solve this problem, IBM developed ‘Your Learning’, a powerful suite of learning technologies platform. Because of its ability to adapt to changing business needs, IBM’s Your Learning can accelerate the knowledge curve for any medium- to large-sized corporation. It can help every employee learn quicker, learn smarter and help the company stay agile and top-notch. Through our platform, we create a personalised learning environment for each employee, providing a 24x7 interface that responds quickly, flexibly and creatively to the changing technical and business landscape. It provides search, browse, career roadmaps and customized learning channels. Cognitive ability of the platform is personalized based on current role and most importantly it also addresses the passion and aspirations for future roles

What are your key priorities as IBM India HR leader especially with regard to HR technology adoption?

Skill is the new currency across businesses globally and in India. One of my key priorities include building a workforce that is ahead to the market shifts and which can compete in the era of AI, cognitive and cloud. Also, to keep up with the changing market landscape and emerging technologies the workforce needs to constantly up-skill itself to be relevant in the coming years.

How can leaders ensure a better alignment of HR & Work technology investment and business goals?

HR is no longer a facilitator but a key strategic partner with the organization to drive business results. With the war on talent, transformation of business driving the need of new skills, and employees demanding commercial grade experiences, it is a business imperative for HR to stay ahead of the market. Technology is a key enabler in this journey and with AI, ML, other technology evolving in the marketplace, HR has a very key role to play in meeting the business goals. By actively participating in the business decisions, strategic investment decision and ensuring that we have the right talent at the right place with the right cost will be key for the years to come. 

Topics: #FutureIsNow, Technology

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