HR ‘not sophisticated at all’ in automation and AI


I am not surprised at the findings during the webinar. My experience talking to HRDs is the same. Part of the problem is that HR directors don't feel they have the time to 'self-teach' and many are ...

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HR should start the tech conversation and be the early adopters in the business, according to speakers at an HR magazine and Sage webinar

Almost half (46.4%) of HR functions are not sophisticated at all in terms of automating processes and introducing new technologies, according to an audience poll taken during HR magazine’s webinar 'Embracing a future of AI and automation: HR’s role’, held in partnership with Sage Business Cloud People.

Just 2.4% said their functions are very sophisticated and 9.5% reasonably sophisticated. Meanwhile, another poll found 43.8% of respondents feel their organisations are not very prepared for potentially dramatic technology-driven change.

This lack of sophistication and preparation comes despite an overwhelming consensus that technology is having a major impact on the workplace. When asked about the impact of the latest tech revolution on the world of work, 50.8% said they anticipate it will be significant, while 32.3% said it will be hugely significant.

Speaking on the webinar panel were Sage Business Cloud People’s VP Paul Burrin, PwC’s director of artificial intelligence Rob McCargow, SIG’s group HR director Linda Kennedy-McCarthy, and Roffey Park’s head of research and chartered occupational psychologist Julia Wellbelove. They agreed that HR is well placed to help organisations become better prepared.

“There are several things HR can do,” said McCargow. “[HR should] start adopting this emerging technology for themselves first.”

HR has “remarkable opportunities” to become one of the first areas of the business to deploy technologies like AI and robotics, he said, adding that the function can then “role model how it adopts them” and “build trust in technology among staff”.

For Wellbelove lots of organisations are at the automation stage, but “it takes bravery and strong leadership to open up those challenging conversations across the business” and “take organisations into the future of using other AI systems”.

Kennedy-McCarthy encouraged HR leaders to focus on “what the business should deliver, how technology can help, and then what that will mean for roles in the organisation” – in that order.

“People assume you upgrade the systems and that’s the change, but it’s more of a cultural change,” she added.

Burrin agreed: “The actual system is the last thing you need to worry about.”

The speakers went on to offer a number of tips for HR leaders on how to get the function and organisation ready for the tech revolution.

“There’s so much information online and on social media and [so many] courses out there that there’s a great opportunity for HR to self-teach itself about technology so it can be in a position to challenge the board and hold vendors to account – just get started,” advised McCargow.

A recording of this webinar will be available here for those who missed the live event. Further coverage will be included in a future issue of HR magazine


I am not surprised at the findings during the webinar. My experience talking to HRDs is the same. Part of the problem is that HR directors don't feel they have the time to 'self-teach' and many are not that comfortable in the digital world. We in the media have been through so many 'disruptions' in the past three decades that we know we have to constantly reinvent ourselves to survive, yet I don't think many in HR have this mindset yet. I'm not convinced they truly recognise the speed of change out there, and how quickly things get adopted once they have been proven. If we fail to learn we risk becoming irrelevant and spending our time focused on yesterday, not tomorrow's, challenges. But learning involves some risk and making mistakes. In an IBM survey of 6,000 executives in 2017, 66% said cognitive computing will drive significant value in HR. It will happen, and in fact is happening. My worry is that, if HR directors don't wake up and grasp this opportunity, they will become obsolete. Am interested in what others think. Sian Harrington, co-founder and editorial director, ThePeopleSpace and PeopleSpaceLeaders

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