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Embrace tech to save time and focus on strategic HR, experts urge

At the SD Worx European Conference a panel discussed technology to automate admin tasks, human leadership and improving collaboration

HR should embrace technology to move away from operational tasks and focus on more strategic HR activities such as leadership and effective organisation-wide collaboration, according to experts speaking at the SD Worx European Conference 2018.

Speaking on a panel discussion on the future of collaboration, Marc Teerlink, global vice president, AI and new markets at SAP, said: “Executives have a fear of working with technology, exacerbated by the notion that tech will somehow take over their jobs.

“We shouldn’t think of AI as artificial intelligence; more as augmented intelligence. It’s easy to waste time undergoing repetitive tasks in this line of work, particularly with administrative tasks. If we allow technology to help us augment those processes it will strengthen our people and the HR community.”

SD Worx showed footage of its AI chatbot: a digital personal assistant for employees that can be connected through mobile phones, and carry out processes such as booking holidays and solving processing queries.

However, Teerlink added that there are limits to the extent tech can improve more strategic areas of HR and leadership, stressing the need for technology to be used to free leaders up for uniquely human activities. He highlighted the importance of executives spending time with employees in person to better understand issues within their organisations.

“If you’re an executive in the retail sector, for example, you should be able to go on the shop floor, talk to your employees, and know their job. Live the life of your employees – if you can’t do that you don’t deserve to be in leadership,” he said.

Wayne Clarke, founding partner of the Global Growth Institute, added that greater communication between executives, line managers, and employees is needed to improve collaboration, rather than just a more sophisticated deployment of tech.

“Part of the problem is a lack of context; employees won’t care about profits if some of their basic needs are not being met," he said. "A lot of the time employers are aware of some of the problems but they’re not listening. HR needs to understand employees' frustrations, and needs to be clear about their goals to build a connected workforce."

Nicola Millard, head of customer and futures at BT Global Services, agreed that there is potential for AI to improve the way we work, but said it must be implemented properly.

“Technology has to be used with purpose," she said. "Work is no longer a physical space; you can carry it around in your shoulder bag. But being that connected with work is not necessarily useful. Almost everyone is contactable through email and checks it outside of work hours, which means we’re working far longer but we’re not always being more productive.

“Tech should be about taking away the drudgery of work, not putting more pressure on people, so it’s vital that we get it right.”