Viewpoint: Artificial Intelligence Comes to HR as a Conversation

Josh Bersin By Josh Bersin June 1, 2017
Viewpoint: Artificial Intelligence Comes to HR as a Conversation

Industry research shows that more than $14 billion was invested in artificial intelligence (AI) over the last five years, and almost every existing HR software company now has an AI strategy.

AI is a broad term, covering techniques like machine learning, predictive analytics, natural language processing, and visual image and spatial recognition. All of these techniques have been made possible during the last decade by work in high-performance computing, sensors and "big data."

In the realm of HR, we have been talking about people analytics for almost a decade, and I think the application of AI will finally help HR make strides in this type of analytics.

While fewer than 10 percent of the companies we talk with have advanced analytics capabilities in HR, once AI is embedded into our HR systems, the platforms will help us predict who to hire, what next job to take, what training to use and even when to expect fraud.

But as I study the market and talk with dozens of vendors, I believe there is a bigger, more surprising thing about to happen.

I believe HR systems are going to become conversational.


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The most common way we interact with each other is through a conversation. One person makes a comment or asks a question, and the other person answers or responds. This back and forth conversation is natural and efficient. If the mode of communication is a text, AI can recognize our voice when we speak (think Siri) or our typed message. Is it any surprise that messaging is by far the most common way we now use computers and that every major vendor is building a new messaging app?

While I was skeptical about this approach at first, I have seen the way conversational HR systems can work, and they are amazingly useful and transformational to our businesses. In 2012, we were sending an estimated 6 billion text messages per day, according to Forrester Research. Now I have to believe this number is many times higher, and this doesn't even include messages sent on WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other messaging systems around us.

In the realm of HR, the potential is huge.

Consider a typical HR transaction: an employee who'd like to schedule vacation time.

Employee:  I'd like to take Friday as vacation.
Computer:  You have two scheduled meetings on Friday.
Employee: Can you cancel them, please?
Computer:  Yes, meetings cancelled. Should I request paid time off (PTO)?
Employee:  Yes, please.
Computer:  Requesting manager approval.
Employee: Thank you.
Computer: Your manager approved. You are set for PTO on Friday.

Imagine the thousands of administrative, technical or financial issues you have to deal with in HR—many of which can be done through AI conversations. And since the computer has access to all of your company's internal information, the answers can be smart, fast and relevant.

When I call our travel department for help, for example, the agent knows who I am and where I am on my trip. The computer agent could do the same, immediately giving me support for currency translation, local office issues or how to find a hotel.

The computer could answer questions like "What is my 401(k) balance?" or "What mandatory compliance steps do I need to take?" or "When am I due for a raise?," or even "How am I doing on my financial targets?" or "What are next potential roles for me in the company?"

Lately, I have seen several vendors integrate their HR platforms into chat systems. For example, SuccessFactors launched a product called Conversational HR, and I expect many more companies to follow suit.

This natural, human-like interface will likely revolutionize how HR services work and give vendors enormous opportunities to compete, innovate and help us drive productivity like never before.


Josh Bersin is founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. He is a published author on the Forbes website; is a LinkedIn Influencer; has been quoted by Bloomberg, NPR and The Wall Street Journal; and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. He was also the keynote speaker at the SHRM India HR Tech '17 Conference & Expo in Hyderabad in April. Contact him on Twitter @josh_bersin and follow him at

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