AI for Administrative Tasks Can Make Life Easier at Work

By Dave Zielinski June 24, 2019
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​Employers are using artificial intelligence (AI) in recruiting chatbots, in video interviews to assess job candidates' body language or word choices, or to extract themes from engagement survey responses. But how companies are using AI to benefit the employee experience, support compliance efforts and ease administrative workloads is not as well-known.

"So much of the buzz about AI has been for its 'sexy' uses around sourcing and screening in recruiting, but there are a growing number of other applications of value to HR to be aware of," said Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, an HR advisory and research firm in New York City.

AI and the Employee Experience

One example of AI's expanding utility: using it to audit employees' expense reports, to ensure they comply with company policy and avoid wasteful spending. AppZen in Sunnyvale, Calif., uses AI to read and extract information from receipts to catch duplicates, out-of-policy spending, incorrect amounts or suspicious merchants. Other vendors include Oversight Systems in Atlanta and Wipro in India.

These AI tools can also reimburse employees faster. The average business takes two weeks or more to reimburse travel or business expenses, often because finance teams are overburdened with having to manually audit a large volume of expense reports, said Anant Kale, CEO of AppZen.

Kale believes employees should be rewarded for compliant expense reporting and not have to wait weeks or sometimes months for reimbursement. "Most companies use a process where a manager has to approve an expense report, then it goes to finance for manual auditing," said Kale. "All of this takes time and puts employees out of pocket on reimbursement for longer than it should."

AppZen's AI engine can audit reports in real time and reimburse employees within a day for standard reports, said Kale, whose customers include Amazon, Salesforce and Comcast.

"About 90 percent of expense reports are low risk and don't have any problems, so there's no reason employees filing those reports shouldn't be paid back within a day or two," Kale said. AI-based auditing of such low-risk reports also frees the finance department to focus more of its time on reports with potential fraud or waste, he said.

Quicker reimbursement could be considered a recruiting and retention tool for workers who travel frequently or have ongoing business expenses, said Ben Eubanks, principal analyst for Lighthouse Research, an HR advisory and research firm in Huntsville, Ala., and author of Artificial Intelligence for HR (Kogan Page, 2018).

"Employees who travel often carry a balance on their credit cards for expenses that can rack up interest and build resentment if reimbursement is slow," Eubanks said. "Some employees don't have large sums in their accounts to be able to float these expenses."

Reimbursing employees faster takes on greater importance when employees are feeling more financial distress, Meister said. For example, Ceridian's new Pay Experience Report found that 80 percent of workers in North America regularly feel stressed about pay. The survey included responses from 1,891 full-time and part-time workers in the United States and Canada.

"Getting money back into bank accounts faster alleviates stress and impacts the employee experience," Meister said.

AI to Audit Business Contracts

Some AI vendors can also identify potential problems with business contracts, such as out-of-date agreements, or verify requirements, such as the insurance coverage amount and expiration date. Those services also can help companies avoid regulatory problems by automatically cross-checking online reputation databases for contracts with businesses owned by foreign states or politically exposed entities and individuals.

Eubanks cites the recent case of JPMorgan Chase: The banking company used algorithms in internally developed software called COIN—short for "contract intelligence"—to review in seconds commercial loan agreements that once took loan officers and attorneys an estimated 360,000 hours to review each year. According to a story in Bloomberg News, the software helped reduce loan-servicing mistakes that often were a result of human error.

"HR and companies in general should look at applying AI not just to business processes that are high volume, like recruiting, but that also have a high incidence of error," Eubanks said.

Other Emerging AI Applications

Two other growing uses of AI in human resources involve reporting sexual harassment or abusive behavior in the workplace and making sure employees stay current with mandatory certifications or licenses.

One vendor operating in this space is Spot, a company that uses a chatbot to conduct so-called cognitive interviews with employees following incidences of alleged harassment. The chatbot asks employees open-ended questions to help them remember and document the details of the occurrence and allowing them to stay anonymous if they choose. Spot submits a report to HR on the employees' behalf, and employees can also download a private report from the company as a secure, time-stamped document.

"People often feel more comfortable reporting sexual misconduct or other abusive behavior to a chatbot than to a human being," said Meister. "They are less embarrassed and don't feel judged." As a result, tools like Spot can give HR a fuller picture of what happened, and, she said, "there is more immediate documenting of the incident, helping companies get to the next steps faster."

She added that these emerging uses for AI can have high value for companies. Case in point: Meister has a client in health care that uses an AI application to help ensure its nurses stay up-to-date on required certifications.

"It checks the nurse's history, and if they aren't current or have an upcoming certification, it immediately notifies the nurse and the nurse's manager," she said. "We often get stuck thinking about the trendy uses for AI, but there are a growing number of other applications that can have benefit for employers and employees."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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