Chatbots, VR and AR Go to Work

By Archana Jerath August 6, 2018

Technology advancements and automation are impacting business functions, including HR, in a big way. The technology landscape is undergoing a major shift as completely digital workplaces emerge. Organizational systems are on the cloud, employees are encouraged to bring their own devices, bots and virtual assistants are deployed for customer and employee interactions, and automation is enabled for business processes.

Even employees are becoming increasingly tech-dependent. They naturally expect their employers to provide tools and experiences that could enable them to do their job effectively and enhance their productivity. Apart from Artificial Intelligence (AI), three other technologies that are creating a buzz among HR professionals are Chatbots, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).

The key question is whether HR is ready to embrace these three technologies and if yes, how and where. To better understand what chatbots, AR and VR can do for workforces, their potential, application and integration, a panel discussion was held at the SHRM HR Technology Conference 2018 held in Hyderabad in April. The panel comprised of Abhijit Bhaduri, Author, Columnist and Management Consultant; Smriti Ahuja, Global HR and Learning Head, Cognizant Digital Operations; Srijata Sengupta, Director, Talent Strategy, Accenture; and Jason Averbook, Co-founder CEO, Leapgen.

Chatbots, AR and VR – Which of These Technologies is Disrupting HR Processes?

Abhijit Bhaduri commenced the session by highlighting that all chatbots, AR and VR are at the early stages of development and are still evolving.

While chatbots appear to be the most adopted technology so far, they are not necessarily the one source of process improvement and efficiency. Even AR and VR have many application possibilities for HR. For example, AR can create engaging onboarding experiences for new employees, while VR can be instrumental in building employee skills and emotional intelligence.

Ahuja added that chatbots are certainly the most ubiquitous at most companies, and for the benefit of non-technical attendees, she explained the fundamental difference between AR and VR:

  • VR is tethered to a spot whereas AR can help you can move around.
  • VR is immersive whereas AR is a digital data set augmented on physical reality.

She said that AR and VR have the potential of early adoption in jobs where the on-the-job learning risk is high, or safety parameters are of utmost importance. The flight simulator for training pilots is perhaps the oldest usage of AR and VR. Similarly, AR and VR can be useful in the healthcare industry where the transfer of knowledge needs to take place accurately. Whether it is chatbots, AR or VR, their biggest power lies in expanding industry boundaries that organizations thought were their core competency to something different.

Jason Averbook, who joined the panel discussion via video, agreed that chatbots are easy to adopt and are being used widely. However, he said that AR and VR are lagging behind, and are either problems looking for solutions or solutions looking for problems. He added that HR is still trying to find the best use cases for AR and VR and that, eventually, businesses will adopt only that technology which will enhance the customer experience.

Chatbot Application in HR

There is still a myth that many organizations view chatbots as a fancy interface or something akin to Google search. Averbook clarified the misinterpretation by highlighting that it is not a piece of technology, but rather a tool that would be embedded in the DNA of an organization. A few years down the line, he said, employees will shift to transactional tools and experiences, whether through Skype, text messages or open context. It is employees who will drive chatbot adoption to meet their communication needs more efficiently and swiftly, he said.

Averbook's views seem to be in alignment with chatbot market size projection in India and beyond, according to the 'Bot Services Market – Global Forecast to 2022' report by research firm Market and Markets. They report that the bot services market is projected to reach $1,783.9 million globally by 2022, and India is among the few APAC countries which will witness the highest growth in this market. While chatbot adoption is still at a nascent stage in India, HR chatbots such as Jinie, Dino, Amber, JLT, AirCTO, Tony and Engazify have started the ball rolling. For example, Jinie works like an employee's personal assistant to answer any HR-related query, while Amber helps top management continuously communicate and engage with employees in a personalized manner.

What Is the Business Case for Chatbots, AR and VR?

While the viability of chatbots, AR and VR  is still being discussed,  many HR professionals perceive them as offering sophisticated and immersive ways to engage employees, improve customer services and fuel business growth, thereby providing a holistic and superior experience to all stakeholders.

Srijata Sengupta said that most organizations have yet to understand how technology can be leveraged to find solutions to business problems. People are living and working differently, he said, and work enterprises are changing the way they do business. With the world generating tons of data every day, technology is the only way to leverage it to business advantage. If organizations are not using chatbots, AR and VR to drive their business goals and create learning for their talent, it is indeed a big opportunity lost, he said. Given that data processing costs have been steadily reducing, it provides a conducive environment to adopt these technologies now.

Smriti Ahuja quoted the example of the logistics company DHL, which provides AR glasses to its warehouse employees to improve their accuracy and productivity. Since the implementation of AR technology, DHL has witnessed a 10-15 percent gain in productivity, she said. The point that she drove home was that technology might not have a direct business case in HR, but, as with DHL, enhanced employee engagement and productivity are outcomes directly related to HR. So, whenever any technology improves the level of satisfaction for employees, it is a business case for HR.

Big Data in HR-Fact or Fiction?

The panellists next discussed whether the size of the organization and employee resistance are two main deterrents to the adoption of big data and other technologies.

Smriti Ahuja said that HR connects well with employees in large organizations because technology resources are more easily available. Srijata Sengupta advised that small and medium organizations should not fear technology, but instead should simplify concepts to drive away misconceptions about adoption or usage. They should look at machines as a means to learn and comprehend and create patterns to make smart business decisions.

Does Technology Evolve from Outside to Inside?

Jason Averbook explained that technology definitely takes an outside to inside approach. Every organization has its own DNA and means of communication with the workforce, and  it is up to the organization to maintain a balance between delivering human touch and digital touch without losing empathy. He said that technology is 10 percent challenge and 90 percent understanding of people and culture, and added, "It is time that HR professionals step out of their comfort zone to reach out beyond its employees and understand how they can deliver empathy and build meaningful conversations digitally."

Will Voice Dominate Other Technologies?

Voice-based platforms and apps are touted as the next big thing in technology. They may replace text applications to enable people to make voice-assisted searches and adopt voice technology as an interactive touchpoint for communication. Averbook said that voice could be an upgrade over text as keyboards are taken over by voice applications. However, the adoption of voice technology for engagement depends on what end-customers want from a business. Whatever e technology they deploy, the foundation of data, knowledge and content is the key to its implementation.

Key Takeaways from Discussion

  • All three technologies - chatbots, AR and VR - are in the early stages of development and adoption. However, chatbots are gaining more popularity over the other two .
  • Currently, the environment for chatbots is ready for adoption. Going forward, chatbots will become embedded in the DNA of organizations as employees shift to a transactional experience.
  • The potential of AR and VR is immense, especially in high-risk, safety-driven and learning & development jobs. However, given the infrastructure, cost and scaling limitations in AR and VR, these two technologies have few takers at this point. HR is still exploring the business case in terms of functionality and scale.
  • HR needs to adopt an outside-in approach to deliver empathy and build conversations digitally for employees.
  • Voice technology may replace text communication in the future.
  • It is not challenging to implement any technology. However, the purpose of leveraging big data is very important; the size of the organization doesn't really matter if it makes work life easier for employees.
  • The strong foundation of data, knowledge and content is the key to implementation of technology. The organization's systems and policies should be well in place for the best results.

Chatbots, AR and VR are complementary technologies. One may take precedence over another, depending on the requirements of the organization. However, they all have great potential to open up exciting opportunities for HR. At present, they are in the stage where social media was earlier. Today, social media has witnessed a mass adoption. It wouldn't be surprising if chatbots, AR and VR converge in the near future and become as 'normal' as social media. At the end of the day, it takes the three pillars of software, hardware and human mindset to solve problems creatively and make experiences enjoyable for stakeholders.


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