We hear all the time that technology is taking over our lives; that the pace of progress is increasing. I guess it probably is, but like the evolutionary species we are, when faced with this realisation most of us shrug, accept that we are now tethered to electronic devices of some description and just get on with it in the name of progress.

So where will all of this progress take us?  Utilising technology at work has been the mantra of productivity improvement thrill seekers and IT geeks since the desktop calculator arrived in 1963 - complete with its cathode ray tube display. Engineers, payroll clerks and bankers breathed a sigh of relief the world over and electronics giants began a 50 year love affair with the invention of time saving solutions. And this pattern will undoubtedly continue. Opportunities for improving work production efficiency will forever present themselves and scientists will continue to convert into new lines of revenue.

But then there is the whole area of effectiveness.  When are technologists going to get their chips around driving impact on business outcomes rather than just time-saving?

Well, if you happen to work at a Venture Capitalist firm then the chances are you could be reporting to a robot in the near future. At one particular organisation that distributes private equity funding to worthy business propositions an A.I. tool called “VITAL” (Validating Investment Tool for Advancing Life sciences) was elected to the Board and the company structure amended to reflect this new appointment. 

VITAL is head of investment portfolio management and as such takes responsibility for deciding which business funding requests are worthy of capital and those that are not. In other words, the success of the firm to back businesses that go on to turn stella profits and then trade sell or IPO rests in VITAL’s hands or should that be nodes.

In a few years might we see VITAL’s cousins taking positions in HR as well? The answer to that question rests on the extent to which opportunity exists to trust people related decision-making to an algorithm-centric robot. For this to happen there needs to be a number of prevailing factors:

  • Is the decision too important to leave to guess-work?
  • Will humans bring a level of unconscious bias in their decision-making?
  • Does the quality and volume of data lend itself to the creation of a powerful algorithm?
  • Can the decision be embedded in a repetitive process in a repeatable way?
  • Is the ROI from developing and maintaining the robot’s input compelling?

Based on the emerging focus from CIPD, CIMA and others on the value talent creates for organisations it is unsurprising that attention is swinging round to understanding how HR can rapidly improve its capability to understand, decide and then intervene more reliably and effectively across key talent related processes.

And here lies an interesting observation -  as many as ten years ago one HR function pioneered a  recruitment robot that was actually embedded in the selection process for over 4000 hires per annum. It saved the organisation £10m in 3 years. They called it Bryan. Unfortunately it was never appointed to the board and the robot was eventually de-commissioned (or exited) due to a nervousness that such important decisions couldn’t possibly be entrusted to a box with wires.

Perhaps we don’t like technology driven change as much as we think when it is prepared to stand up to us, challenge our assumptions and wrestle away our sense of control.


Laurence Collins0086 v0 1Laurence Collins
Laurence is a leader in HR analytics and a champion for insight driven transformation. Created first predictive analytics solutions over 10 years ago as a trailblazer for smarter talent decision-making. Main CIPD spokesperson analytics and media commentator  




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