As the impact of digital innovation continues at a remarkable pace, business leaders across the globe are becoming much more astute about the opportunities that Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows. Already, these constantly evolving technologies are enabling us to automate and streamline processes, improve and increase productivity, and engage more efficiently, reliably and creatively with our customers.
The early versions of chatbots were much simpler programs. However, today’s bots are even more sophisticated and will only continue to become more powerful as we use them every day, whether it’s Siri on our Apple iPhone or Amazon’s Alexa.
At ChapmanCG’s most recent HR leaders networking event, co-hosted by Accenture in Melbourne, Australia, we discussed the opportunity for organisations to harness this Chatbot AI technology and enable our HR function to take better care of our employees.
Stephanie Gillies, HR Director for Accenture Australia and New Zealand, hosted the event alongside guest presenters Huyen Le, ANZ Bank and Eva Brookes, EY, who explored the current hot topic of ‘HR Bots and The Future of Work’.
Over thirty senior HR leaders attended the event, representing a broad range of industries and organisations, including small, medium and large Australian companies, along with big multinational corporations.
A quick live poll of the room was able to measure the current usage and investment in AI and, unsurprisingly, the result was as diverse as the businesses represented in the room. In many instances, AI is not yet being discussed. Others were talking about it as a concept, with no specific commitment. A smaller group were in varying stages of testing, assessing and implementation with AI and HR Bots of differing levels of sophistication. But what was obvious was that Accenture was clearly leading the way with their own purpose-built HR Bot – being a technology-driven business, they are constantly discussing technology and AI.
So, why HR Bots?
Stephanie Gillies joined Accenture over twenty years ago and has spent her career in senior Talent Acquisition and HR roles. Accenture is a global giant but, like every other organisation, they have budget constraints for HR headcount.
In her own words, Stephanie “loves to fix things”. The challenge was how do you automate the HR function while making it more efficient and user-friendly?
Stephanie and her team had to answer a range of questions, including: “How might we align HR to deliver people services and a people-first solution? How do we do what we do to take better care of our people? How do we enable our HR people to have more capacity to focus on people first activities and have the time for talent strategies and imperatives that would impact and grow the business?”
When Accenture conducted an HR Time Study, they discovered that 15% of HR’s time was spent on complex queries, 50% on transactional queries and 35% on other activities. That’s 50% of HR’s time spent answering emails on compliance, policies, training, reporting and other repetitive activities. This is time that could be dedicated to more impactful, value-adding activity. So, why not build an HR Chatbot that can answer these queries?
And Ava was born.
Ava (Accenture Virtual Assistant) is a ‘pull bot’ that employees can ask for help with HR topics and, with the often-complex topic of policies, Ava ensures consistency and speed in the responses that employees expect.
However, there are many factors to consider ensuring the quality of information being ‘pulled’ from Ava is high. Data needs to be accurate, updated regularly and categorised correctly. Another significant consideration is the use of natural language. In Australia, there are often several ways to ask a question and multiple accents to understand.
Accenture spent nine months collecting content to input into Ava, making sure that the project team was copied in on all queries so that they could be categorised appropriately, and the Bot could ‘learn’ if it was a benefit, a policy, a travel query etc. They built up a real ‘voice of the people’ that Ava could learn from.
So, have Bots been the answer?
Ava was launched last December, a typically slow period for Accenture in Australia. 23% of employees immediately started using the platform and that user rate has steadily increased to 70%, with the aim of getting it to between 80% and 90% in late 2019.
The 500 initial questions that Ava was initially programmed to answer have been significantly reduced to approximately 350. The more targeted you make the questions and the lower the volume of enquiries that the bot needs to be prepared for, the more accurate it can be. Already, the system has saved Accenture well over 5,000 hours and counting.
HR Partners have been able to shift a considerable amount of their time away from transactional issues and are now spending 70% of their time focusing on people first HR and programmes that impact engagement, culture and leadership, while the system continues to learn and develop.
ANZ Bank is also seeing the benefits of a well thought out HR Bot.
Although they are in the much earlier stages of their AI journey, BLU, ANZ’s genderless virtual agent, has been created to support the People Assist team in managing the 20,000 HR related queries that they receive every month.
Like Accenture, ANZ started analysing data trends and wanted to create a way to more effectively manage the incredibly high volume of repetitive transactions that their front-line team constantly faced, as well as be able to respond quicker and more accurately to employees.
They spent a lot of time talking to end-users to find out what information they needed and how best to deliver it, which helped to guide and shape the topics that were built into BLU. Having Human Centred Design at the heart of everything they do, regular testing was key to the success of the Bot.
From its September launch, it took 14 weeks to get BLU to 100 users in December. By February, they had gained an additional 4,000 users in Australia, which has now increased to well over 6,000.
AI in Talent Acquisition
Eva Brookes, APAC Head of Recruiting for EY, sees enormous potential in the use of AI in Talent Acquisition. Not only does it have huge potential to automate and minimise the repetition of administrative tasks, but it also gets recruiters in the TA team excited and helps to drive more creativity in innovating the talent acquisition cycle and candidate experience. Every year, EY hire 90,000 people globally, with 20,000 of those across the APAC region. They receive 4.5 million applications, so, to manage the experience of the candidate through the process, AI must enable recruiters to do their jobs better.
Although, as Eva described, EY is still at the ‘toddler’ stage in their introduction of AI, they are on the journey from paper-based to new technologies, using it to pick up duplicates, chase feedback, schedule interviews and check protocols. They are partnering with IBM to build an in-house system and see the potential value that could be added in other specialist areas including talent, culture and diversity and inclusion.
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