HR Technology: Artificial Intelligence vs. Automation vs. the Human Component
As in other business areas, technology improves the efficiency of key HR processes and programs. Relatively new technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) can improve candidate communication through chatbots that answer questions, schedule interviews, and ask qualifying screening questions. Another technology, automation, which can be found virtually everywhere, can transform just about any manual process. Among other capabilities, automation eliminates the use of paper forms—in hiring, onboarding, benefits enrollment, and more—and facilitates e-signatures of online documents. Automation, AI, and other HR technology save time for HR teams, allowing them to focus on the work that only people can do, such as making face-to-face connections, leading others, or assessing candidate communication skills.
AI, automation, and humans each have a powerful role to play in creating great experiences for candidates and employees. Research shows that when they work together, the results are even better. A White House report, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence,” summarized research on “human-machine teaming” that found that when technology and people come together, there is a lower error rate than when people or technology act alone.
HR technology improves existing processes and helps to create new ones. Here are some key ideas that help explain how AI, automation, and human contribution all work together for the benefit of organizations and people.
The Difference Between AI and Automation
When people talk about innovation in technology, automation and AI are often used in the same sentence—so much so that the two terms have come to be used interchangeably. However, although the two can be interconnected in certain applications—for example, in the case of e-learning platforms—they’re not the same thing. The difference between AI and automation is mainly in how they utilize and process data. As one business writer puts it, “Automated machines collate data; AI systems ‘understand’ it.”
Automated systems collect and organize data so humans can understand and use it more efficiently. In HR, automation can be found in applicant tracking system (ATS) platforms that collect, organize, and store candidate resumes. It can also be found in employee self-service portals and background check platforms that allow HR teams to initiate background checks with the touch of a button.
Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, uses data to simulate human thinking and learning. With more data, AI devices and machines can recognize and anticipate patterns, similar to people. Popular examples of AI include smart home assistants such as Alexa, robots used in manufacturing and other settings, and email spam filtering programs. AI brings much to HR and the workplace, including new ways to understand and anticipate human behavior and novel approaches to providing more personalized candidate and employee experiences.
Because AI and automation are often confused, it is possible to mistake one for the other. What some describe as AI-enabled products and services might actually be the smart application of automation technology. In fact, artificial intelligence is not as prevalent in business as people think. One study surveyed business executives from companies around the globe and found that only 23 percent had incorporated AI into their processes and their product and service offerings.
As digital transformation expands in every industry, there is likely to be more growth in the use of AI and automation in the many disciplines of HR. From the point of hire through the entire employee lifecycle, humans and technology will likely continue to find new ways to improve HR processes and enhance the employee experience.
The Interplay of Technology and Humans in Background Screening
There are numerous ways technology and human activity work well together in background screening. Technology helps to search, categorize, and report employee background data faster. It also automates key processes, making it easier for HR teams to get thorough background check reports with a lower turnaround time. Automation, AI, and humans each play unique roles, but they complement each other to create an overall more efficient background check process. Below are some of the specific contributions of each.
Automation eliminates the manual exchange of paper-based authorization and disclosure documents, which can create a sizable and positive effect in busy recruiting functions that make dozens or even hundreds of hires each year. Automation technology for background screening doesn’t just move background check processes online; it simplifies and organizes workflows so recruiting teams can go to one portal to initiate background checks, check status, and review flagged issues. The technology can also make integrations with other platforms work more seamlessly, thereby reducing double entry.
When background screening processes are automated, large amounts of data become easier to collect, analyze, and report. The process of tracking employee license expiration dates, for example, can move from an Excel spreadsheet to an automated process that sorts and flags expiration dates at pre-programmed intervals. Automated tracking reduces the administrative burden of HR professionals and frees them up to spend more time on license issues that require special attention.
With all of its compliance hurdles and the need to verify different sources of background data, background screening must still rely on human judgment and critical thinking to deliver complete and accurate background check reports. However, there is a role for artificial intelligence to play in optimizing background screening processes. The use of AI in background screening is in its early stages, but may soon be able to accomplish a range of tasks such as identifying and removing duplicate search results and processing background check data from a broader range of geographies around the world.
Human judgment and effort is the glue that holds background screening technology together for the benefit of its users. Humans act as verifiers and provide a “second pair of eyes,” carefully reviewing data for inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or anything that doesn’t look quite right. Humans amplify the benefits of AI to create AI2™, a process by which expert analysis leverages automation and AI technology to create the actionable information included in background check reports.
In addition to synthesizing data and identifying patterns, humans use years of experience and lessons learned to create and improve background screening processes. Humans also use new information to deliver insights and make recommendations that help HR teams boost effectiveness. Without the human component, the data gleaned from background checks has limited usefulness and application in the real world.
Humans Heighten the Impact of HR Technology
The use of HR technology is likely to grow with time. There will be newer, faster ways to accomplish tasks once performed by humans alone. Instead of replacing human judgment and decision-making, AI and automation technology supplement what humans do, enhancing key processes and making them more effective. In background screening, technology and human effort converge to deliver a better experience for candidates and more opportunities for HR to make better-educated hiring decisions.