HR Technology Q & A with Holger Mueller

The 2017 Human Resource Executive 20th Annual HR Technology Conference takes place October 10-13 in Las Vegas.  As a 2017 HR Technology Conference Insiders Blogger, I interviewed several human resources and technology experts to get their perspective on how technology and trends are impacting the HR profession.


The following is a Q & A with 2017 HR Technology Conference speaker, Holger Mueller. Holger Mueller is VP and Principal Analyst for Constellation Research covering Next Generation Apps and Human Capital Management. Holger provides strategy and counsel to key clients, including Chief Information Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Product Officers, Chief HR Officers, investment analysts, venture capitalists, sell side firms and technology buyers. Mueller has a Diplom Kaufmann from University of Mannheim, with a focus on Information Science, Marketing, International Management and Chemical Technology. As a native European, Mueller speaks six languages.

Q. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are disrupting best practices not only in HR, but across the entire enterprise. CHROs must expand the scope of the discussion beyond HR. What are the most important considerations for the coordination of AI and ML across an organization?

The lure of ML / AI is to achieve better insights and then possibly automate more of a business. Correctly, this is broader than HR automation, but as people are always involved, the People leaders in HR need to play a role: First of all, foster a better understanding of these technologies, then determine an enterprise wide manifesto, with the rest of the CxOs, how the enterprise wants to use these technologies and then help ensure acceptance of the first pilots, showcases and first implementations. And then there are privacy, security considerations, in many countries work council implications.

MK:. What are some ways artificial intelligence and machine learning will affect future HR best practices?

HM: Technology today is so advanced that in the right scenarios it can make better decisions than the average gifted business user does – on an average day. The most important people decisions today are transfers, then salary / promotion, then hiring. In all three AI / ML can and does play a role in today’s advanced people management – not necessarily making the decisions – but helping a people leader making a better decision. Humans in general are at risk to make decisions based on experience and comfort factor – so in many situations the use case eliminates the possibly one sided experience (also e.g. bias) and makes decisions outside the comfort factor. Couple with more accessible data that can be processed faster – in all of the above scenarios – AI / ML makes better decisions.

And then on the other end of the spectrum there is natural language processing which changes enterprise software overall, but specifically ESS / MSS. It’s easier to say – I need to change my bank account – than handling a nested menu structure in ESS / MSS. Language is a more natural way for humans to communicate and the days of the keyboard are numbered… and its ML that powers / enables the switch in UI.

MK: New HR technology no longer looks to automate, but to improve the employee experience.  Where do you see artificial intelligence and machine learning having the most beneficial impact on candidate or employee experience today?

HM: For the candidate, it’s about finding the next achievable and / or desired position. Showing what is needed to get there in regards of experience, training, networking, business acumen and success etc.  For the employee, it means … less HR software. More focus on the real job, less time spend on administrative, repetitive, cumbersome tasks – e.g. clocking in / out, creating a shift plan, creating a success plan, understanding what the talent depth chart for a position is (what talent is available inside the management span of the people leader for that position, what is available inside of the whole enterprise, what is available outside on a permanent / temporary base etc.

MK:   What area of the Human Resources profession (recruiting, OD/Training, comp/benefits, employee relations, etc.) do you see AI and ML affecting the most in the future?

HM: All of them – there is no preferred area. There are areas that are more competitive like Recruiting, so in general vendors and enterprises are more eager to uptake new technology with the promise of a leg up on the competition – but the power of AI / ML is that it moves all of HCM automation – if done right – to a much better place: Better decisions, with less time spend on making them, with less time spend on admin tasks and more time spend on the key business value generation — all necessary in the era of enterprise acceleration that we live in.

MK:  How are chatbots like Tala and Loca’s “Jane” well-suited to improve talent acquisition and on-boarding processes?

HM: In general chat bots – via text or speech – change the interaction and user experience of enterprise software. And speech / chat can often lead better to the point than any menu structure can. So they allow users to find and get what they need at a higher success rate, higher speed than the traditional menu / screen approach that enterprise software had to take due to technology limitations of the past. Implemented right, a chat bot moves the needle in regards of employee solved ESS / MSS automation. So there is little not to like.

MK:  What new skills will HR team members need to acquire to take advantage of using AI in HR?

HM: The expertise train to e.g. learn to become a data scientist – has left a few years ago. Now its about understanding it as a technology, understand the ramififcations, understand the tradeoffs for their enterprise adopting them. Few people understand how a smartphone / PC work – but we all use them… AI has quickly reached that stage…

MK:  How can HR develop a technology investment strategy for the future based on what we know about artificial intelligence and machine learning today?

HM: Start building BigData repositories. They are more crucial than ever as the data is whats trains, coaches the AI / ML. No data – no AI / ML. Bad / Little / Few data – no AI / ML. When an enterprise is caught in a situation where it needs AI / ML techniques to remain competitives – the creation of a Big Data repository will take too long for the enterprise to catch up… so understand your enterprise BigData strategy, understand how HR data has to / can contribute to it, add additional data, understand and be on top of the security / privacy implications etc. AI / ML will run on that data later… or sooner than later.

Holger Mueller will speak at the 2017 HR Technology Conference on Thursday, October 12, 2017 from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Looking Ahead: Where Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning May Take the Next Generation of HR.