As artificial intelligence has found its footing in the world of business, there’s been as many questions as there has been answers about its use in some cases. But as conversations around AI’s relationship to things like automation, analytics and human capital heat up, businesses around the world find themselves asking how AI is going to help them answer a variety of questions.
One area where AI is gaining traction is in HR, where it can be deployed for any number of reasons from talent recruitment to learning & development. Starmind, a software firm based in Switzerland, has developed an AI solution dedicated to unearthing people with expertise and helping guide employers in identifying and addressing skills gaps.
It’s just one example of how AI benefits HR teams who are becoming more reliant on data and technology in managing distributed workforces. But how does HR use AI to address the organizations talent and skill challenges? Starmind VP of North America, Eric Storm, recently led a session at our annual HR Tech North America Digital Summit looking at exactly this and it all begins with how we view the business.
Understanding Your Assets
The first part to understanding how AI can help is to stop viewing business assets as the things it holds. In other words, it’s not about office spaces, or the desks, computers and other technology that sit in them. It’s about what Storm refers to as brain capital, or what you might call human assets. In the end, AI can help both the business and the employee.
“We see it on both sides, employees need to understand how they can be more productive, how they can achieve more in their careers and access more information within the organization,” Storm said. “From the organizational side, you need real time skill profiles so to do effective workforce planning, effective upskill training and targeted project staffing so you don’t have to dig deep to uncover certain skills. What we see is a data driven workforce phenomenon where everyone believes this approach is a great concept, but they can’t do it if they don’t understand the skills and expertise in the organization currently.”
That’s where Starmind steps in. Storm surveyed the audience as part of the presentation, asking “how does your organization capture and manage employee skills today?” The answers revealed many are relying on standard performance reviews and manager interviews, or there was nothing capturing that data at all.
“There’s surveys, interviews or skills trackers, but it doesn’t really scale out to the organization,” Storm said. “It’s a snapshot in time and often it’s not relevant to the employees work history with the organization, it’s focused on their previous work history.”
The Starmind platform uses neuroscience principles to attempt to unlock insights for strategic workforce planning by capturing data created as employees work as they normally would. Over time, Starmind creates a skill profile for each employee that looks at what they’re doing and how and why they’re doing it with the goal of unlocking employee potential by understanding who knows what within the organization. It pulls data from five different families of what they call employee connectors. These are:
- Chat and collaboration systems (Slack, Teams, etc.)
- Document Management Systems (Dropbox, Google Drive)
- HR Information Systems (Workday)
- Calendar systems (Outlook, Google Calendar)
- Role and industry specific systems (Salesforce, Jira)
“We want to unlock expert intelligence by accessing their undocumented knowledge they’ve acquired via water cooler conversations or that they may reveal in group chats via Microsoft Teams and we want to use it to create talent intelligence,” Storm said.
The next step is for Starmind to organize that information in a way that helps the business make the right people accessible to those who need to connect with them. It’s done by pushing data collected from those five areas into a skill intelligence platform to assess what your employees are capable of.
Skills Assessments and More
Skill assessments are something that is difficult for HR leaders to ascertain value from. In the end, how do you determine what someone is good at in an objective and effective way that’s clear and helpful in aligning people with business goals?
“The skill assessment has to be impartial to the employee,” Storm said. “You can get someone to tell you what they’re good at, but it’s usually over or under inflated. You can take their previous skills from previous companies, but moving forward that is going to change on a regular basis the longer they stay with the organization because they’re acquiring company specific knowledge. So really what we’re constantly working on is understanding what employers want from their skill assessments.”
An interesting part of using AI in skills assessments is that it doesn’t matter what role the subject of the assessment has. The platform learns the same way it would for an entry level employee as it does for an executive.
“Obviously if you’re a higher level employee, there will be more information about you because you’ve been in the workforce longer and have had a longer tenure than others,” Storm said. “But if you’ve been there a year and had some internships beforehand, AI can learn from it the same way.”
What a company wants from a technology like AI can vary drastically depending on the industry. For some industries the technology is proving effective more than others. Storm provided the examples of automotive and what’s happening around transportation as a service as a prime example.
Others industries enjoying the benefits of AI technology include insurance and consulting firms. But it’s not just about industry, it also can vary by size. Storm noted in the presentation that companies under 1,000 employees generally don’t need something like Starmind, though some smaller organizations with distributed and remote workforces do find value in it. As a general rule, however, AI’s biggest value is for larger companies. As Storm put it, “the larger the organization, the more technology you need to capture and assess skills.”
In any conversation about AI the question of privacy is bound to come up and how do you get people on board with their information being used this way. Why should employees be on board with employers looking at them in these ways? It can be a difficult question to answer, but Storm feels that assuring employees that it’s about their success is one way reframe the conversation.
“Anyone who understands the way business is going understands that data is gold,” Storm said. “Being able to document skills will allow employees to not only understand where they sit in the organization, but understand how they can improve and where they can gain knowledge to progress their career. I think you look at your employees and say we want to capture your skills because we want to make you better and make sure you’re achieving as much as you can so that we can help you improve your career trajectory.”