How Blockchain, chatbots and PDRs will disrupt HR technology

As workforce practices reflect the realities of the digital age, HR technology solutions will follow suit at the functional and system design levels

As workforce practices reflect the realities of the digital age, HR technology solutions will follow suit at the functional and system design levels – and the tools are available and the innovators are hard at work, writes Rob Scott

Not surprisingly, the primary shift underpinning our collective transition from the information age to the digital age is one of continuous change and disruption. Previous periods in history have ushered in both these impacts too, but not with the same degree of intensity and pace.

For many organisations, the journey to cloud, SaaS, mobile and app HR technologies has been driven mostly by efficiency and effectiveness gains, however in a decade we’ll probably look back and consider this change to be fairly insignificant when compared to the torrent of innovation heading our way. Reinforcing this digital age revolution is low-cost technology processing power, omnipresent connectivity and maturing machine-learning capabilities, all influencing the very essence of our work environments and the nature of working relationships.

There are many technologies surfacing which have the potential to change HR technology experiences, but Blockchain technology, chatbots and personal data repositories (PDRs) are poised to fundamentally impact the underlying design and usage of these tools.

Blockchain technology
Many will correctly associate the term with Bitcoin, the digital currency developed in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto. It’s a complex design, but essentially Blockchain is a distributed database which facilities the creation and transfer of digital records without 3rd party intervention. Its real strength lies in how it protects a digital record against tampering or revision.

Seed funding has increased by a multiple of five times since 2013 and a few HR tech vendors are exploring its possibilities and benefits. In time this technology will relieve HR of the need to validate documents such as qualifications, position history, job experience as well as transactional data such as a medical certificate, address changes and tax file data. Once the record is created by the source and stored in ‘a block’, an HR system could link to that record and digitally accept its authenticity.

Rather than interacting with software through your desktop, ESS or a mobile app, a chatbot performs a specific task for you based on voice or text-based interaction. The concept is not new, they’ve been around for many years, however, improvements in machine learning, artificial intelligence and natural language capability has breathed new life into these tools, making interaction with a chatbot seem decisively human-like and capable of performing complex tasks on your behalf.

Chatbots are appearing on the fringes of enterprise solutions such as your mobile phone (eg Siri) and productivity tools such as Skype and Slack. Their emergence as a standard offering in HR solutions is imminent, with some HR vendors such as RAMCO already enabling Chatbots for simple tasks such as leave balance or payslip enquiries via an e-mail request.

Chatbots have the potential to fundamentally change the way we interact with technology by removing multiple individual services and shifting us to a ‘conversational’ user interface (UI).

Personal data repositories (PDRs)
Independent workers make up 34 per cent of the US workforce according to a 2014 study by the Freelance union. While specific numbers are debatable, the trend in contingent workforce usage is clear. This together with digitally available personal information held by private organisations, governments and personal tools such as health trackers are driving a need to store, manage and share personal information by the owner in a more controlled way.

HR systems will need the ability to temporarily interface to any number of PDR’s in order to consume, create or update the employee or freelancer’s personal database in real time as if it was just one single integrated system. Some vendors offer capabilities to link to basic PDRs such as LinkedIn, but in most cases data sharing its unidirectional and limited to a restricted data type.

While we often think about extensions to our HR system in functionality terms, there is equally a growing need to build database and complex integration extensions which support changing workforce demands such as data ownership control and sharing.

4 key takeaways for HR

  • The digital age will be far more revolutionary compared to the milder evolutionally path followed by previous historical periods
  • We should expect far more fundamental change to occur in HR technology off the back of maturing machine learning and artificial intelligent capability
  • The process of accessing an HR solution primarily through a software later in order to create, modify or use data is being challenged with the development of conversational UI layers such as chatbots
  • Data ownership and sharing are growing in importance as the number of independent and contingent workers increases globally

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