The below article titled “How to Embrace, Leverage the Digital Workplace,” authored by Michael Gretczko and Daniel John Roddy,  appeared on on February 15, 2017.

Business disruption is rampant — new business models, new technologies, a challenging economic environment, and the overall quickening pace of business are all disruptive to “business as usual.” Workforce demographics and trends, such as retiring baby boomers, high-expectation millennials, workforce-on-demand models and team-based work, are another disruption.

It is incumbent of HR to find ways to “hack” these disruptions for their customers by leveraging the digital workplace to customize the HR customer experience to each individual’s unique needs in the face of this almost constant change.

To better understand how the next generation digital workplace can counter disruptions through deeply personalized HR customer experience, let’s flash forward 10 years to 2026. This is when we’ll see the first cohort of Gen Z employees, born in the same time frame as the iPhone, engage in their organization’s open enrollment process for benefits.

Our Gen Z scenario envisions three hypothetical levels of digital workplace “chatbots” at increasing levels of sophistication:

  1. Workflow adviser: assists the HR customer through life or work event workflow using natural language automatically gathers data from disparate systems, and taps into available training, research and operational services support resources.
  2. Solution adviser: “understands” desired outcomes and leverages all available internal and external data to design and propose an optimized solution for the HR customer.
  3. Human adviser: “empathizes” with the human emotions and feelings likely involved in the HR customer’s decision process, and provides support — or referral to an actual human — as required.

Future forward to Gen Z

Jamie, an employee and a new mom, along with her husband, Liam, kick off the enrollment workflow in Jamie’s digital workplace. They are greeted by the chatbot who will assist them through the workflow.

The chatbot explains that, set at the level of workflow adviser, it has the capability to listen, understand natural language, and talk back, and is also able to interpret the context of Jamie and Liam’s questions in order to suggest relevant training, research or operational services assistance as they work through the open enrollment process.

As a bonus, the chatbot has recently been upgraded to a beta version of the solution adviser level. So if Jamie would like to explore this advanced level of digital workplace engagement, the chatbot will be able to understand desired outcomes and leverage Jamie and Liam’s demographic, health and financial data, as well as cloud-based benefits solution provider data, to effectively personalize a recommended package of benefits.

Jamie authorizes the chatbot to use its solution adviser capabilities for her open enrollment process. After a structured conversation driven by the chatbot, she receives a customized portfolio of company benefits that are almost perfectly optimized for her family’s unique health needs and financial resources. After a discussion with the solution adviser chatbot to clarify the details, Jamie verbally accepts the recommended portfolio of benefits and completes the open enrollment process.

Toward a true AI model for HR

So, what’s going on behind the scenes in our futuristic scenario, and how far are we from being able to deliver this hyper-personalized experience? Let’s drill a bit deeper into the chatbot’ s capabilities at the solution adviser level by considering one element of the benefits package — long-term disability insurance — the chatbot recommended.

At the solution adviser level, the chatbot was permitted to leverage Liam’s health records, finances and liabilities information. By leveraging this information, along with the context gathered through a structured conversation with Jamie and Liam, the chatbot was able to conclude with a reasonable degree of probability that covering a portion of Liam’s expected future income in the event of an unexpected disability made sense for the couple.

While this is impressive, the chatbot’s ability to use natural language and understand context to make reasoned judgments about desired outcomes isn’t even the end of the line. Interestingly, and perhaps just a bit frighteningly, true AI is reserved for what we call the human adviser level. Here, the chatbot actually understands the human situation, demonstrates empathy with HR customer feelings and even engages in humor opportunistically to build a deeper bond of understanding with those it has been designed to serve. Of course, at this level of sophistication, the chatbot would also discern, given the nature of the HR customer’s questions, when a referral to an actual human on the operational services team may be in order.

Hacking the disruption

As digital workplace capabilities increase, however, the process of benefit enrollment itself will become disrupted by technology advances, and a complete rethink of how benefits are packaged, priced and administered will not be far behind. After all, disruption tends to breed more disruption — which makes achieving sustainable HR imperative.

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