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Ask An Expert: Founder of Data3, Helen Tanner on how HR can utilise AI & Data trends for 2021

By 14/10/2020 Analytics
HR & AI Trends for 2021

Since the arrival of COVID-19, the world has seen a mass level of disruption, modifying the way every industry operates on a daily basis. However, one aspect which has not been diminished, is the widespread influence that data and AI has been having on our lives.

These factors will undoubtedly be paramount in the effort to predict, prepare and respond in a proactive manner that will change how we live, work and play for the foreseeable future throughout this global crisis and beyond.

Founder of Data3, Helen Tanner, has been hard at work throughout this challenging period, ensuring businesses are using data and AI to make smarter, quicker decisions. That’s why we have asked the renowned data strategist to share her thoughts on how HR can utilise these two core elements to stay ahead of the curve leading into 2021.

1. To start, what do you see being the top artificial intelligence trends for 2021?

Throughout this ongoing pandemic, we’ve seen first-hand the need for people to analyse and interpret data in an extremely short space of time. So, doesn’t this raise the importance of finding new ways to collect and break down essential pieces of information?

HT: I see increasing focus around natural language as a way to make data simple and accessible to wider parts of our business community and society. For instance, many business leaders don’t like/get data…so let’s make it simple for them. Using Natural language programming (NLP), they can ask a question, in English, not data-lingo, and get an answer in English, not data-lingo! 

Natural language programming, otherwise known as NLP, is all about helping computers communicate with humans in their own language and scales other language-related tasks. 

For example, NLP will make it possible for computers to read text, hear speech, interpret the information, measure sentiment and analyse which parts are important. Basic NLP tasks can consist of jobs which may manually be performed such as tokenisation, parsing, part-of-speech tagging, language detection and identification of semantic relationships.

HT: Additionally, I see increasing pressure to make data accessible to wider parts of our society, such as the visually impaired, for instance. Graphs are tricky to make sense of, and often have the smallest fonts imaginable. Imagine if people could verbally ask questions of data, and get a verbal response. Data made simple. Data made inclusive.

Using AI to democratise access to data and information is my expectation, and indeed my priority, for 2021.

2. Similarly, how about the data and technology trends for the upcoming year?

The expanded and strategic role of data and technology within this digital era is causing more and more complexity, the number of variables to analyse is increasing and the types of examination required for success are problematic. In order for any business to succeed, this is telling us that cleansing data needs to be the first priority.

HT: With COVID-induced lockdown, we’ve already seen almost an overnight digital transformation for the many UK and global businesses. Who knew QR codes would eventually become mainstay?! Who knew home-working would be the norm? Who knew video calls were so tiring?!

This digital transformation will continue as businesses will need to cut costs, become more efficient, and run as lean as possible in order to survive and thrive. Powering digital transformation is data – and the businesses who have quickly developed apps and online shops will soon start to realise that they need to sort out their data before they can fully realise the benefits of their digitalisation. I predict a back-to-basics approach for most businesses, sorting out data, making sure they don’t have any data breaches, and using data to make/save money. Data will move from the minds the enterprise organisations and early adopters to the masses in 2021 – that’s my prediction. 2021 is the year of data!

3. How can you see HR professionals incorporating these trends into their current processes?

Human resource departments have had a difficult job prior and during the pandemic, with more than 50% of HR leaders struggling to ensure their employees had the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly digitised workplace. 

HT: HR processes have had to transform, almost overnight, to become 100% digital, online, and remote. The normal ways of working no longer apply. You can’t rely on face-to-face interactions now, or the predictability of office environments.

In order to navigate this new world, HR professionals need to be able to select meaningful KPIs, from reliable data, to see what’s working well and what’s not. It all comes back to data, of course!

4. What metrics could you see being worthwhile tracking/prioritising in 2021?

Over half of HR functions across the world already have analytics capabilities, and this number is expected to grow even further in 2021. Despite this, HR analytics needs to be built on a solid foundation of data and the right metrics to be of any success.

HT: HR teams have often focused on metrics that simply describe how a business is performing. Or efficiency targets that only show a business’ people costs. Whilst these metrics are nice to know — they won’t always drive change or exploit the value of the department’s data. 

For instance, recruitment teams often measure performance using:

  •     Time to recruit per role 
  •     Cost to recruit per role/s 
  •     Candidate drop-out rate 

As if being fast & cheap is a good thing! Whilst these measures are important to track tactical recruitment activity; they are only short-term measures of success…they only measure the process before someone joins a business.

Imagine if your recruitment teams could demonstrate that new recruits in the last two years have had:

  •     25% lower absenteeism than the average employee in their business
  •     30% higher engagement in staff surveys and learning & development activity
  •     15% higher performance ratings
  •     40% higher participation in employee benefit schemes
  •     2% attrition

These longer-term metrics would be a far better way of assessing the success of a recruitment Team within a business.

Beyond Recruitment, there are tangible merits of mixing multiple data sets. By looking at data in a more holistic way, you can draw out more insight and impact your bottom line.

5. Finally, what advice would you give to HR professionals out there, who want to take an AI and data-driven approach moving in 2021?

HT: Start small. Tackle one data-driven opportunity at a time. Get that done, learn from it, and move to the next one. This iterative approach means that it won’t need to cost a fortune, or become a massive project. You can evolve to become data-driven, as your business evolves.

About Helen Tanner:

Helen is an accomplished and renowned data consultant and data strategist who has led complex data projects for a range of global organisations including AXA, Barclays and Computershare.

Passionate about data monetisation, and the use of cutting-edge tools to tackle business problems, Helen has helped many organisations to make or save more money, using data. Whether through identifying new business opportunities, to spotting the opportunities to derive new insight from data, through to automating manual, time-consuming processes.

As an Oceanography graduate, Helen started her career as a marine data scientist working at The Met Office on marine data collection, long term weather forecasts, and monetising weather data in the retail and insurance sectors. Helen regularly presents at UK and global events on data topics and her new book, The Data Escalator, the data guide for business professionals, has been published in September 2020. She founded Data3 and is the CEO.

Natural HR

About Natural HR

Natural HR is a cloud-based HR software company for growing businesses with 100+ employees. Since launching in 2010, we’ve been building a comprehensive suite of HR functionality that equips the small to medium-sized enterprise with everything needed to build an effective and efficient HR operation.

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