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TecHRseries Interview with Ergun Ekici, Principal and Vice President at IPsoft

Over a period of time, the role of HR is going to have to evolve further and HR will have to learn to lead several change management initiatives. Ergun Ekici, Principal and Vice President of IPSoft joins us in this interview to discuss his thoughts on the growing impact of AI in HR and HR Tech and the changing role of HR.

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Tell us about yourself Ergun! We’d love to know about some of your biggest highlights from your professional journey so far!

I started IPsoft with seven of my peers 20 years ago. Even then we focused on artificial intelligence and automation. One of my initial roles was helping transform the research of our CEO Chetan Dube on deterministic finite machines at NYU into a tangible, real-world technology. Our first technology platform, IPcenter, was launched in 2001.

In 2014 we added a focus on conversational AI and rolled out our Amelia technology to both internal enterprise use cases, like human resources and IT support, as well as customer-facing use cases like banking, insurance and healthcare.

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How do you see Emerging technologies impacting HR tech and more specifically digital transformation initiatives in global B2B/Tech companies?

In an increasingly diverse, remote and complex workspace, we are seeing emerging technologies, especially digital employees, have two impactful roles in HR. A digital employee can actually become part of the HR workforce by performing specific tasks, such as absence requests, expense management, benefits enrollment, on-boarding new employees, hiring and recruitment. HR needs to start evaluating its own technology practice and employee workflows, and lay out how to support digital employees and the human employees who complement them.

Anyone can apply a digital workforce inside an organization’s HR function, but the real question is, how to manage the broader workforce that is now comprised of human and digital employees? Specifically, how do to get human employees excited and incented to collaborate with their digital employees, as opposed to being resistant to change? HR plays a critical role in that change management process.

What would you say are some of the top 5 positive and negative impacts of AI/other Emerging tech on the HR tech realm?

Digital employees are going to require significant changes in the workforce and the way the workforce is managed in a digitally enabled enterprise. HR is going to have the responsibility and the opportunity to lead that change management exercise. And to be very candid, their effectiveness, preparation, focus and drive to the change management exercise will dictate whether that’s a positive or negative impact. That’s probably the most meaningful impact that HR will have as organizations shift to digital-first.

The HR-focused digital employees themselves will have a similar type of impact on HR as they do elsewhere: reducing the human effort required for handling repetitive, low-value tasks. When implemented correctly, these digital employees will enable human employees to have a higher-value focus.

In addition, digital employees will accelerate HR’s overall impact on the broader firm. HR professionals have to be able to think about how they are going to transform their relationships to support and manage a diverse and complex workforce unlike anything we’ve seen before.

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What are some of the things you would change about how HR teams in B2B/the Tech marketplace adopt, choose and use HR Tech or digital technologies to transform how their teams/companies run?

The first thing I would advise HR teams to focus on as they think about applying AI within an organization is to first understand that there are many different types of AI, each of which solves a different problem.

You have AI technologies around robotic process automation (RPA), which helps solve back office logistics problems. You have AI technology around analytics, allowing for the evaluation of a large set of HR data – and being able to make decisions around it. And then you have AI you can actually hire as a digital employee to be the front face of HR, handling employee inquiries and acting as an employee concierge.

I encourage HR teams to start by focusing on what the key challenges are that they’re looking to solve. What is their primary mandate? Is it cost savings, a better employee experience, or transforming employee care? Once you understand your priorities, then you will know which AI technologies can play a meaningful role in fulfilling those priorities while solving your problems.

Could you share some innovative examples of how tech companies/B2B organizations have used or use Emerging technologies or HR technology to redefine their work culture or HR process?

There are a number of critical, different roles, and there are simple applications of digital workers. One is the employee concierge designed to answer key questions. A digital employee will answer the question for them, help them do their task or transfer them to the appropriate person.

Another layer is to deliver proactive support from a digital employee, especially for things like on-boarding. That digital employee can reach out to new human employees on day one to help them get set up. Digital employees can also follow up to remind human staff of any trainings or other preliminary tasks that need to be completed. This is a proactive approach to helping humans navigate the realities of a new workplace.

How do you see the role of AI in HR Tech change how companies recruit/manage and retain employees in future?

AI – specifically digital employees – can do the initial screening and evaluation of candidates. I have a candidate who does 1.2 million interviews a year. Amelia – a digital employee – helps screen, validate and identify good candidates and assigns a ranking based on an initial screening. Amelia then submits appropriate candidates to a recruiter to make a final decision.

This isn’t merely a keyword scan across resumes or a profile search on LinkedIn. Amelia will have an actual conversation with the candidate. Surprisingly, sometimes people are more comfortable discussing sensitive topics when talking to a digital employee versus a human. We think it’s related to the fact that they know they’re not going to be judged. They will actually ask questions that they wouldn’t have or answer questions in a bit more detail than normal, which gives the recruiter a great view of the candidate.

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What according to you are the top 3 HR Tech Trends that will define 2020?

Right now, it’s not the chief information officer or chief technology officer that’s driving digital strategies for most businesses. That strategy is now being driven by COVID-19.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the criticality of a digital-first strategy to every enterprise. A digital-first strategy means complementing, empowering and supporting humans but also being able to support your customers through digital channels with digital employees that are not subject to the variance of humans. That’s one of the biggest tech trends. We’re seeing both within HR and the broader workforce.

Tag (or mention/write about) the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

Alan Turing. He is the father of AI. He is the man that asked the question, “Will there come a day when we cannot discern a difference between machine and human intelligence?” And that’s what blows my mind. Everybody thinks they can give quotes on AI, but the fact that this guy was thinking about this in the 1940s, and then he proposes to publish a dissertation of how to test the difference between machine and human intelligence. That is at a different level of vision, ambition and intelligence. 

Any parting thoughts here you’d like to share? It could be on anything, work-life balance, career goals, etc. 

We know the luddites will say AI and digital workers introduce a risk to humans and their role in society, taking away jobs and opportunities. I will tell you that, just by looking at the impact of the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the information age, that is not my worry. They have all brought significantly greater roles for automation and machine intelligence into our lives. The consequence of them meant the lower-value jobs were driven to automation while people were elevated to providing higher-value services.

Could you go to the moon if you were still farming by hand? Could we be having this conversation – digitally, effectively, remotely – in the world environment we’re in now if we were still with a pick and axe in the cave? No. Technology enables us. It’s our role to help the world adopt and drive technology’s role to be the least disruptive because change is disruptive. But change is inevitable. Our goal is to make the change beneficial, positive and helpful to humanity. My work/life balance, my personal joys, are at a much greater scale due to technology and the role it has taken to automate our lives.

Tell us about your future plans before we sign off…!

We are working toward the future of AI. We recently launched our cloud-based digital colleagues to assist with both HR and IT, eliminating the need for humans to perform the most mundane and repetitive tasks. We think the financial sector will be another great fit and we are looking to expand our focus to cover that industry as well.

IPsoft is the leader in Enterprise Artificial Intelligence (AI), cognitive and autonomic solutions and the home of Amelia, the industry’s most-human digital AI colleague. Amelia’s ability to learn, interact and improve over time makes her the market’s only AI that can fully understand user needs and intentions.

Ergun Ekici is the Principal and Vice President of IPsoft