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HR joins the tech revolution

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The technology revolution has swept away most vestiges of the old ways of business. But not all. Now the HR department is about to be disrupted, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

There is hardly a mainstream business that has not been transformed by technology, yet the management of human resources (HR) remains stuck in early 20th century mode.

This is ironic, considering the massive emphasis placed on young workers and the new generation of job-entrant. The problem is that buzzword are being used to paper over the cracks in the system. The term “millennial” has become a convenient byword for describing this new kind of employee, despite the fact that the 17-to-37-year-old age group it defines is utterly meaningless.

The result is that, while tremendous effort is made to attract young talent, little is done – outside youth-oriented brands like Google and Facebook – to retain them. Performance measures and reward systems may well be in place, but little is done with the huge amount of data collected in the process, and little effort goes into understanding what makes employees tick, and what contribution HR can make to the business.

Yet, in the age of big data and artificial intelligence, human resources should be given as much emphasis as sales, marketing and the customer experience – currently the obsession of most big businesses.

This gap explains the massive growth of a business like SuccessFactors, which provides human capital management software solutions via the cloud. Listed on the NASDAQ exchange in 2007, it was acquired by SAP in 2011 and now serves more than 6 000 companies and 45-million subscribers across more than 60 industries.

“A lot of people believe on-boarding ends when someone is sitting in their office,” said Stefan Ries, chief human resources officer of SAP, opening last week’s SuccessFactors SuccessConnect 2017 conference in London. “It doesn’t stop there. You need to check it after 30 days, after 60 days, after 90 days.”

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Ries was brutal in his assessment of the failings of HR. But he was equally frank in what needed to be done, providing a roadmap for businesses that are ready to evolve in the way they manage employees. Even those who have moved from thinking of staff as customers had not caught up to the way other areas of their business were being disrupted.

He outlined the five key elements that matter most in the new HR roadmap:

1.

“HR needs to deliver much more experience. Stop calling employers and managers customers; they are consumers. It’s not only about employees, but also managers, contingent labour, the retired workforce, as well as new candidates. They all want to have a consumer experience. It’s all about usability, simplification and performance. We need to think and act as if we’re in a consumer business, and we must be ready for the next big thing: mobile and conversational HR.

2.

“We in HR need to measure much more strongly our impact versus the activities we are performing. Within the cloud environment, you need to deliver HR services anytime, anywhere, on any device. If you can’t do that, you won’t attract talent from the younger generations. We have to understand how cloud services can help us to have high employee engagement and to be a more attractive employer of choice.

3.

“We need to continue to get much more fluent in data analytics. We have the tools available. We are hiring data analysts in HR, and that job description didn’t exist four or five years ago.  Integration of machine learning is very important, but it’s not in isolation or separate; it must be fully embedded.

4.

“How jealous are we of the finance department? Business loves them because they have the numbers that define the business. We need to work hand in hand with them, and our numbers must be seen as an important business metric. Sales, marketing, finance and HR must all come together to enable us to make the right business decisions.

5.

“Social media and social commitment really matters.  In the solutions we offer, we must capture the needs of the younger generation. They are much more embedded in the social media environment. These generations have a clear determination in their minds that they need purpose in their jobs. What can they do to help the company make an impact and improve the way we live on this earth? We must continue to invest in corporate social responsibility.”

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Later, at a media briefing, Ries offered the flip side of the coin: how to look after the older generation that may feel left behind by digital transformation.

“On the one side you’ve got to listen to the younger generation, but on the other side have to pay attention to other generations. You have customers out there with managers and leaders in their 50s or 60s who may say, ‘Why bother?’

“They will bother if they see the benefits, that they have to work for another 10 to 15 years and can experience the advantages of the new approach. And at home they are confronted with the same challenges with kids or in the broader family. The magic word is integration.”

A company that seems to have got it right is the venerable automotive brand, Jaguar Land Rover.

“We thought we would have a lot of rejection of the whole concept, so we geared up for putting out fires, and over-supported people through the change,” said Jon West, the company’s director of manufacturing HR and employee relations.

“Actually, we found that there was a high level of acceptance,” he told media at the SuccessConnect conference. “A significant amount of people in the organisation – forty per cent of employees – are older people who’ve been with us for a long time. But over time we brought in a lot of new people, and they were expecting this new approach. We’re lucky we have such well-established, premium brands, and we have to make sure our HR practices do the brands justice.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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