A new IBM report, “Extending expertise: How cognitive computing is transforming HR and the employee experience”, highlights how cognitive technologies are likely to impact HR functions. Over 65 percent of CEOs surveyed believe that cognitive will drive significant value in HR, while more than 50 percent of HR executives believe that cognitive computing will affect key roles in organisations.

BobBut, how is cognitive computing changing the employee experience? Bob Schultz, General Manager at IBM Talent Management Solutions, walks MARGINALIA through the four key areas worth considering.

Recruiting: Imagine a team of recruiters tasked with filling a number of open requisitions for a broad number of positions.  There have been multiple applicants for each job opening who, all things considered, look equally qualified.

In the traditional approach the recruiters create a list of their top candidates based on reviewing resumes and begins the interview process.

Whereas, in the cognitive approach the recruiters are provided with a prioritised list of job requisitions (based on analysis of drivers such as job complexity, skills, location, and seniority) to streamline their efforts.  They are then provided with a pipeline of best-fit talent based on the skills, competencies and other attributes found on resumes compared to the job description – removing any bias and speeding the selection process. Scanning social networks, recruiters receive advanced warning of market sentiment so that recruiters can have better conversations with the candidates.

New hire support: Imagine you have been at your job in a new company for one week. There is a lot to learn with new systems and processes, as is the case with any new job. However, at times you’ve wished there was better support available to help you to learn your new responsibilities.

In the traditional approach you decide to talk to a colleague who you know joined a few months before you. This employee, after hearing about your situation, mentions a number of things you could do, and most of these are described on the new employee page on the company intranet. For example, she says she learned about discussion groups for new employees and suggests you contact your HR department to find the link for the new employee page. She says to check back with her if you need more information.

However, in the cognitive approach, when you log on to your computer or mobile device at work the next day, you initiate your ‘personalised agent’ (an automated advisor), and type, ‘Do you have any advice for new employees wanting to learn more about the company?’ Your ‘personalised agent’ appears on the screen saying, ‘Most of the new employees look at their ‘new employee’ page as it has a lot of tips, and 93% rate it as very helpful. You could connect with other new employees, join in discussions, and quickly get answers to questions. Here’s a link to that page. Check back with me if you need more information’.

Learning & Development: Imagine you are a team manager in a company that has a commitment to corporate training to ensure compliance and to help workers continually develop their skills. In the past, employees chose the training that was most interesting to them, but now your company would like to take a more guided approach.

In the traditional approach your Human Resources (HR) department tells you that it’s time to recommend training courses for your team. You are given a list of available training courses and you are asked by your HR advisor to select courses appropriate for each member of your team. You are asked to discuss with each team member whether they would like to enroll in the suggested courses.

Differently, with cognitive computing your Human Resources (HR) department tells you about new technology you can sign up for that automatically alerts you by email about training programs suitable for your team. You sign up and receive an email with customised course recommendations for each member of your team, along with information about the percentage of employees similar to your team members who have completed each course and found the courses helpful. The email includes links to send to your employees for them to enroll in the courses and you are asked to discuss these with each team member.

Benefit optimization support: Imagine you work for a firm that offers an employee benefits program. You receive an email about a company policy that allows you to sacrifice some of your salary in return for more vacation time. You decide to ‘buy’ two days of extra vacation in case you need the time for a summer vacation you are thinking about taking.

In the traditional approach you decide to check with your manager next time you see her. You ask, ‘Do you have any advice about my plan to buy vacation?’ She replies, ‘Are you planning a long holiday this year? Last year you had a week of vacation that was unused’. You say. ‘I’m not sure yet’. Before the conversation ends she says, ‘Many applications for summer holidays are being deferred to less busy times in the year. Whatever you decide, let me know because I need to approve the application’.

But, with cognitive technology you click on your ‘personalised agent’, an automated advisor on your computer or mobile device, and type, ‘Do you have any advice about my plan to buy vacation?’ The agent appears, asking: ‘Are you planning a long holiday this year? Last year you had a week of vacation that was unused.’ You type, ‘I’m not sure yet’, then the agent says you might want to consider your decision carefully, because 76% of requests for summer vacation are being deferred to less busy periods in the year. Your agent also says, ’When you make your final decision, remember to get manager approval which is required for this program.’


Cognitive computing has to face some challenges before entering the HR function more broadly. “Market dynamics have shifted and HR is now being tasked with creating personalised experiences for each candidate and employee,” says Schultz. “New technologies are causing a need for HR to reinvent themselves to keep up with the pace of change – and organisational structures and HR systems are not designed for this brave new world.”.

And then there’s data. “Information continues to expand exponentially and making sense of it is increasingly difficult. HR needs the ability to discover new insights from both structured and unstructured data, which can help understand new patterns and trends and make fact-based decisions that can drive business success.”

Cognitive is all about personalisation

Cognitive is all about the personalised employee experience.  “A combination of cloud, mobile, engagement, and cognitive technologies will enable HR to operate quite differently,” notes Schultz. The good news is that interactions with cognitive-enabled systems are natural and more like having a conversation and less about developing specific skills. “Whether it’s talent acquisition, learning and development, how shared services centers are run, or how we operate our core HR functions, there’s no part that will not be impacted by personalisation.”