A few week ago, the NY Times (April 19, 2015) in an editorial column called “The Machines are Coming” (see the above picture, used to lead in and grab the reader – (and it did) – in which much was discussed concerning the fact that machines are indeed getting smarter. And they are replacing not just low wage jobs, but many, many “professional” positions.

It seems that the machines in question can today process regular spoken language and not only recognize human faces, but also read their expressions. They can classify personality types, and have started being able to carry out conversations with appropriate emotional tenor.

According to the author, Prof. Zeynep Tufekci – who is an Assistant Professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, machines are getting better than humans at figuring out who to hire, who’s in a mood to pay a little more for that sweater, and who needs a coupon to nudge them toward a sale.

In applications around the world, software is being used to predict whether people are lying, how they feel and whom they’ll vote for. To crack these cognitive and emotional puzzles, computers needed not only sophisticated, efficient algorithms, but also vast amounts of human-generated data, which can now be easily harvested from our digitized world. The results are dazzling. Most of what we think of as expertise, knowledge and intuition is being deconstructed and recreated as an algorithmic competency, fueled by big data.

The author goes on to say that “computers / software do not just replace humans in the workplace. They shift the balance of power even more in favor of employers. Our normal response to technological innovation that threatens jobs is to encourage workers to acquire more skills, or to trust that the nuances of the human mind or human attention will always be superior in crucial ways. But when machines of this capacity enter the equation, employers have even more leverage, and our standard response is not sufficient for the looming crisis”.

Furthermore, Prof Tufekci states that in many cases “Machines aren’t used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a “good enough” job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans. Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency”.

So technology is being used in many workplaces to reduce the power of humans, and employers’ dependency on them, whether by replacing, displacing or surveilling them. Many technological developments contribute to this shift in power: advanced diagnostic systems that can do medical or legal analysis; the ability to outsource labor to the lowest-paid workers, and the measurement of employee tasks down to the minute in order to optimize worker performance and schedules.

In the 1980s, the Harvard social scientist Shoshana Zuboff examined how some workplaces used technology to “automate” — take power away from the employee — while others used technology differently, to “informate” — to empower people.

So, this is all very interesting, but what does it mean for my colleagues in Human Resources and especially in HR Technology? Well I think it is good news. Especially the “Informate” concept itself.

You would think that with all this human like capabilities, HR people would be scared silly that their function will be outsourced to a machine! I think not.

HR and HRT folks have already had the privilege and the ability to leverage technology and still be a vital voice within any corporation. That privilege has been brought to us by the works of our HRMS software provider community.

This talk about Machines taking over actually is all good news.   There should be no fear in the HR and HR tech world. We are used to new capabilities and we as a group know the impact of both “Automate” and “Informate” in the workplace. This added publicity might even create a more accepting mindset to change – which is vital when implementing any new HRMS capability.


The top tier HRMS software providers have already built web based – roles and rules applications covering most of the functions within any robust Human Capital, or HR function in any Corporation – anywhere in the world.

Today’s HR technology, HRIS, HCMS (however they are abbreviated), gives those of us involved in identifying, delivering HR/Payroll/Benefits solutions all the opportunity we need NOW and for at least 5 years into the future (in my opinion), for us to do both “automate” and “informate”.

I believe this, and I believe in the HRMS vendor community, and I have seen the capabilities. They have already arrived, they are no longer “coming.”

In my role as an HR technology industry independent consultant, supporting my clients in their efforts to identify, evaluate, select and then implement HR Technology, I have had the opportunity to recently explore, in detail, the capabilities of a half dozen top tier HRMS solution providers. Included among them (in my opinion) are: ADP, Ceridian’s Dayforce, Ultimate Software, Workday, and a few others who are newer, rich in functionality, but lacking the numbers of proven and satisfied clients – as yet.

All can do the following (and much more), in different ways but quite well:

  • Web delivered – SaaS – “Software as a Service”
  • Employee Self-Service and Manager Self-Service (ESS/MSS) – web delivered – “MyPortal”, “MyTeam” (for example) and a Manager’s “in box”
  • “Best practices” and workflow built in, with templates provided
  • Email triggers and notification for action alerts and process steps
  • Delivered, out of the box Functionality encompassing most functions within HR including Payroll and Benefits in ONE cloud based master file including:
    • Effective ACA support and filings
    • Talent Management
    • Compensation planning
    • Performance Management and Succession planning
    • Time capture and attendance
  • Provide a comprehensive “library of standard reports”
  • Provide an Ad hoc Report Writer (user oriented)
  • Deliver pre-built Metrics (Workforce Analytics) displayed as a graphical “Dashboard”
  • Allow the user to “Drill down” to see and access the underlying data within any metric, at a “click””
  • Effective date processing – future and retroactive
  • Security based on rules and end user roles

All these capabilities – taken all together – and implemented within any Corporation with an effective Change Management initiative taken into consideration, will accomplish an enormous improvement in effectiveness and efficiencies. Not just within the function of HR, but for anyone in the entire Enterprise.

How could it not?

With few exceptions, today’s HR function, by any name – will greatly experience improvement from these SaaS applications.

Overall, and properly implemented, these capabilities allow the function of Human Resources to fully serve all stakeholders, and provide value added, strategic based information, and not just raw data. Then, the human brain will have more to think about, to process, to consider, and then to decide what action to take. No machine or robot, can nor should do that – at least in the realm of HR.

Workforce Analytics and dashboards will end up being resident on any C-level executives’ tablet and/smartphone, no less, any manager anywhere in the world.

Isn’t that a victory in itself for those of us in HR and HR Technology?

Isn’t that enough?

What more can your end users and executives ask for?

With all that information at hand, and with executives (and employees) knowing from where it derives, Human Resources people have no need to even worry about Machines taking over our effectiveness.

At least for another 5 years.

IMHO. (for us older folks, that means “in my humble opinion).


June 19, 2015