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AI, AR, VR…As applied TO HR

SHAMEELA WINSTON
I remember the first time I used self-checkout in 2003.

I scanned my groceries, fed the machine money and it gave me my change and receipt at the end. I couldn’t get over it! And now, two decades later, Internet of Things applications are a fact of life. There is nothing novel really about artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality anymore. For some of us anyway.

COVID-19 taught and even forced those of us who were satisfied with the basic technology to upgrade.

We could’ve gone our whole career without using terms like 4IR, but guess what, some are already talking about 5IR.

It’s all very fascinating how it makes things more efficient, even to the point of eliminating the need for certain job categories. And then it becomes a concern for us in HR, because, further than the usual ERP and other specialised software we use in recruitment, talent/performance management and general HR service delivery, there are some implications that we need to be alive to as we incorporate more and more ICT in our working lives as a way to respond to and live with COVID-19. Unless if we believe that this pandemic is just a 2020 novelty that will disappear just as mysteriously as it came.

So, let’s take a case study. Suppose you were the HR partner in a restaurant with outlets across the country that now had to adapt to social distancing by digitising services. Instead of a smiling face at the counter, customers’ point of contact with your restaurant is the LED screens of their smartphones. Let’s say each of your outlets used to employ 20 people for positions including general manager, cashiers, cooks, serving staff, cleaners, and drivers for the home delivery option.

That was before COVID-19. So, if you digitise every possible process to support social distancing and skew the business towards home delivery or collection, how many jobs will be lost, per outlet? And as the HR partner, how do you mitigate that? How are you driving the HR agenda in alignment with the overall business response to COVID-19 to limit movement? To stay afloat, the business has to show compliance with the safety standards. We order and pay online.

That’s two jobs lost. Delivery or collect means most serving staff are laid off, retaining just one or

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two to package and hand over the purchases. Cashiers become redundant. And so on and so forth. If we build that same scenario across different businesses in our economy, how many of us will have jobs by the end of 2020? What is the HR fraternity in the country saying at the macro level, not just in the context of their own organisation?

I mentioned 4IR and 5IR. The advance of the fourth Industrial Revolution (robotics, AI, AR, VR, and the like) has brought an evolving scenario in which the momentum of technology and commerce eclipse the human being in the service chain. Looking back over the years, it was just one or two jobs in the production line that were lost to AI, but now, technology is everywhere.

Contact with a human being on the other side comes as the last option after you have exhausted every selection the auto response BOT is programmed with. Are people and their various skills becoming irrelevant in the face of these technologies that pandemics are forcing us to adopt at faster rates?

Some say COVID-19 is just hyped up and will go away because after all, we’ve seen Avian Flu, Ebola, and SARS, for instance. And we seem to have contained those. So maybe COVID-19 will just be another one. Whatever the case, we’re compelled more than ever before to build our lives and our work around Internet of Things applications like smart TV, smart phone, and any other smart device that comes along.

Funny how, even if it were true that we’ve seen pandemics before, we remain unprepared to meet the challenges that come with the next one. Because whether or not COVID-19 was just hyped up, we all felt its impact.

And the immediate question for HR professionals is this. Between the first lockdown in April and this most recent one, have you learned enough about the gaps in your system to brace the organisation for any other lockdown that may arise in the future?

Have you incorporated the 4IR into your ways of work? Have you addressed the job loss scenario and generated mitigation? Hope you had a staff briefing this morning to go over the safety protocols. Have a good week and stay safe.



The H.R. Dashboard

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