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AI is transforming HR

‘How do I become a data-driven organization?'

by Marco van der Hoeven

The field of human resources is intrinsically data-intensive. Therefore, it is a logical environment to deploy artificial intelligence. Workday has been working on incorporating AI in their offerings for many years now. Their European Headquarters in Dublin is a hub for AI R&D. Rocking Robots interviewed Caroline O’Reilly, General Manager of Analytics at Workday, to discuss the transformation of HR by AI.

“The first question customers often ask is, ‘How do I become a data-driven organization? How do I make that leap?’, says Caroline O’Reilly, General Manager Analytics at Workday, about the need for AI solutions. “They acknowledge that their customers have data, and that data continues to grow and proliferate across various parts of the organization. When they approach us, they’re seeking guidance on where to begin and what areas to prioritize.”

“To address these questions, we introduce them to existing work in our domain, particularly in the area of people analytics. We have developed a product, an augmented application, that can be deployed quickly, in a matter of weeks. This application, utilizing AI and ML, operates on top of the organization’s people data, highlighting trends within this data.”


For smaller companies contemplating the hiring of a data analyst, she suggests a different approach. “Instead of immediately hiring a specialist, we offer an alternative in the form of an application we refer to as ‘data analyst in a box’. This application, known as People Analytics, continuously analyzes their data and presents trends in an easily understandable format, combining graphical data representation with narratives in natural language.”

Furthermore, she frequently hears from customers, particularly CIOs, about their desire to consolidate their technology stack. “They often manage an overwhelming variety of technologies, sometimes up to 250 different systems, and are looking to streamline this. Many express a preference for using more of the Workday platform or consolidating their technologies in one primary area.”


“Customers often inquire about products that are already integrated, as maintaining integrations between different software technologies can be challenging. Keeping these integrations active and properly tested is a significant concern for them. Consequently, they are increasingly interested in a more unified platform approach. This is where Workday, as a comprehensive platform, becomes highly relevant, offering integrated solutions for HR, finance, recruiting, learning, analytics, and planning, all on a single platform.”

Another aspect frequently mentioned is the time-consuming nature of accessing data. “Many companies find that their current processes involve excessive manual effort and delays. Typically, data is confined to specific teams, and obtaining information such as employee turnover rates within a particular organization involves requesting data from external teams and waiting for their response. This delay in accessing data is a major hindrance for businesses.”


“The concept of data ownership is crucial; business managers, for instance, want immediate access to their data without having to rely on other teams. This need highlights the growing trend towards data democratization – making data available to end users exactly when they need it, rather than having a delay of days. This approach empowers users by providing them with direct access to data, enabling more efficient and informed decision-making.”

Another point of discussion is the amount of time and manual effort spent accessing data. “Many organizations want to reduce this, aiming to make data more readily available beyond just a specialized analytics team. They seek timely access to data without having to wait or rely on external teams. There’s a growing trend towards data democratization – enabling more people to access and use data when they need it, without delays.”


AI and ML are already being utilized in the People Analytics product to identify anomalies and observe trends over time. “On the analytics side, there’s a focus on storytelling around data. We currently have natural language narratives, but with the integration of generative AI, these narratives can be enriched. The idea is to create a personalized “people newspaper” for users, delivering insights about their people data directly to their inboxes, possibly on a monthly basis. This would help users focus on the most relevant aspects of their workforce data.”

“One of the advantages of using AI and ML in this context is the ability to uncover insights that might not be apparent through manual analysis. For instance, AI can identify specific areas of an organization experiencing higher turnover rates, which might not have been immediately obvious. This kind of insight is valuable and can lead to deeper analysis.”


“We’re also focusing on making our products more transparent in how they generate these insights. This transparency is key to building trust in the technology. Users need to see the reasoning or the “hints” behind the conclusions drawn by AI to fully trust and effectively use the technology.”

“As a technology provider, we recognize that generative AI and machine learning are transforming tasks within HR and other departments that use Workday. While it’s true that these technologies automate certain tasks, our perspective is that they primarily handle tasks that people may not want to spend much time on. For example, writing job descriptions can be time-consuming, often requiring hours of effort, especially when ensuring they are inclusive and appealing to a diverse audience. Generative AI can significantly streamline this process, freeing up HR professionals to focus on more strategic aspects of their role.”


“In essence, our approach as a technology provider is not about replacing jobs but about augmenting human capabilities. By automating routine and time-consuming tasks, we aim to enable employees to focus on more creative, strategic, and value-added activities. This shift can lead to more fulfilling work experiences and potentially higher productivity and innovation within organizations.”

“As for the human element, our core business revolves around HR, so we naturally focus on people. I believe that building great technology requires great relationships. That’s a fundamental principle for us. Even when integrating AI into our processes, we maintain a strong emphasis on the human element. While AI can provide insights and suggest directions, we believe that ultimately, a person should be in the loop, making the final decisions. This approach reflects our commitment to balancing technological advancement with human-centered values.”


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