In this second part of a two-part series, tech visionary Dragana Beara shares what HR leaders should know about emerging technologies, especially AI and VR/AR. Dragana is the Global Messaging Director for Augmentation & Immersive Technologies at Dell.
Take a deep dive into digital transformation as Dragana shares some fascinating use cases:
- How we may be able to use immersive gaming experiences for talent acquisition and assessment
- How AR applications can help people learn in real time
- How to discover AI that may be hidden in plain sight.
How will the current transition to more digital organisations create new processes and ways of working? How can companies leverage this as an opportunity to innovate?
It is hard to imagine a “fully-virtual” organisation as long as humans are its core element. We are social beings and I don’t believe we will see permanent work from home arrangements after the pandemic, except in some specific circumstances where there are no other options, or if individuals request and prefer it.
I think people and organisations will realise the benefit of being flexible and will move corporate operations in that direction. Office employees will be able to choose the location of their work that boosts their productivity at that point in time, while organisations will be able to rethink their real estate investments and optimise them for collaboration, teamwork, and customer experiences. People who must be at a specific location to perform their function may see new technologies deployed to enable some of their workflows to be performed remotely.
So, yes, there will definitely be a lot of opportunity for innovation. Of course, it will all depend on the industry, organisational culture, appetite for risk and innovation, and even the experience the organisation had during the mandated lockdowns. I think that we will see many organisations reinventing or reimagining how they work, as their very survival will depend on it.
After this, is there any prospect of returning to non-virtual teams and organisations? How will that affect corporate learning?
In many organisations, work will become decoupled from location and the time when it is performed. Work will be measured through KPIs and deliverables that were defined for this purpose, while individuals will be provided with an option to work at locations, and sometimes time of their choosing.
Corporate learning strategies will evolve though this mindset, as well as the technology that is available. We will all have to embrace continual learning on the job through AI-enabled “walk me” technologies, AR/VR aids and simulations, as well as other tools.
What are some opportunities that new technologies like AI and VR create for HR?
In Dell Technologies’ Future of Work report, we focused on HR and technology. Some of the conclusions were that: AI will be collaborative as opposed to competitive with respect to the workforce. Right now, AI is being designed to help us, not to compete with us. At this point, it is still very difficult to train AI to accomplish certain things to the level that a person can. We’ll see what it is going to look like in 5-10-20 years, but right now – AI is still fairly limited. It’s also very expensive to develop, and you need large datasets to train it. For these reasons, AI is more of an augmentor of human capability, rather than competitor.
At this point, it is still very difficult to train AI to accomplish certain things to the level that a person can.
Another example: HR will have gaming platforms that will form part of a candidate’s job interview. The interview process will not just be about looking at one’s experience, or how well they perform at that specific moment in the interview, or how articulate they are. Instead, the candidate will likely be immersed into a game that will help hiring managers asses who they are and how they respond to specific situations and challenges. This will not just test their knowledge, but also their instincts, logic, and common sense.
How do you conceive the format of this kind of game?
It could be anything, depending on what needs to be measured and what is important for the role. You may have different games for different roles or qualities you’re trying to assess. It may have little to do with the actual role, but it may test, in a roundabout way, specific qualities that the candidate possesses – how quickly they react to certain things, what choices they are making. It could be a problem-solving game; it could be a situational game… You could even have a war strategy game in which you’re anticipating the others’ moves. It really depends.
Tell me a bit more about AI’s relationship with HR decision-makers.
It’s important for HR to have a basic understanding of how AI works. What are the different types of AI? What kind of data is being used to train the algorithm? What is algorithmic bias? Where is it going to get applied, and does that make sense? All of that is hugely relevant.
If you’re asking a programmer or another technology person to run an AI project, they will focus on having a technically sound solution and execution of the project. So, when it comes to ensuring the AI is unbiased, ethical, functionally people friendly, and, most of all, needed for the specific purpose it is being built for, there is an opportunity for HR to step in.
Most HR professionals are aware of HR tech, but less so of the tech the company uses for its operations, customer experiences, etc. So, how can HR make a difference with the digitisation of an enterprise? That’s the topic that I think a lot of people are struggling with. At this point in time, if someone is a visionary in HR, they’re taking it upon themselves to go and learn about tech and emerging technologies.
A lot of AI is just going to be embedded and people won’t even know it’s there. Тhere’s a ton of artificial intelligence already in play, and it’s just not so visible. The majority of AI will be invisible. But it’s important for HR to know it’s there. It’s important to understand how it works and what kind of impact it’s having on people.
Actually, a lot of AI is just going to be embedded and people won’t even know it’s there. At Dell, we’re putting AI into our hardware so that AI can optimise software even without IT knowing that their software is being optimised. Auto-correct, chat bots, adverts we see online, and “suggested for you” features in various shopping sites are all being powered by AI algorithms. So, there’s a lot of artificial intelligence already in play, but to people unfamiliar with tech it is not as visible. The majority of AI will be invisible. But it’s important for HR to know it’s there. It’s important to understand how it works and what kind of impact it’s having on the people in their organization.
HR business partners would benefit from understanding digitisation trends in their company’s industry and what others are doing with emerging technologies. HR should understand specific use cases in their industry, as well as which divisions are embracing technology more than others within their company. Once they have that understanding they can get involved in a much more strategic and meaningful way.
What are some positive examples of HR using emerging tech?
At Dell Technologies, our HR recently sent out a note inviting employees to participate in a virtual AR dance challenge. I’m currently focused on augmented reality and virtual reality, and I was pleasantly surprised to see HR send something like this out. Obviously, they used a third-party software – they didn’t develop it themselves. But they deployed it to increase the employee morale and connectedness during these challenging times.
Another way to learn is through peer sharing. Interested HR professionals could reach out to tech companies, or even tech companies’ HR departments and ask, what are you doing? You’re a leader in certain technologies – tell me how HR can leverage them.
What personally excites you about the possibilities AR/VR creates?
Many people consider AR/VR to be the topic of sci-fi movies, or at best a gaming technology. However, that’s far from the truth. Yes, these technologies are still not mainstream in most organisations, but the recent pandemic has created a climate where contactless experiences are required and mandated, and that alone will require much faster and wider adoption of AR/VR in the business context.
We expect that, in commercial environments, there’ll be more augmented reality than virtual reality for business applications, business workflows, and engagement. Why is virtual reality not taking off as much in the enterprise space right now? VR has emerged in the gaming industry, but its commercial adoption has been slow. There are a number of factors such as price, ease of manageability, security, scalability, standardisation, and integration complexities, as well as motion sickness some people experience when using VR.
AR holds a bigger promise, as it overlays digital elements over reality in order to support workflow activities by providing additional information, insights, and visualisation of digital elements.
There will be more augmented reality (AR) than virtual reality (VR) for business applications and business workflows and engagement in the near term.
I’ll give you an example of where we’re using AR right now. We’re using it to enable our service people to work more effectively. We are hoping that, with this technology, we will eliminate the need for technology manuals. As you know, when you get a new device, you get a manual – very few people find manuals engaging enough to read them for fun. Even if something breaks down, most people turn to YouTube and get step-by-step instruction on what to do.
With AR, a user can look at the physical object or environment through their device (like a phone or a tablet) and see augmented digital elements guiding them to perform a specific action. While that’s not very sophisticated augmented reality, it does the job, and most of the pioneering business AR applications will be “good enough” AR.
With many mainstream players such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and several others making bold investments in AR/VR startups, we are bound to see immersive technologies in our workplace sooner rather than later.
Sounds like a fantastic functionality for corporate learning. People are talking about learning in the flow of work, and what you are describing is exactly that.
Yes, absolutely. Learning in real time, when you need it, is the best learning. AR and VR are great platforms for learning. Virtual reality, if it’s well-programmed and well-done, offers an exceptional training tool, as the learner can be fully immersed in the learning scenario.
Right now, virtual reality uses HMDs (head mounted displays) and controllers, so the user interfaces aren’t very natural. Eventually, as these technologies evolve, we will end up with something like Star Trek’s Holodeck. It’s a space that can be programed to simulate any environment. I could walk into it and think I’m on a beach, and interact with that virtual world in the same way as if I was on a real beach.
Аs these technologies evolve, we will end up with something like Star Trek’s Holodeck. It’s a space that can be programed to simulate any environment.
That’s the ultimate goal of this technology – to help us have a sensory experience, as if we are in an alternate reality. That’s something that’s in science fiction still, but that’s basically the direction VR is moving in.
What are your final words of wisdom for HR leaders ready to embrace transformation?
Tech doesn’t have to be boring. I think HR leaders should approach it from the use case point of view and the functionality point of view – not go from the bits and bytes up, but from the functionality down to as far as they need to go. That may just come down to “is there a bias in the data that is used to train our AI”. Or, are people going to get motion sickness if this VR solution gets deployed.
The important thing is that there must be a human advocate in these projects, and HR is well positioned to play this role. But to be an advocate, you need to have the knowledge and perspective. That’s where the opportunity lies.
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Interview by Ani Kodjabasheva