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Workday's Investment Fund Shows the Future of HR Tech is in Cognitive Computing

Workday recently created a bunch of industry buzz when they announced that they have started an investment fund to invest in machine learning start-ups, and in fact, have already made some key investments in the area.

It is a smart thing for them to do because cognitive computing, of which machine learning is a component, is the future of tech in general, and when applied to HR broadly will upend the way that companies manage, and engage with, their employee’s. Companies who gain traction in this space early stand to win big.

Cognitive computer systems are self learning systems that use machine learning, data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the way the human brain works. A cognitive system is also able to take the “knowledge” it has learned and solve problems as well as create new things. . For instance, IBM’s Watson, a cognitive system, taught itself how to cook by reading cookbooks and cooking blogs and then it created a cookbooks worth of “new” recipes all by itself.

While on their own cognitive computing systems themselves are a technological leap forward they are made even more powerful because of their ability to connect to big data, as evidenced by Watson’s cooking adventure. And since they are not limited to fixed data sets, or internal knowledge bases, but instead have access to terabytes of “big” data (web wide and unstructured), and the ability to “understand” it in almost real time, cognitive computing HR systems will run continuously in the background and will provide managers greater insights into their individual employee’s, the organization, predictive trends analysis and problem solving.

The use cases for cognitive computing systems within a corporate setting are tremendously exciting. These systems will enhance every aspect of the employee’s engagement with the organization and will increase their productivity and performance. And most importantly for HR professionals, and for managers across the organization, is that cognitive HR systems will be proactive. In other words, you will not have to query them. They will understand the needs of the organization, the needs of the individuals within the organization, will have deep insights gleaned from big data and applied machine learning, and will anticipate and predict trends and will deliver, proactively, solutions. Or as we said a decade ago when talking about knowledge management – “deliver the right knowledge, to the right person, at the right time”.

Cognitive systems will be deeply embedded and will contribute to decisions around who should be hired, where within the organization they will have the most impact, which management techniques should be employed to keep them motivated, engaged, committed and highly productive and much more.

For example, a cognitive system could monitor your calendar and proactively deliver what you need prior to each meeting and/or phone call. As a manager the system might put together a complete snapshot of your employee’s activity for the week and deliver it to you prior to your weekly one on one with your team and will include their productivity trends, things that are impacting their productivity gleaned from their social media (i.e. death in the family, problem with a co-worker, etc.) and will include management tips based on the employee’s behavioral DNA. It would also alert you to gaps it has found in the employee’s skill set based on their weeks activity and will provide links to relevant training exercises. And the possibilities go on and on.

The cognitive system would also provide greater insights into the employee, and related management tips, based on might also include insights into the employee, and related management tips, based on the employees background, behavioral DNA, big data noise (i.e. their blogs, social media, etc.), the latest research on the subject, and predictive trends.

The possibilities are limitless. And with Workday’s announcement the race is on. Let the games begin!

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