How IBM uses AI across functions for better performance

IBM aims to process talent in an unbiased manner, so that decisions do not affect the business in any way


While the hybrid work culture has been throwing multiple challenges at HR across industries, IBM, “radically redefines” the role of the HR department to suit the demands of the times. In the words of Chaitanya N Sreenivas, vice president & HR head, IBM, India and South Asia, “If one really looks at HR holistically, one will realise that there have been shifts happening. Initially, it was about bringing in efficiency and skills, but now this is the third phase of disruption with increased application of technology in the field. The approach has become client-centric, with the clients becoming the managers and employees, and HR’s work revolving around them. However, building skills and efficiency will always remain one of the main areas of work for HR, but the implementation of AI has largely impacted the sphere.”

Sreenivas further adds that new technologies and skills have made their way into the HR domain, including use of data analytics, data management, statistical tools and a lot more. There are new roles and functions emerging around all these. In addition, with several transactions being automated, traditional roles and functions of the HR have been transformed and new functions and desired skills have evolved.

                    Chaitanya N Sreenivas

We thrive on meritocracy and performance-management teams, with leaders at the core. So, in our company, leaders have taken a very central and transparent position on this.

Eradicating bias

Further elaborating the adoption of AI in the HR functions, Sreenivas says, “We have looked at how to source a larger pool of candidates and also remove bias. We aim for more efficiency and better skills pertaining to use of the AI tools which can scan through the desired resumes. These tools help managers maintain dashboards and sift through huge volumes of data more efficiently. This, in turn, helps better talent management and career building.” Talking about ‘chatbots’, one of the greatest innovations of AI, he says that the world is probably using the third generation chatbot, which doesn’t ask what to do but asks whether it should help the user perform a certain task.

While human interference may lead to bias in talent selection, IBM believes that AI can eradicate this issue to a great extent even while managing talent within the Company. “There are different kinds of bias — conscious and unconscious — depending on the environment. Therefore, we look forward to using AI to manage talent internally also, to map talent and assign certain jobs. There is a platform called ‘Blue Matching’ wherein the employees can put up their attributes, likes and dislikes, so that the tool can suggest what roles match their profile. It also works the other way round where the managers can put up certain needs according to which the platform offers a list of candidates that match the desired skills. So, while it may take some time to eradicate bias completely, it definitely will do so,” claims Sreenivas. Talking further about the usage of AI in learning, Sreenivas maintains that the usage of new technology has lead to customised learning procedures. Based on the aspirations, tools suggest individuals the courses they can or should avail. This helps develop and shape the career paths for individuals in a way that they may desire.

Commenting on the role of AI in decision making, Sreenivas says that decision making is still a part of human intervention. However, it is to be clarified that AI may help managers take certain decisions based on data about both the talent and the statistics. This is because an AI tool provides real-time data, which is unbiased and driven by statistics.

Upskilling HR

A report published by IBM states, “Thirty-five per cent of Indian companies believe that leaders empower teams to innovate by creating a strong sense of purpose.” Commenting on this, Sreenivas shares, “We thrive on meritocracy and performance-management teams, with leaders at the core. So, in our company, leaders have taken a very central and transparent position on this.”

With the changing times the need for skills to perform a certain set of functions also changes. This demands a change in and upskilling of the HR department as well. Elaborating on the measures taken by IBM in order to upskill the HR, Sreenivas reveals, “Globally we have gone through various programmes initiating the learning process, which include topics, such as ‘how to use technology and the latest technical HR tools’. It also focuses on cognitive insights. Every practitioner is expected to upskill in accordance with time. All our practitioners are themselves getting upskilled through our learning programmes.”

Elaborating on HR transformation in accordance with time, especially during the crisis period, Sreenivas says, “We have several contracts on working from home, globally. When it comes to returning to office, we are not in the procedure yet. However, before bringing people back to office, we will process the data. To help the HR team access digital tools, we had an exclusive session dedicated to the same. We managed to get our folks comfortable first, making it easier to get others in the business comfortable on the digital front.”

Clearly, IBM has undergone global technological upksilling across all departments. The implementation of AI into all the functions, especially talent management and HR, has been promoted to a greater extent, with a view to upgrading skills and management. It is IBM’s aim to process the talents in an unbiased manner, in order to make sure that any decision made does not affect the business either in the short or the long run.

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