In 1999/2000, BP British Petroleum entered an outsourcing partnership with Exult (now Hewitt) to provide state-of-the-art HR delivery process. There were eye-catching claims about the money that was going to be saved, the improvement to the service provided, and how this was the way forward for HR in the future.
During the course of the transition a number of unforeseen problems arose, the service to employees suffered and much of the lustre disappeared from the project.
Since then, there have been similar cases large and small, culminating sometimes to the eventual re-insourcing of the service, or parts of it.
My own very personal view is that you should never outsource anything that is customer- or employee-facing. But then that’s another story.
Accountants and some board-level strategists maintain that outsourcing HR leaves a business to focus on what it does best, which, in reality is shorthand for making the problem of managing people to go away.
I now see the very same thought processes forming as we approach the era of wholesale application of chatbots and artificial intelligence.
The other day, I encountered two problems with chatbots: one with a bank where the device didn’t recognise my card number, and the other where a payment I had made to a VoIP provider had gone astray. I also have an ongoing problem with a social media provider whose algorithm for some reason stops me posting about a company where I am the sole shareholder..
In all three cases, the companies concerned seemed to think that FAQs represented the best way to handle customer queries, and designed things in a way intended to make actual human contact virtually impossible
The current thinking seems to be that chatbots will replace humans as they can run 24/7 and cost relatively little, and that artificial intelligence will help us arrive at better decisions. If you make customer feedback virtually impossible, then obviously you are going to think everything is running peachy. Heads in the sand, everyone.
My concern is that larger organisations will succumb to the temptation of going the automated route on cost-cutting and “efficiency” grounds, reflecting this in the configuration of the HRIS technology that they deploy. If you are to go down this route, be sure that there is a way to bypass the machinery and call upon human intervention, especially when dealing with remote locations; without the ability to spot ongoing errors and correct them the resulting effect on employee relations could be devastating.