What Did We Learn In 2016?



Last year turned out to be an enjoyable year for Icebreaker. On the technology side of our business, every new software client brings with it the chance for us to learn about another new field. 2016 saw us win clients in eLearning, people analytics, performance management, supply chain analysis & recruitment tech. The best thing about working with software companies is the exposure we get to truly amazing technology.

Predictive Modelling in People Analytics is Going to be Big

Prediction and optimisation algorithms have been around for years and some fields, such as insurance claims, ecommerce, CRM, and so on are sophisticated in using big data to make predictions and optimise today’s business decisions. In people analytics, most companies are well behind the curve. Did you know that it’s possible to use all a company’s people data – including text like CVs & development meetings – and build hundreds of predictive models using many different prediction algorithms.

A company of 50,000 people has vast amounts of people data. Intelligent software can spot the patterns of cause and effect & if that software can learn from whether its past predictions come true and get better at it then that’s a useful tool for People Directors.

Just think about any human capital issue. For example, if you’re a fast food chain of 20,000 people with 25% staff turnover? That’s a lot of recruitment advertising but predictive modelling can show you what changes lead to the lowest future attrition rates. What about diversity? Financial services companies need to get more women into senior roles – but how long does it take any junior staff member to get to a senior level. The value of predictive modelling is that you can test your diversity policies without having to wait 5 years to see if they worked.

Most HR teams are not taking a data science approach to their data, although many are waking up to it. Certainly, last year, to most HR people, “people analytics & business intelligence” meant ‘Reporting’. We know this first hand from hundreds of conversations with HR people. When asked, most talk about the reporting capabilities of their HR system. Those who are advanced talk about data visualisation. The majority, in our opinion, are stuck in the recent past. We reckon only 10 – 20% are using their data to learn and make predictions.

This year, we expect to see increasingly widespread adoption of big data science & machine learning tools by new departments in the next two to three years.

AI Will Assess Job Applicants

A recent Forbes article stated that video will take off this year. It surprised me that it stated that for businesses, video calls will become the norm, because video comms has been here for anybody who wants to use them for 3 or 4 years. Google hangouts and Skype saw to that. The quality and functionality of both did suffer at times in the early days, but small businesses have been using this tech for years and nowadays there are loads of easily accessible & cheap video conferencing tools out there.

Last year we worked with a video conferencing provider and it’s already about more than just the video conferencing capability. Recruitment agencies were very keen on their call recording capability. Video interviewing not only speeds up the hiring process, but it allows them to send recordings of candidates to clients.

However, even that functionality is setting the bar to low. I found out recently that it’s possible to combine facial recognition technology & language processing to profile personality and skills. Traditionally, you use CVs and application forms to assess a candidate’s skills, experience and qualifications for the role. You would also rely on a human interviewer to gauge whether the personality will fit. However, a client we started working with only recently has developed an AI Tool that can assess personality traits like capacity for empathy, or pessimism v optimism. The tool also assesses skills too, such as reading age and language capability.

This brings several benefits. You get a much more consistent comparison of candidates than from a team of recruiters. They can also be influenced by unconscious bias and even mood. Furthermore, if a computer does assessment, results can be submitted to a database and filtered automatically, in real time. This gives you industrial scale efficiency in processing and instant management information. It’s a game changer for direct recruiters.

There’s Big Potential to Improve Digital eLearning UX

I spent a lot of time last year meeting L&D people in large organisations. Lack of engagement with eLearning content, especially compulsory learning, is a common theme. You can see why – knowing you’re coming into work today for Health & Safety or Compliance & Regulatory training is not going to fill you with enthusiasm. Those subjects need a creative and imaginative approach to be engaging.  Outdated talking head videos, PowerPoint presentations and 60 minute courses need not apply.

Again though, some great work is going on in this field. Our client uses an innovative approach to get learners engaged and their results bear out its effectiveness. By turning boring content into stories, told using animated video with a soundtrack, learning becomes fun. Stories that are funny, sad, scary, annoying interest human beings. Microlearning – i.e. breaking those stories up into chunks – is another innovation.  This allows the use of pre-assessment quizzes to dynamically cut out unnecessary learning. The numbers stack up too.  If you can cut 10 minutes out of an average 30-minute course, you save a fortune (think of thousands of employees, with them all saving 10 minutes).

Our background is 20 years in digital, ecommerce & mobile. We’ve really enjoyed speaking to HR, internal comms and Learning people because we’re so used to customer-facing digital. For any digital agency worth their salt, a user-centred design approach has been standard policy for years. For internal business functions, we see many organisations that are further down the learning curve, which is an opportunity for many of our clients. Many, many organisations have not invested enough and the UX for internal digital tools is poor. Mobile optimisation is another common absence despite the volume of non-PC traffic. Despite the value, many companies remain behind the times.

So, 2017 is going to be an interesting year.

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