Back in the stone age of AI (2017) I wrote a document called “Maverick Research: To Avoid Working for Robots, Make Robots Work for Your Organization”. I suggested a “robot resources” department as a parallel to the traditional “human resources” department. With the increasing use of AI as on-the-glass workers rather than just backend APIs, maybe an HR influenced approach to their management can prove more useful than an IT approach.
This idea came to mind recently when I read my first article about a robot being “fired”. It was in a WSJ article How Chili’s Is Prepping for Tough Times, Starting With the Fries. Kevin Hochman, CEO of Chili’s parent company, Brinker International Inc, said he had fired a team of robotic servers named “Rita the Robot.” Apparently they were too slow compared to the other workers. Now there are 61 of them in some digital unemployment line somewhere.
One can easily go too far anthropomorphizing these situations. Rather, my intent is to use an HR analogy as an intuition pump to generate ideas about additional functions needed to manage AI and the value of centralizing their application.
Consider how the HR department has evolved to track business needs, match those needs to clever resources and bring them on board. The manager with an open position does the interviewing and has the final say in who to hire, but a more centralized HR group is there to assist. Don’t we need the same for AI, chatbots, and robots (both physical and virtual)? Especially with ChatGPT increasing interest in generative AI that may act like a human worker at times?
Think of the “robot resources” department as an AI Center of Excellence (COE). Like HR, its job is to deploy clever resources that work alongside existing employees, adapt as business needs change and help them to continually evolve over time. It could exist within IT. And yes, it’s run by humans!
What would a “robot resources” department do? My 2017 report listed several functions:
- Recruiting: to explore options not yet in use to see if they should be brought on board
- Needs survey: to learn how to best match the needs of business units to robot resources
- Onboarding: to teach the new robot workers about their environment and introducing the human teams they will work with to them
- Robot directory: to meet the need for a consolidated listing of all robots in use
- Training and career development: to help these virtual workers learn new skills and get ready to take on tasks of increasing importance to the business
- Performance analytics: to understand which robots are doing well and poorly
- Annual reviews: to spur regular reviews and decisions about whether to increase or eliminate usage of a robot
- Grievance tracking: to gain a complete picture of issues with certain kinds of technologies that may take longer to become apparent in each use case
- Policies and procedures compliance: to generate accepted work policies and procedures that the robots can be trained on
- Compensation planning: to financially review what a robot is costing and whether those costs can be reduced
- Time and attendance: to analyze downtime or slowdowns
- Departures: to let groups using a particular type of robot that its usage should be wound down and, if needed, taken over by other technologies or human workers
A “robot resources” department or AI COE can provide a useful framework for managing AI, chatbots, and robots in the workplace. The COE can make sure good resource management practices are being used consistently instead of each organizational unit being left to its own devices. By taking an HR approach, organizations can ensure that these intelligent systems are integrated effectively into their business processes and work alongside their new human teammates.
As for Rita the Robot and her team, let’s hope they are better at writing resumes than serving burgers and margaritas.
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Well said Craig, really enjoyed the read!