Interview with Microsoft Hong Kong
“Artificial Intelligence (AI) has reached an important inflection point; while AI won’t replace humans in the workplace, HR practitioners should understand how these emerging technologies will fundamentally change the nature of work.”
- Maria Hui, Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft Hong Kong
In addition to automating repetitive tasks, the latest AI tools offer a world of possibilities to help the HR function to become more efficient and responsive to organisational and employee needs.
While the debut of Microsoft-backed OpenAI ChatGPT towards the end of 2022 has generated widespread interest, there are other Microsoft AI tools that can help HR practitioners to work more efficiently and become more effective, according to Maria Hui, Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft Hong Kong. Far from AI being a new concept, Hui pointed out that, across multiple industry sectors human-AI collaboration is fast becoming a workplace norm. “The goal is to use AI tools to achieve ‘more with less’,” said Hui who began her career with Microsoft Hong Kong as Director of HR.
Typical use of AI tools includes correcting grammar, information accessibility, translating documents and managing job candidate applications. “By leveraging AI tools, HR practitioners are able to improve efficiency to drive productivity as well as enhancing the employee experience,” Hui noted. The recent launch of Microsoft 365 Copilot – your copilot for work, which utilises generative artificial intelligence — the large language models (LLMs) that underly AI models including GPT-4 (Generative Pre-trained Trasnformer) — lifts the concept of “doing more with less” to the next level. For instance, by employing Microsoft 365 Copilot combines the power of LLMs with your data in the Microsoft Graph – your calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings and more – tools that HR practitioners already frequently use.
Hui explained how, in a matter of seconds, Microsoft 365 Copilot has the capacity to leverage text and graphics already available in an organisation's Word and Excel tools to create a new PowerPoint presentation or a tailor-made sales document. “Users can be creative by adding slides and graphics to their presentations simply by providing an instruction to Copilot,” Hui said. With the ability to understand natural language and context, when integrated with Microsoft Teams, Copilot is able to present meeting notes, organise discussion points and summarise key areas for follow up action.
Furthermore, because Azure OpenAI can be trained, organisations and business units within organisations such as the HR function able to create chatbot that focus on the areas that are relevant to them. For instance, using natural language and data from within an organisation, it is possible to set up a chatbot to answer questions about benefits, company policies and even salary. “Twenty-four-hour accessibility means that employees are no longer confined to asking questions during office hours, they are able to receive answers to their questions at any time,” said Hui.
In the talent acquisition and recruitment space, GPT can simplify and improve processes in several ways. As well as screening applicants, the AI technology can identify potential candidates based on how their previous experience aligns with the selection criteria for a given position. For instance, an applicant that has worked for a company that underwent rapid growth in the past could mean the candidate would be comfortable and flexible enough to grow with an organisation undergoing rapid digital transformation. While the technology is not intended to replace the judgment and experience of HR practitioners, GPT provide opportunities for pinpointing employees who are at risk of resigning or for improving workforce collaboration between functions within an organisation.
As with any type of technology, cybersecurity is always of utmost importance. Hui said because Microsoft 365 Copilot benefits from Microsoft’s comprehensive approach to security, compliance and privacy. For example, embedded cybersecurity measures include the requirement for multi-factor authentication passwords, system upgrades and reminders if a user is working with potentially sensitive data.
Adapting to the potential of AI
As the name suggests, Hui believes it is important to note that instead of replacing humans, Copilot is designed to complement staff in their roles and help them to become more efficient. As a former Microsoft Hong Kong Director of HR, Hui said it is important to visualise the possibilities of AI through a people-lens. Afterall, Hui said, technology is for people to leverage. As in most successful partnerships or collaborations, Hui said each side brings to the table abilities the other lacks. For example, a combination of AI-driven speed, scalability and analysis coupled with intrinsically human characteristics such as cognitive skills, strategic decision-making skills, communication, creativity and teamwork. The result, Hui noted, is a complementary blend of both types of strengths and intelligence.
As with the introduction of any new work tools, there is a learning curve that needs to be navigated, noted Hui, who likens the latest generation of AI tools to the early days of searching for information using the internet. “When the internet first emerged, it was necessary to key in the entre website address to execute a search,” Hui said. This changed with the arrival of search engines which simplified the search process by only requiring the use of key words. “The latest iteration of AI means that the focus has shifted from keying in the “right” words to asking the “right” questions,” Hui added. By harnessing the organisation's unique reservoir of data and insights, AI tools create a new knowledge model for every organisation. However, this advancement requires HR practitioners to do more than just embrace the technology to unlock automation-powered efficiencies and data-driven decisions. It requires them to identify novel applications of AI.
With the use case potential for AI virtually limitlessness, Hui recommends that HR practitioners adopt an open mind-set coupled with a sense of curiosity. HR practitioners could begin by identifying where AI tools can be applied to scenarios relevant to their own organisation or specific areas where they are seeking solutions. To broaden the scope of using AI, in addition to the HR function pioneering projects and applications, Hui suggests organising a company-wide hackathon. This would allow members of the workforce to highlight opportunities AI could improve a process or boost productivity.
The importance of data-centric AI
To reap the benefits of human and AI collaboration, Hui emphasises it is necessary to leverage the power of data, which often depends on accelerating digital transformation—the process of integrating technology into the organsation's business and mission. A key part of navigating digital transformation also includes improving data management practices. It is how the data is capitalised on that powers the success of digital transformation, Hui explained. The key is creating and integrating a common data interface. However, integrating data doesn't come without its challenges. For example, employment contracts are generally paper-based and even if they are scanned in a static format, the data is of limited use. To enable AI tools to extract and make full use of paper-based data, optical character recognition (OCR) technology needs to be used.
Conversely, AI is also integral to the digital transformation strategy. Through encompassing predictive analytics AI tools are able to suggest the most effective strategies to innovate, improve and scale up. Besides enhancing the HR function's ability to make informed decisions about hiring, internal mobility, performance management and the overall employee experience, the integration of quality data can be used to communicate environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements across the organisation and bring all employees on board. “Everyone has responsibility for ESG in an organisation, but to achieve this requires cultivating a culture in the organisation that places a high priority on ESG,” Hui said. Connecting the organisation's purpose to ESG corporate goals and making these goals a clear part of the employer brand, can result in more productive workforces, leading to better business outcomes. “It can also help employers retain and develop top talent,” Hui added.