How Cognitive Computing Will Power the Transformation of HR

Rapid technological advancements are driving big changes in how people work within enterprises of all sizes, across every industry, all around the world. The human resource function isn’t exempt from this change and, in fact, must lead in addressing the impact of workforce challenges and shaping employee experience. To keep pace, HR is being revolutionized by an onslaught of evolving technologies, including cloud, mobile and the Internet of Things – all transforming how HR services are delivered and experienced. While these technologies have been integrated over the last few years, a groundbreaking capability, cognitive computing, is gaining rapid adoption to improve HR decision-making, augment expertise and shape the organization’s culture.

The most advanced HR and business leaders are already reimagining their employee experience and shaping how this experience can be transformed with cognitive technology. Cognitive has the capability to approach and resolve questions the same way humans do: by understanding, reasoning and learning to build a deep and broad knowledge base that is always up to date. 

To better understand the impact of cognitive solutions on the HR function, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) recently released a study, “Extending Expertise: How Cognitive Computing is Transforming HR and the Employee Experience.” Among the range of compelling findings, the IBV’s Cognitive HR report found that executives recognize the potential for value and expect their CHROs to deliver compelling employee experiences whilst transforming the HR function.

  • 66 percent of CEOs believe cognitive computing can drive significant value in HR.
  • 50 percent of HR executives recognize that cognitive computing has the power to transform key dimensions of HR.
  • 54 percent of HR executives believe that cognitive computing will affect key roles in the HR organization. 

The study also found three core talent processes that are poised to take full advantage of cognitive computing’s unique capabilities, including:

  • Talent acquisition and onboarding: 46 percent of senior HR executives believe cognitive technology can transform their talent acquisition capabilities. Since cognitive can tap into multiple data sources and comprehend unstructured data like images and video, the solutions can reveal new insights to help companies develop richer candidate profiles, position themselves more effectively in the external labor market, and make better decisions about prospective employees. For example, prospect employees can be assessed for fit and skills much faster with cognitive solutions, allowing recruiters to rapidly sort through the talent and identify the most qualified candidates.
  • Talent development: Cognitive insights can be used to develop personalized recommendations in areas such as learning and career management. It can also help HR professionals better understand employee sentiment and identify potential issues impacting engagement. For example, cognitive enabled systems can be used to monitor data from internal and external sources, ranging from internal programs to public social platforms, to spot employee concerns before they become real issues.
  • HR operations: Cognitive computing can empower HR advisors with more streamlined and accurate information to improve overall decision-making and reinventing core processes. Using natural language processing capabilities, a cognitive-fueled virtual agent can help address routine employee requests, freeing HR advisors to address more time consuming or difficult problems. By tapping data from employee manuals, for example, a virtual agent can provide answers to simple questions.


With cognitive computing is changing human capital strategy forever, businesses will need to learn to seamlessly assemble a human and “virtual” workforce. Beginning the cognitive HR journey need not be a daunting task. Here are a few ideas to frame your thinking: 

  • Consider how cognitive will strengthen your HR function: Cognitive capabilities amplify existing investments across HR, including learning. It can leverage existing materials to help individuals make the best decisions about their future learning plans.
  • Start simple, but smart: Consider which cognitive solutions are best suited for the problems you want to solve. As mentioned above, natural language processing can add value in situations where repetitive interactions occur, such as answering benefits-related questions.
  • Understand the possibilities of your data: Cognitive systems have the potential to uncover insights from sources that were once unsearchable. When asked which data sources would be most important for use in cognitive solutions, 48 percent of HR executives from our survey identified external labor market sources, 46 percent cited internal HR data and 45 percent called out employee competency models.
  • Build trust and engage people: Understand the implications of integrating people and machines in the workplace, including the anticipated need to learn new skills and potential job redesign. Preparing current employees for new ways of working with technology is a key foundational step in the cognitive journey.  
  • Enhance and expand strategically across HR: Cognitive systems are designed to learn and improve over time and use. Plan to assess the system’s progress and continuously apply feedback to enhance the cognitive functionality and further understand the value of each solution. 

We’ve seen cognitive computing move quickly from a grand vision to a reality for a number of our clients who are reinventing their workforces and the employee experience with new examples evolving every day. Wherever you decide to start, you can derive significant value for your business and employees.

To download the full IBV report, visit  “Extending Expertise: How Cognitive Computing is Transforming HR and the Employee Experience.” 

is Talent and Engagement Global Leader, IBM Global Business Services.