IBM has survived for more than a century by evolving through major technological shifts, and in 2014, it found itself at the beginning of yet another one. Changes in cloud computing (where services are accessed remotely online rather than through internal hardware), artificial intelligence, and the digital-ledger system blockchain forced the tech giant to modify significant portions of its business.
Over the following five years, IBM weathered a decline in profits as it invested in new sectors, forcing it to let go of thousands of its 350,000 employees worldwide. But while CEO Ginni Rometty knew that overcoming those challenges would sometimes be painful, she and human-resources chief Diane Gherson developed a new approach to lessen the damage and increase long-term value.
IBM would become a “skills-based organization” — that is, employees would now be assessed primarily by their collection of skills, allowing them more flexibility in a rapidly changing environment. And AI, which was partially responsible for this sudden and drastic shift, was going to help the company adapt.
Over the past five years, IBM has developed a suite of AI-powered tools that help recruit, map career paths, and even determine salaries. IBM is not only selling some of these programs to other businesses, it’s also leading the way in discovering what’s possible. Because of its influence, the programs below could find their way to your office in one form or another.
IBM employees used to have to answer long surveys about their skill sets, then go over them with their boss. Now this data is collected by AI, giving teams more time to focus on the discussions rather than the paperwork. IBM estimates that the accuracy of its skills assessor is between 85% and 95%.
It analyzes the aforementioned skill sets for employees and weighs them against requirements for other roles within the company. Blue Matching then alerts the employee about those particular roles.
Watson Career Coach
IBM released in 2016 a consumer version of Watson, the question-answering AI that famously made its public debut as a “Jeopardy!” contestant. Besides answering trivia questions, this technology also assists IBMers. Employees can ask Career Coach questions about their role and skills, and the program can be used in tandem with Blue Matching to map out a career path.
Compensation Advisor with Watson
This tool sorts through historical data on thousands of IBM employees and those of competitors to present a salary range managers can work with, saving time and reducing the scope of judgment required. These are not mandates; rather, they are intended as data-based guidelines.
This personalized hub of online classes allows employees to acquire new skills, from project management to cybersecurity basics, and then prove their newfound expertise to their managers. All lessons are available outside working hours, but depending on training schedules, time can be allotted during the workday to complete them.
Cognitive Talent Insights
This tool keeps managers automatically updated with their employees’ progress and interprets this data to make suggestions, such as considering an employee for a promotion in the near future or stepping in to assist an employee in danger of missing a quota.
Watson helps job candidates by answering questions related to a role to ensure they’re a good fit, and it helps managers by filtering through the first batch of applicants to determine who has sufficient skills.
Engage at IBM
IBM has an internal social-media network that allows employees to publicly discuss a variety of topics, and Engage at IBM assesses it (and not external social-media sites like Facebook or Twitter) to determine top talking points for the day.
Finally, multiple chat bots are used for specialized needs, such as the job-application process or benefits enrollment.
IBM has determined through quarterly assessments of financial and performance impacts that each of these tools is worthy of being further developed, and told us there are new ones in development. They’re more than just a fad —the company found that the AI suite saved the HR department $107 million and “thousands of hours” in 2017.