IBM Connect 2013 First Take: Will Watson be the future of HCM?

The messages at this morning’s IBM Connect keynote event were clear: The future is “Social” and the new language of business is “Analytics”. Welcome to the future.

All morning these messages were evangelized and demonstrated, from IBM executives and their demo teams, to clients like Bosch, Caterpillar and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and even from a Hollywood star-slash-collaborative film development entrepreneur.  Each spoke on the transformational role that collaborative, social engagement is having in our business and personal lives, changing how we work, play, create, engage and in some cases even how we’re paid or rewarded for our efforts.

For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the keynote came at the end, when Mike Rhodin, SVP IBM Software Solutions Group, spoke to the future and the intersection of social, analytics and people processes.  He spoke of cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson and its ability to filter through the terabytes of data created every day to see patterns, unlock the real truth about business, employees and customers, and to weave intelligence into every aspect of the fabric of a business.

Watson meets HCMFor example, Rhodin asked that we imagine a central “employee center” for global organizations – one which becomes a trusted career advisor from pre-hire through advanced roles in the organization through the continuous analysis of formal, informal, social and other inputs (structured and unstructured) to present a highly personalized, dynamic and guided  path for each individual. Not the static, pre-defined career paths of the past, but truly intelligent, contextual and adaptive guidance to the individual all throughout their career with a company.

Long term future vision?  Not as far off as might be imagined.  Today, Watson is being used in select healthcare use cases such as analyzing patient records and myriad information sources to surface recommended treatment protocols.  Applying similarly deep and broad analysis across the ‘big data’ of the enterprise, with a lens on employee success and value creation for the organization, makes complete sense.  Only big data analytics will be able to effectively interpret all the signals an enterprise may receive around its employees and drive meaningful insights and decision support – for managers and the employees alike.  Embedded cognitive systems are the necessary next step as we evolve our talent technologies and processes from transactional systems to systems of engagement and, ultimately, transform them to the experiential systems necessary to thrive in the future of work.

Of course – the answer isn’t just pure analytical power.  Human engagement and analysis will still be needed.  Even in the Watson-recommended healthcare protocols referenced above, the physician and other caregivers use the results to inform and guide their actions; ultimately the healthcare provider makes the final decision.  Likewise, in the career management and other employeee-oriented engagement scenarios, the cognitive system-delivered paths will serve as guides to inform individuals; Watson won’t replace the person-to-person conversations and analysis that will ultimately drive the employee’s action.  What’s transformational, however, is the richness of information that will inform those individual actions, that can make recommendations based on previously hidden patterns and connections, all because of the capabilities of real-time analysis of vast quantities of seemingly disparate information.

Many announcements are underway here at IBM Connect and the opportunities for the  HCM market are numerous; more to follow in upcoming days.  Meanwhile, let me know what you think about the idea of Watson and related systems and the opportunities for HCM.

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