Tech Insights: The Push to Embed Expertise Into Software

May 20, 2014

In the 1970s and 80s there was a lot of interest in “expert systems,” and maybe it is my residual focus on those systems that tweaked my interest when Vestrics talked about embedding their expertise in software.

Back in the day, expert systems aimed to figure out how an expert like a doctor or engineer reasoned their way through a problem and then capture that process in software.

Expert systems never went away but never really caught on either. We are seeing a resurgence with Watson, IBMs new approach to reproducing expert thinking, but your average HR manager is not ready to get involved with that kind of cognitive computing.

Software taking the place of a consultant

What makes Vestrics interesting is that it does not strive to be a full-fledged expert system but it does provide managers a lot of guidance in doing analytics.

The Vestrics story in a nutshell is that they saw the potential of HR analytics early on. It wasn’t quite as easy as the expected, however eventually they developed and nailed down a methodology. The method comes down to creating a model that shows how an investment (e.g. an HR intervention) impacts leading indicators (e.g. engagement) that affect a business outcome (e.g. improved customer service) which ultimately should link up with business strategy.

I can write their method in one sentence but doing it is harder; normally it’s the sort of thing you use a consultant for.

What Vestrics did is codify the process in software which helps walk clients through it in a consistent way. They are replacing some consulting with software.

What is interesting?

  • There are a lot of good reporting and analysis tools, however maybe the bigger need is for tools that help you think through an effective analysis.
  • If analytics is an art for experts then it is hard to scale. As we create more standard processes we have a scaffolding for beginners to get started. Experts are often dismissive of frameworks but beginners are desperate for them.

 What is really important?

  • We can accomplish a lot with systems that provide more help and structure than a spreadsheet but do not attempt to be full-fledged expert systems. This place where smart humans ‘collaborate’ with smart software is where a lot of really useful things will happen.

Gene Pease, CEO of Vestrics, says this:

I think analytics is where HR is going and it’s going at a pretty quick pace. Now HR is more art than science, soon it will more science than art. That’s what happened to marketing and HR needs to be ready for the transition.”

Let’s hope that vendors create the tools to make that transition easier.

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