When Amazon rolled out the business version of its home appliance voice-interaction system last month, the potential advantages for corporate operations were immediately evident: voice control of lights, heat, window shades, projection systems and other facilities.

And it's easy to see how artificial voice devices can support benefit and hiring managers.

Alexa for Business arrived accompanied by an impressive list of technology partners that are participating in the business version of Amazon’s “Alexa Skills” program, already well established on the consumer side. They include such widely used customer-interaction systems as Ring Central, Salesforce.com and SAP’s travel and expense system Concur, which promises that participants in its beta program can “simply link Concur and your Alexa for Business accounts to access the details you need to prep for your next trip.”

Such voice interaction is a natural fit for HR, especially when it comes to hiring, notes Jonathan Kestenbaum, managing director of the research and consulting firm Talent Tech Labs. He points to JabaTalks, a startup nurtured by Talent Tech in its technology incubator program that offers a voice-interaction system that hiring managers can use to field introductory phone calls from job candidates. Such a familiar and easy-to-use screening system provides hiring managers “with insight into a candidate’s soft skills and experiences at the earliest stage of the hiring process,” according to the JabaTalks website, “allowing them to make more effective hiring decisions in less time.”

Voice interaction has become widely familiar through the use of popular apps such as Apple’s iPhone voice assistant Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Voice, in addition to Amazon’s Alexa. Based on natural language processing, or NLP, these applications are an outgrowth of the rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence. They make use of machine-learning algorithms to evaluate and respond to written or spoken inquiries, analyze data and spot trends based on those interactions.

Finding out how and where to use NLP effectively should be high on HR executives’ priority list, per interviews with several experts in Tech Talent Labs’ 2017 Trends Report. One example cited is Intuit, which provides small business accounting applications. The software developer is working on “leveraging natural language processing to complete job reqs, which improves the hiring manager experience,” according to Nick Mailey, the company’s head of talent acquisition. He goes on to describe an Intuit project that employs an applicant tracking system, Saleforce’s Einstein AI tool, and an NLP engine.

Given this direction, companies might turn to voice interaction to answer job candidates’ initial questions and “get to know them” in a familiar manner, explains Talent Tech’s Kestenbaum. The voice system could also be used by hiring managers as an intuitive interface for various HR applications. In this way, they could use it to “trigger workflows” that involve more than one system, he says, such as sending emails about a recent job opening to potential candidates.

Other experts envision still more applications. In a blog last January entitled, “Alexa, What Is My Deductible?”, Joe Markland, the CEO of ProHCM, an HR technology consulting firm, predicts that the increasing use of voice interaction to support high-touch functions such as employee healthcare inquiries. His reasoning? “The next generation of technology in the HR and benefits arena is going to have broader and ‘everyday’ value, while being much easier to use.”

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John Soat

John Soat

Soat is an award-winning multimedia reporter and a long-time observer of technology’s impact on business.