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SAP Bets Machine Learning Can Make Workplace More Transparent

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The firm says apps that incorporate analytics and machine learning can help managers improve leadership skills and retain workers.

Software and technology services vendor SAP SE wants to help managers improve their leadership skills and retain employees by launching about a dozen mobile and desktop applications that incorporate data analytics and machine learning.

The company’s vision is to develop consumer-like applications that bring more transparency and information to workplace issues such as leadership, pay equity, hiring and health-and-wellness, said Jennifer Morgan, president of SAP’s global customer operations for the Americas and Asia Pacific Japan regions.

“With AI and machine learning, there’s a perfect opportunity to really help companies understand the data so they can make changes as necessary,” said Ms. Morgan.

Some apps are being developed by in-house employees, while others are being developed through partnerships with startups such as health-and-wellness company Thrive Global, founded by Arianna Huffington.

Other companies are trying to modernize corporate management with apps for improving employee performance and retention. At PricewaterhouseCoopers, annual performance reviews have been replaced by a proprietary app that gives employees real-time feedback about how they’re doing.

Some of SAP’s apps are due to be rolled out over the next few months in internal tests to some of the company’s 94,000 employees, with plans to sell the apps to SAP customers. The company plans to announce the apps to customers in mid-September.

One application, called Cultivate, is meant to act as a “digital coach” for managers, Ms. Morgan said. It uses machine vision, a branch of artificial intelligence that allows computers to “see” objects similar to the way a human would, to identify data from emails, workplace collaboration tools and calendar applications in an effort to track how managers spend their time.

The app then uses machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence that enables computers to learn from data with minimal programming, to alert managers about areas where they might be able improve. For example, the app could tell managers when they might be spending too much time with high-performing employees at the expense of employees who need more coaching, Ms. Morgan said.

It can also alert managers when they’re working late at the expense of their health, she said.

“It’s about coaching managers to be great leaders but also coaching them to be happy, engaged employees and to take care of themselves as well,” she said. In the future, the app could integrate health data from wearable devices if an employee opts to share the information.

That app will be tested in the coming days with about 500 SAP managers, she said.

Another app, called Brilliant Hire, could help eliminate unconscious biases by helping managers focus on a candidate’s skills, obscuring the candidate’s gender, name and background information that may be irrelevant.

A pay equity index app that uses machine learning could help human resources managers instantly identify potential pay inequity issues by analyzing compensation data and comparing it with information such as an employee’s job category, tenure, location and performance, Ms. Morgan said.

The company is working with Thrive Global to develop another app that pulls data from human resources systems such as the travel and expense-reporting system Concur. The app will alert the manager days before an employee leaves for a business trip so they together can proactively plan out how to get the most out of the trip.

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Article Credit: WSJ

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