Should your business hire virtual employees?

There are business functions that can now be digitally supplied from an online portal without the need for physical recruitment.
1 August 2018

In today’s AI powered world, can we hire “virtual employees”? Source: Pexels

It’s a thorny subject. How far are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the provision of virtual services going to go, and will new innovations replace us, the humans, in the modern workplace?

Although the jury is still out on the rise of AI and the possibility of virtual employees, we can pinpoint some major defining trends and shaping factors in this space.

Worker value could skyrocket

Technology industry vendors working in the AI space have gone to great pains to stress that robots are not about to put us out of our job. Instead, they insist, AI and a variety of online virtual services will shoulder the ‘gruntwork’ element of many of our jobs and leave us to focus on higher-level value-added work.

It’s true; robots and AI are good at repeatable, controlled jobs that can be contained within a defined process inside a firm’s total operational workflow. Humans, on the other hand, are better at random creativity, empathy, and non-linear logic.

Extending the thought process here then, in the new world of the gig-economy, should businesses think about which elements of operations it could outsource not just to human freelance staff, but also to fully virtualized service employees?

To put the question another way: If your firm doesn’t have a particular type of manager or specialist, can a machine supply the intelligence needed instead?

This is not management consultancy (thankfully), these are business functions that can now be digitally supplied from an online portal without the need for physical recruitment.

Virtual Chief Data Officer (VCDO)

One of the more workable examples of the type of management function that could be virtualized rests in data analytics.

Experienced data scientists capable or working at a senior level can command salaries (at the time of writing) approaching US$200,000 at the top end.

With many small to medium-sized business CEOs now realizing that they need to bring in a layer of big data analytics into their firm, this type of outlay puts hiring a full time professional out the window.

Unlocking value in data is now a priority for 67 percent of businesses, according to data and analytics strategy consultancy Cynozure’s latest ‘Big Priorities for Data Strategies’ report.

As a result, many organizations are turning to the recruitment of a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to own the data and analytics agenda. Where firms can’t afford a full-time employee, the prospect of a Virtual Chief Data Officer (VCDO) raises its head.

Cynozure has built a Chief Data Officer (CDO) hub to offer Virtual Chief Data Officer (VCDO) services out on-demand.

“The Chief Data Officer hub’s CDO on-demand service is an accessible way for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) and not-for-profit organizations, to shape and deliver their data and analytics strategy. Whether it is staffing a stand-alone data project, appointing a part-time data leader, or nominating a non-executive at board level, the CDO Hub provides a way to access data talent at leadership level,” said Jason Foster, Founder and CEO of Cynozure.

Cynozure’s offering is still initially powered by human experts at the backend, but this concept of virtualized employment services is fast developing with some of the offerings manifesting themselves as fully automated functions.

servers data people employees

Your next head of data could be living in a server. Source: Pexels

Functions ripe for virtualization

A prime target for AI-driven virtualization is Human Resources (HR) or as it is now often called, Human Capital Management (HCM).

Automated cloud-based HR services can be plugged into a firm’s operational workflow in less than a day to handle expense management, vacation entitlement, e-skills training programmes and a weighty proportion of the administrative side of this (arguably) now dying workplace role.

“Prior to 2016, there was no way for companies to manage their teams’ performance,” said Lindsey Havens, senior marketing manager with PhishLabs, quoted on Business News Daily last year.

“Now many businesses are using cloud-based, team-centric performance management applications that help HR management to manage performance by the team, rather than by hierarchy. This system allows for a streamline in team management, plus the ability to create and change teams quickly,” said Havens.

Technology analysts argue that a wide transept of the workplace is now up for reinvention. Even areas like the legal sector are in line for a shakeup.

Basically, it’s any place where information ingestion, analysis, and retrieval can be performed digitally.

The question needs to be restated.

It’s not should your business hire virtual employees; it’s which workforce services will you digitize next and where will AI-driven virtual services be brought to bear inside the premises that you like to call work?