What do employers have to prove to attract the best data talent?

BUSINESSES who are able to attract the brightest and best technology talent will be those who understand the complex and ever-changing relationship between humans and computers.

This includes an ability to use artificial intelligence smartly to "automate the misery and retain the joy" in people's jobs, the latest podcast in The Scotsman's Data Capital series heard.

Experts from Accenture Applied Intelligence said the market for those working in data and artificial intelligence was "extremely buoyant" - and that businesses who wanted to win the war for talent had to be authentic in their recruitment.

Ami Islam, Talent Lead with Accenture Applied Intelligence, said: " The market is is super-busy just now - there's a lot of movement.

"We passionately believe recruitment and talent attraction is a 50:50 process. The candidate needs to be right for the employer, but equally the employer needs to be right for the candidate. It's about being true and honest. If you don't know the answer to something, then say you don't know - build that trust with the candidate.

Sam Netherwood, an expert in behaviour change with Accenture Applied Intelligence, agreed: "When it comes to data, tell candidates what you are working on. Ask if they want to be part of that, part of solving those problems, part of this innovation. It's about the inside [of an organisation] matching the outside."

Netherwood described a "noticeable change in the way that data leaders are looking at culture and human-computer interaction" since before the pandemic.

"The focus from an investment perspective can still very much be on data and on technology - but the biggest challenges now are related to talent, to the way that people interact with and adopt technology in a business," he said.

"They're related to what are often called 'culture clashes' - where the culture of the organisation restricts rather than enables the meaningful use of data and embracing artificial intelligence."

Netherwood said there had been very positive, and negative, responses to this new way of working - highlighting two examples from financial services (FS).

He added: "Some of my colleagues supported a big FS organisation, who, early on in the pandemic, really tried to stop people spending time on pointless meetings. They used a tool called Cultivate, which essentially syncs existing behavioural data, like data from emails, and chat from direct messages, and then it uses artificial intelligence to help you understand how you're communicating with your colleagues and your team.

"I thought it was a really interesting example, using 'agentive design', creating an agent to help people understand how they can communicate more effectively in this kind of new way of working."

However, Netherwood said other businesses reacted in very different - and not so clever - ways: "There was the famous big big bank which went straight to surveillance. How do we make sure people are at their desk? How do we make sure they're working?

"I think some of the not-so-smart applications of data and AI have been when we're trying to use that technology to compensate for the insecurity that companies feel when they can't see what their people are up to. "

Netherwood said data and AI should be used in service of people - and it should not be assumed that automation is always the way.

He added: 'Thinking 'Let's automate this work or this process and do it entirely machine-driven' is not necessarily the answer.

"Instead, we've seen some organisations looking at the experience of work, understanding how people make decisions, where they make decisions, who they make those decisions with, what technology they are interacting with, what data they're using in their everyday work, and importantly, how people feel.

"I think that's an approach that can be far more successful than just thinking, what can we automate?

"Let's find out the parts of a job that people won't care if you automate. In fact, they'd love it, because it'll bring more joy to the work that I'm already doing.

"So it's using artificial intelligence and data to serve the individual, to help them do more of the things that they already want to do. And that's a really powerful thing."

Ami Islam said individuals who will thrive in an increasingly data-driven world are those who are "passionate about the power of data".

He added: "It's not just about somebody who can be a data engineer, it's about people understanding why they're doing work with data. That is what our clients are looking for - when we go to clients, and deliver large pieces of work, we need to understand why they're doing it. It's about the value it is adding to the clients, to the projects. What can the business do now that they couldn't do before with the data?"