Knowledge Management Institute

Dancing With the Robots - the Rise of the Knowledge Curator

Dancing With the Robots - the Rise of the Knowledge Curator

Jan 31, 2018   |  By
Rooven Pakkiri | Social KM Expert

“Nearly half of HR and business leaders who were surveyed believe many of their core HR functions will be automated by 2022.” (Source: Harris Poll).

So let’s pause and reflect on this seemingly widespread sentiment. There are indeed a number of largely Administrative HR functions that easily lend themselves to automation, such as: providing the latest regulatory position on Maternity Leave and Maternity Pay, booking a Holiday, or providing basic payroll information. It makes perfect sense to deliver this information to employees via automation (e.g. a chatbot) on a self –service basis. And well designed and deployed technology can analyse results and improve the quality of the answers it provides.

Of course this rapid, exponential automation is not going to be restricted to employees in fact it is going to occur even faster when we look at consumers. Last year Amazon in the UK extended its warehouse automation to its delivery service with its first successful drone delivery. The delivery took 13 minutes and did not involve any humans from the supplier side. 

From 3D printing to self-driving cars, automation is happening and it is happening fast and it is unstoppable. It will therefore affect all aspects of our lives in our different incarnations as worker, citizen and consumer.

The problem is that we as humans want (even need) to have it both ways. When it suits us we want and prefer to interact with a machine over a human but again when it suits us we want to be able to immediately switch the service mode and interact with a human.

David's Story

To illustrate this problem, let’s go back to the HR automation situation. In our story a successful sales person (David) is going through a difficult divorce that is affecting his health. David is a highly valued employee and the company wants to be supportive of him during this time. However, quite understandably he does not want his marital difficulties and medical treatment discussed with anyone other than his current direct manager (Kathy). Between them they agree that in the short term David should be allowed to take time off whenever he feels unable to perform his company duties to an acceptable standard. Kathy says she will speak to someone senior in HR and let them know that this arrangement has been approved by the business but that the matter is to be treated with the utmost discretion. 

In the weeks that follow David books days off via the HR Chatbot whenever he needs it. In fact, the somewhat impersonal, discreet aspect of the chatbot works really well for him given his situation. His colleagues are none the wiser which is important to his self-esteem and position at work. 

One day David puts in for another day off and this time the request is rejected by the machine. It has been programmed to spot certain patterns and reject requests accordingly. The machine tells him that the matter has been escalated to his manager (Scott?!) along with David’s absence pattern report. Unfortunately Scott was David’s former manager and is someone with whom David has a strained relationship and who he would definitely NOT want to know about his personal circumstances.  David tries desperately to stop the machine and reverse the request but to no avail. Matters are made worse when his attempts are seen by the machine as a sign of an unsatisfied employee which then triggers an automated ‘rate this service’ survey email. David’s emotions switch from anxiety to anger and he completes the survey is a very negative fashion.  The low NPS (Net Promoter Score) as it were further generates a courtesy call from someone in HR in charge of low NPS follow up who neither knows David nor his current situation.  David has to deflect the caller and is forced to make up a cover story in order to avoid revealing to a relative stranger why he is unhappy with the system and why he is putting in for so many days off so close together. He then has to write an email to Scott and cc Kathy explaining the error and asking him to kindly ignore the absence report (but alas the damage is done).

Dancing with the Robots 

David’s story is hardly unusual and one can cite many more scenarios where the machines will fail to read the individual and their specific circumstances correctly. We are humans after all and our ever changing needs are precisely what define us as humans not machines.  Accordingly it is a no brainer that we will need to have people in place that can ‘dance with the robots’ and thereby offer a hybrid service which encompasses the best of humans (compassion) and the best of machines (efficiency).

OK so let’s play David’s story out again but this time with what I call a Knowledge Curator in place, in other words a human who is trained to dance with the robots (we’ll call her Cyd as in the great dancer Cyd Charisse).

When David first raises his personal situation with his manager (Kathy) and they come to an agreed arrangement, Cyd is either directly or indirectly notified of this employee change. Now Cyd does not need to know why this pattern change has occurred and been approved, she simply needs to know that it has happened and to think about its implications. Her job as a K-Curator is to identify ALL points (human and machine) that will be affected by or will impact this change. So knowing that David will be putting in for unplanned days off at short notice she is aware that the chatbot and its connection to the holiday booking system will not be set-up to cater for this. Cyd will make the system adjustments and at the same time she will also double check on all the supporting information for David which will help her identify that the system has the wrong direct manager details for him. She can also think ahead and remove the trigger for the NPS survey. It is interesting to note that this K-curator role is cross departmental and requires the ability to understand the business, HR policy and process automation. 


With the exponential increase of company automation and the reduction of human capital expenditure, it is completely logical and essential for this process to be managed by an increase in headcount of these new Knowledge Curators. They will cover all matter of cross departmental scenarios when human needs internal and external are serviced in part by robots.  Like Cyd in our story they will all become superb dancers able to lead and follow their robotic partners as the company pursues its irreversible path to higher levels of automation. 

About the Author:  

A veteran of the dot-com era, Rooven Pakkiri is a digital evangelist who focuses on the way technology changes organisational communication and collaboration.  He is an author and regular speaker on the subject of Social Business and how it is transforming the corporate rule book.  Rooven is also the co-founder of a regular thought leadership event inLondon where independent thinkers discuss issues of user adoption and cultural transformation.  As an independent consultant, Rooven is responsible for developing client specific adoption strategies and immersion programs. As part of this process Rooven employs a number of techniques from scenario modeling, content seeding, champion identification and community development.  Rooven teaches KM Institute's CKM class and the CKS in Social KM-Collaboration and Communities.

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