Former Workday co-CEO takes helm at Eightfold

Former Workday co-CEO Chano Fernandez joins Eightfold AI in a similar role, advocating for unbiased, skills-based hiring and navigating new AI regulations.

Workday's former co-CEO Chano Fernandez believes AI can reduce bias in job candidate selection and will provide significant productivity increases for some jobs. Earlier this month, Fernandez took on a new role as co-CEO at Eightfold AI, a talent intelligence technology provider.

Fernandez left Workday after the company named Carl Eschenbach its sole CEO. Workday officially appointed Eschenbach its sole CEO, effective Feb. 1.

In an interview with TechTarget Editorial, Fernandez discusses some of his strategic goals, the importance of skills-based hiring, AI regulation and industry trends.

Editor's note: This Q&A is edited for clarity and conciseness.

Why have skills become so important in your market?

Chano Fernandez, co-CEO, Eightfold AIChano Fernandez

Chano Fernandez: Everybody says skills are the new currency; I believe they are. They are a less biased way to hire, meaning they provide more opportunities for others who might lack a particular pedigree in terms of educational degrees. Skills-based [hiring] provides a much better match in terms of what is needed to be successful in a particular job.

How does skills-based hiring specifically address the AI bias problem?

Fernandez: Humans are biased, and we need to recognize that. If the algorithms are properly structured, that [bias] shouldn't happen. The [algorithms] often won't know the race, age or sex of candidates. Instead, [the algorithms will focus on] what exactly [the company] needs to accomplish this job successfully.

The EU is considering categorizing AI models as unacceptable, high risk or limited risk. Recruiting might be placed in the high-risk area. How do you plan to navigate this regulatory landscape?

Fernandez: We welcome the regulatory environment because we want to build a trust-based ethical AI.

SAP announced a restructuring plan that focuses the company on AI-based growth, affecting 8,000 employees. The concept of AI restructuring seems new, broadly. Do you expect to see more announcements around this, and what does it signal for your industry?

Fernandez: Automation and increasing productivity usually produce or impact a shift in the skills needed for some of the more repetitive or manual jobs. I hope and expect that SAP will work with that talent pool to upskill them or identify new jobs they can do.

How capable will generative AI become, and what will that mean for the workforce?

Fernandez: There will be significant productivity increases for some jobs of 50 percent [or more] and significant automation of most manual, repetitive, lesser-value tasks. But [AI capabilities] lack the skills of better judgment, consciousness or human behavior. The machines will not get there in the next five years.

You said there will be a 50% increase in productivity for some types of jobs. What jobs will see these gains?

Fernandez: Across the board. Software engineering is a clear one, especially for front-end developers. Sales and marketing teams might be using AI to help them better predict and forecast. It will be used in matching debits, credits and other routine processes [in accounting and finance]. You could see it in legal departments, where [AI] will be reviewing standard contracts with human supervision to add and amplify.

How has your leadership philosophy evolved, and how do you plan to apply it to foster innovation and growth at Eightfold?

Fernandez: We need to embrace technology and not fall behind. We need to understand the opportunities or potential risks of those technologies. Personally, I've always been an early adopter just to try and understand. But the difference is this is one of the first times as businesspeople that we have to understand the technology and the outcomes as well as ensure they are good and properly managed.

Eightfold is a partner of Workday. In your new role, has your relationship with Workday changed in terms of product?

Fernandez: I don't think the relationship with Workday will change in terms of product in my new role. We aim to have a great relationship with Workday.

Are you agnostic regarding your product support with other vendors, such as the integrations with SuccessFactors and Oracle's platform?

Fernandez: Completely agnostic. We are here to provide value to our customers independent of the core [human resources information] system.

What is the top problem customers are facing?

Fernandez: The skills that we will need. How do you develop them, and what is the economic risk of not having them right?

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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