On Tuesday (25 June), AirAsia and Workday officially announced a partnership as part of the airline's ongoing digital transformation journey.

AirAsia has been transforming all areas of its business to help increase efficiency, strengthen customer focus and pursue its plans for growth. As part of that, the partnership allows the airline to tap on the HCM technology that will impact its employee pool (nicknamed 'Allstars') of over 22,000 globally.

Commenting on this, Varun Bhatia, Chief People and Culture Officer, said: "AirAsia's digital transformation encompasses our people and culture as much as it does our business model. In doing so, we have looked closely at each stage of our Allstars' career to see how best to leverage technology and use data.

"Workday met our criteria for an enterprise-level, integrated and cloud-based mobile HCM platform with strong reporting and analytics."

Sharing his views, Rob Wells, President for Asia at Workday added: "We are proud to be a partner to AirAsia, one of the most people-centric airlines in the world and a company that shares our vision of digital innovation and empowering people.

"We will be working closely with AirAsia in its journey to transform its employee experience and maintain its position as one of Asia’s largest and leading low-cost airlines."

At a media briefing held at AirAsia's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, attended by Human Resources Online, Bhatia shared about the company's transformation journey going forward. Interview excerpts:

Q What's next in the transformation journey, what else can employees expect?

Now, we're looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning - using that to understand how we can get people to first understand what they want to do, and then make sure we can connect to what they want to do through the jobs we have. That is internal.

Externally, last year, we recruited 4,805 people. The previous year, it was 5,050. So in two years, I have recruited almost 10,000 employees because we've added new employees, and there's attrition.

It is not easy to do so if we do not have an understanding of AI or machine learning. Where do you source for these candidates? How do you assess these candidates? How do you make sure there's a right fit for the company culture and workplace?

So (to address this), we're going to use more and more AI and machine learning, that's the next stage.

As for the timeline, it's a continued process. We've already started talking to a couple of recruiting software firms in Silicon Valley in the US. We're also talking to Workday, and we're working with them on how they are thinking of new products where they will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help us make better people decisions.

Q As an HR leader, what are the top three challenges you face at work and how do you overcome them?

The first one is, the business is changing and for HR as a function, if we don't change, we won't be able to make any changes. When you travel in a plane, the safety demonstration says oxygen masks will fall if there's a drop in air pressure, thus you are asked to put on your masks before you help the person on your right.

That is my philosophy for HR - if we don't help ourselves as a function, how are we going to help the business? So first we have to take the mask, help ourselves become digitally more aware, only then can we help the business. So that's one of the first challenges that we have, in terms of keeping in pace with the change that is happening with the business and the transformation.

Second is, with all this changing, trust is becoming an issue across the world. How do we build trust between employees, communities, managers, leaders? That's a very important thing and I think we have to do a part in HR to build that trust, which will get engagement.

The third thing is, how do we now think about the workforce differently? We now have a contingent workforce that is not necessarily a permanent, regular workforce; we also have machines and robots. How do you think of your workforce in more holistic way, so that we can employ the right algorithm be it for the permanent or contingent workforce. HR will play a big part in these challenges.

The journalist's trip was sponsored by Workday. Photo / Workday