Cover: How the U.S. Air Force Can Incorporate New Data Technologies into Its Talent Management System

How the U.S. Air Force Can Incorporate New Data Technologies into Its Talent Management System

Framework and Use Cases for Technology-Enabled Talent Management

Published Dec 21, 2022

by David Schulker, Matthew Walsh, Nelson Lim, Ajay K. Kochhar


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Research Questions

  1. How could the industry-hyped data technologies of recent years add value to a USAF system that already has a set of customized quantitative methods for HRM and, thus, is highly attuned to the power of data?
  2. What steps must the USAF take to incorporate these technologies into HRM?

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the other military services have a long history of innovation in human resource management (HRM). The recent industry boom in data-related technologies has prompted USAF leaders to sponsor research on how these technologies could further improve HRM decisions. This report describes the common theme of this research portfolio, which is that adopting HRM practices that are technology-enabled could lead to more-effective talent management. Of course, technologies exist on a spectrum, and the USAF, like all other organizations, already rely on some technologies to perform HRM functions. However, by pursuing the latest technological advances, the USAF can continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of HRM processes.

To help policymakers understand the contrast between technology-enabled practices and practices already in place that make use of rich data, this report describes industry practices that fit under the umbrella of technology-enabled talent management and presents a framework highlighting the distinctive features of those practices. The authors focus principally on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other analytic techniques to derive insight from data at speed and scale. The authors then present use cases in which recent research has demonstrated technology-enabled practices in the USAF context, discuss barriers to further implementation, and present an implementation structure for moving toward greater adoption of these practices.

Key Findings

  • Large industry firms, such as IBM, use technology-enabled techniques to improve employee experiences by customizing talent management decisions at a large scale.
  • All firms face challenges in applying technology-enabled techniques to talent management, but features of USAF talent management processes and associated data place the organization in a good position with regard to technical feasibility.
  • Recent research has demonstrated the functionality of elements of technology-enabled business practices, and particularly of AI, in most areas of talent management.
  • Legacy policy structures, existing culture, and limitations in the USAF data infrastructure stand out as barriers to fully leveraging emerging technologies for HRM.


  • Do not allow past successes to lead to entrenched practices that become barriers to further improvements.
  • Create a structured implementation approach to adoption of technology-enabled practices that addresses (1) organizational and policy foundations; (2) the technological foundation; (3) data curation, data management, and data services; (4) analysis systems, methods, and services; and (5) enterprise integration and deployment.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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