Attention HR: How to dig big data

29 October 2013

Ingrid Buff

Ingrid Buff

Former Consultant

Big data is big news and a big opportunity for the HR profession. But, like so many trends, big data is not really that new - there’s always been lots of data in companies, even if it was stuffed away in a filing cabinet. It’s just that there are more sources of data and more volume - 90% of which has been created in the last two years - and the speed of growth is accelerating. Thankfully, there are also better cleansing, analytics and reporting tools to dig out useful information from the giant data heap.

Make no mistake, big data is a game changer in the HR arena, enabling the profession to finally provide the kind of insight to business leaders it has long strived to achieve.

Big recruitment tool

Big data could reveal parts of the recruitment process that aren’t working. Deloitte, for example, found that candidates who scored highly in one of its assessment centre exercises, actually turned out to be unsuccessful hires when it came to performance. By analysing a valued member of staff’s last few performance and peer reviews, you could work out they are disillusioned and possibly looking to leave and come up with pay or work opportunities to keep them happy.  Uncovering reasons for sick leave spikes, why some teams outperform others - the potential from big data analytics is endless.

Unlocking the information from big data can help you see patterns that are not immediately obvious and that will unlock performance gains and profit.  One of the companies at the forefront of big data in HR is Google, where all people decisions are based on data and analytics. For example, the company uses a hiring algorithm to predict which candidates are likely to succeed and develops predictive models to work out upcoming people management issues.  Big data analytics can work out reasons for sick leave spikes or why some teams outperform others - the potential is endless.

Recent research from Bersin by Deloitte, however, shows that only 4% of firms have the capability to perform this kind of sophisticated predictive analysis about their employees. Only 14% of organisations were found to have completed any significant statistical analysis of employee data.

You’re not going to turn your HR function into a Google-style “people-operations” department overnight. But you can start now to make big data work for your organisation.

Know your data

The first step is to find out what data you have: the legal stuff, such as proof of identity, the financial information, such as bank details, wellbeing data such as emergency numbers and performance data such as training records. And there will no doubt be much more: performance data, peer review data, customer feedback. Whatever and wherever the data, it is key to have a single source of that data.

Most importantly, ask yourself, what is missing from the picture? What people-related information would be really useful to find out and make a real competitive difference? Once you identify those key areas - whether its recruitment or performance related - that align closely with business goals, then concentrate your analytics there.

Look forward

Analytics are already used in HR, but workforce analytics in human capital management tends to be looking backwards, analysing past data. Big data analytics opens up the prospect to predict future outcomes, but human capital management (HCM) software was not built with big data in mind. Help is out there as HCM vendors work hard to bring the big data analytics to the HCM world.

The key message is that if you want to get the most out of analytics, you need a single view of the data.  But don’t be too rigid with your analytics. Data can be cut and sliced in many different ways, and not everything you try will deliver the insight you were after. So play around and find out what works.

Given the explosion of interest in this area, one of the biggest challenges for big data analytics, identified by Ventana Research, is staffing and training. If you want to take full advantage of big data analytics, then you need HR staff who understand its power.

The simple message is: if big data isn’t on the HR agenda yet, it needs to be.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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