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Can Big Data save HR?

Can Big Data save HR?

According to recent research, 98% of the world’s information is now stored digitally and the volume of that data has quadrupled big datasince 2007. That data is mainly made up of ordinary people like you and me at work and at home, sending e-mails, surfing the internet and using social media. But what happens to all that data and how will it affect the way we live and work?

In their recent book, Big Data: A revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier state that datafication ‘like other infrastructural advances, will bring about fundamental changes to society’.

Some algorithms such as ones that store our data and then respond with an apt marketing campaign or suggest you might ‘like’ a product on Facebook that links up with your hobbies and interests are already pretty commonplace and have been working behind the scenes, logging our every move and click for quite some time now.

They might have encouraged you to make a few purchases or got you thinking about switching to a different e-mail provider. All pretty small-scale events that don’t exactly encroach on your life in a way that makes you feel like your every move is being watched and analyzed.

Yet there’s more in store for Big Data than just tracking you checking out the latest weather forecast or watching videos of skateboarding cats on YouTube. Big Data is effectively transforming the way that we work in the form of workplace analytics. And for those who work in HR, the changes that Big Data is about to ring could be hugely beneficial.

It has been well documented that HR as a function to prove that it’s adding value. HR has generally found it tough to articulate its value propositions both to its internal and external customers. The challenge has always been to prove its direct (and positive) impact on business performance, given that alternative rationale can often be provided for an improvement in metrics such as performance, absence and labour turnover.

Yet with the growing trend for ‘people analytics’, HR could begin to finally mark its worth and future-proof its industry.

The evolution of HR analytics

In recent years, the economy has witnessed a huge surge in demand for workforce-analytics roles. Huge corporations such as Google, HP, Intel, General Motors and Procter & Gamble are employing dedicated analytics teams in HR departments to manage ‘people analytics’.

Research from 2013 shows that more than 60% of companies are now investing in Big Data and analytics tools to help make their HR departments more data-driven.

Companies are analyzing their employee data with workforce analytics to answer a number of critical questions: why does one salesperson outperform the rest? What is the impact of new training on company turnover? How long does it take for new staff to become productive? Why do certain senior management members succeed while others fail?

Other firms are simply using talent data to improve the function’s role as a true business partner. However companies merge HR and Big Data, they need to be aware of information overload. Conventional data is often presented in voluminous spreadsheets containing hundreds of data-points that do little to connect talent metrics to significant business decisions.

So to really get the most from Big Data, organisations should considers how they can provide better data to enable simpler analysis and more insightful results. In short, make sure that data is:

  1. Useful:
    HR analysts need to apply data to the business issue rather than using an unnecessary amount of resources for bottom-up data mining
  2. Quality:
    Numbers are impressive but nurtured data is far more desirable. Ensure employees leading the drive are educated about the credibility of talent metrics
  3. Compelling:
    One of the most common goals of HR analytics is to tell a better story with data. You can’t just present raw numbers and expect people to identify the correct messages. Analysts need to understand their audience, create a plot of related storylines, and deliver conclusions that connect together the bigger picture
  4. Adaptable:
    Actionable analytics should change a leader’s behaviour.  A leader should be able to change his or her thinking and make better, faster decisions as a result of talent data

Done correctly, partnering Big Data with HR could not only confirm the HR industry’s importance in today’s digital markets but also leverage individual employees power within that department. 

Big Data can give them the answers to questions that make them power players in their organizations strategic planning process, ensuring they are an invaluable strategic asset with access to actionable business insights that improve talent acquisition, retention, development and organizational performance.

With the right tools, the right employee in the right HR department are able to make smarter and more accurate decisions, better measure efficiencies and identify management ‘blind spots’. And those are aspects no company should make redundant.

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Gareth Cartman consults with Right Hand HR:, a HR consultancy business based in the UK.

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