HR And The Big Data Opportunity

June 12, 2015

Big Data is everywhere but the concept can appear overwhelming. So, here we clear up the confusion and address what it really means for you and how HR professionals can harness its power most effectively.

You can’t escape the term Big Data. It is the management buzzword that shows no sign of abating. Last year Forbes reported that 87% of enterprises think big data analytics will redefine their industry’s competitive landscape. And with 89% of enterprises at risk of losing momentum and market share if they don’t adopt it into their business model, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to it.

But the concept can appear overwhelming. So, here we address what it really means and how HR professionals can harness its power most effectively.

What is Big Data?

Big data is high-volume information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making.

  • IT Glossary

Basically, it’s the collective term to describe the reams of data businesses collect, that when processed, means something valuable. However, as with any data, the power lies with how we use it.

The challenges of Big Data

For the HR professional, big data has the potential to revolutionise workplace and talent management. Data can be used to assess long term trends, reform performance against business strategy and spot skills shortages. In the short-medium term, data can help to set tactics for KPIs such as reducing staff turnover or studying staff demographics.

But how do you know which data to look at, what that data means and how to use it effectively to get the most out of it?

Data challenges can arise in three areas:

Volume – The vastness of the data that can be processed

Velocity – At which touch points data need to be processed to make it meaningful

Variety – The multiple types of data and their multiple uses

~ Ahalt (2012)

A lot of data may be irrelevant to HR-related issues. Sometimes the data is held in a myriad of systems, so it must be sourced and sometimes migrated to a centralised or secure cloud-based platform before it can be used. To harness the power of these multiple types of data, many HR functions are bringing in analytical resources in the form of man and machine, to help make sense if it all.

1.5m additional data-savvy managers are required in the US alone showing the shift in importance to data comprehension, however it also means finding them can be like gold dust. Giving HR the difficult task of not only needing to find these individuals for wider business analysis, but also for their own purposes.

Data + Humans

A common misconception is that data removes personalisation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The cold hard facts may be but add human interpretation and it can give you the tools to make processes extremely people-focused.

Use the facts to help understand when is the best time of day to contact candidates or what the engagement % with employee initiatives is. Use it to find out which departments have high staff turnover or for proactive planing on developing trends that could affect your existing employees or talent pipeline.

Think about what you’d like to know and how to make things better at work and collect that specific data. Adjust measurement parameters as you go (getting it right first time is highly unlikely) and in doing so these processes can lead to greater results for all the humans involved, candidates and employees alike.

The data world is your oyster.

Converting to a data-focused approach

There’s no question that big data can radically alter business decision-making, especially around talent and workforce management. It’s no longer a matter of ‘should’ you be using big data, it’s now a matter of ‘why aren’t you?’.

Organizations who value information as a core asset and develop an analytics culture are likely to outperform those that do not by a factor of 2 to 1.

~ Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith, Forbes

Just remember, technology is put in place to enhance and reinforce human decision making, rather than replace it entirely. Data alone can only tell HR where the problems are, not how to fix them. It will only be meaningful when it is interpreted using sound judgement, an instinctive feeling exclusive to humans… for now at least.

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