Big data offers HR some major opportunities to increase its strategic influence within the organisation and add value to its processes at all levels, by delivering predictive analytics.
Big data might seem like an HR buzzword, but it is one that will not go away – and one that HR should not ignore. The phrase refers to the huge volumes of data being generated in the modern world, and how we use it. Helping HR use big data to its advantage was the topic of a recent webinar from US blog Fistful of Talent, hosted by HR tech bloggers Steve Boese and Kris Dunn.
To harness big data, HR needs to change how it collects data, and to hire more data specialists, said Dunn. HR must also change how it uses data – it needs to stop reporting and start predicting. The biggest opportunity that big data offers to HR is in predictive analytics around high-volume, repeatable processes, such as recruitment.
Dunn and Boese offered practical suggestions for ways in which HR can start to use big data right away.
First, HR must identify the data it has. A good initial step is to draw up a schematic of available data on former, current and potential employees (within the boundaries of data protection legislation, of course). This creates the necessary volume of data to enable data modelling.
Second, make sure the data is relevant to the target audience. What metrics do the senior executive team need to see?
Third, scoreboard the data. Create tables that break down what big data has to say about how specific departments are performing, and are likely to perform. Fail to do this and the view of HR will never change, says Boese. To get the organisation to care about data, set up scoreboards and be ready to use the data they provide – against people, if necessary.
Turnover data is an ideal starting point for HR big data use, says Boese. Traditional turnover reporting is backward-looking. HR can take turnover data to the next step by annualising the data it already has to produce predictive analytics, projecting turnover for the coming month and the coming quarter. Employee age and tenure are likely to emerge as the two key factors influencing turnover. HR can use big data here to create a “relative risk of turnover” score for all departments.
How HR can harness big data
Accessing data should not be a problem for most HR departments, said Dunn. HR has plentiful access to data, for example payroll records, or data on absence and staff turnover. It needs to be more purposeful in collecting this data.
To capitalise on big data, HR needs more data specialists. There are two types of HR professional, Boese suggests: “the cop” (specialising in compliance and enforcement); and “the assassin” (agents of change and disruption within HR). HR is conservative by nature, thinks Boese: around three-quarters of HR professionals are “cops”. He argues that “the assassin” is better placed to harness big data – but HR needs an even mix of both types if it is to function.
HR needs to consider the three “Vs of big data”, said Dunn: volume (the huge amount of data being generated); velocity (the need to analyse and act on big data insights quickly); and variety (the ability to handle data in a range of formats). Others also introduce a fourth V, veracity, which ensures that the data is reliable and accurate.
For HR to master big data, the profession needs to learn how to handle data in both structured and unstructured formats, he continued. Structured data is data stored in a system in a defined, orderly way (such as traditional absence records). Unstructured data is data spread across multiple media and lacking unifying structure (such as video CVs and social media discussions).