Over the past couple of years, the hottest trend in enterprise technology has been the evolution of HR applications from basic benefits, payroll, and workforce management to a variety of applications covering a much wider set of needs – from finding potential employees and predicting the need for specific skills to optimizing employee capabilities to the appropriate offboarding and succession of core talent. To get a strategic advantage, HR departments are being asked to use “Big Data” to “Moneyball” and quantify their approaches. But is this really the right way to go?
To determine this, consider what Big Data really is. Big Data is a set of technologies designed to store, process, and analyze data that does NOT fit into traditional spreadsheets, databases, and other basic structured data sources. Depending on whether you need your data to be faster, bigger, or more varied, you may be looking for specialized high velocity messaging solutions, cloud-based and multi-tenant storage, high performance analytic engines, Social Network Analytics, sentiment and natural language processing, or video analytics. This is the world of Big Data. A practical definition of Big Data would be 5+ terabytes of data, including some aspect of machine data, interactions, video, or high velocity streaming data.
In this context, is HR looking for solutions that can hold hundreds of terabytes of data and provide real-time analysis? Or are you really looking for some analytic insight for existing data? Chances are that you need a little bit of both depending on the maturity of your current HR data, the maturity of your current analytic capabilities, and your appetite for new and emerging technologies. But you should start with basic analytics and traditional data discovery tools before talking about Big Data.
For your current HR data, you have probably invested in some level of HRIS system to keep track of your employees and define your cost or profit centers. In addition, you have some level of workforce management to track hours worked and to seek what level of resources you have in-house to carry out key projects. This data, in and of itself, is already a wealth of data that is often underutilized to provide greater insight for your organization. As a basic example, consider that all of your employees have usernames and passwords for one or more applications, including email, ERP, CRM, document management, marketing asset management, and many other potential use cases. What happens when you start tracking your application usage on an employee-specific or department-specific basis? You may find out that you need to build a new office, or at least invest in new application licenses and network bandwidth, even before employees fully realize for themselves the extent to which their own work may be hampered or degraded.
Organizations that have invested more deeply into HR, training, market research, and succession management may have even more data regarding the skills of their employees, the ability to benchmark internal talent against readily available talent, and the relative volatility of performance for each position. The value of this data can quickly be increased by integrating tactical decisions and communications with higher-level KPIs to seek how the best employees work or if there are fundamental gaps that internal employees have relative to the market. This approach can also detect potentially troubling aspects in the organization, such as if employees start losing key skills or performance as they continue to work in an organization, or if they fail to learn skills at the same rate as the general market. This may indicate a need for cultural or development changes within the company.
It is important to realize, though, that these approaches are NOT Big Data, but a combination of data integration and analytics capabilities that likely exist already in mid-sized to large enterprise organizations. To get insight like this, start working both with IT and line of business executives to build out the potential value of these approaches and take advantage of the business intelligence initiatives that your company has built out for financial and operational insight. In fact, by being the visionary who understands how to bring human resource insights to a higher level, you may get the HR “Big Data” result you are looking for with just a bit of internal resource allocation. And given the choice of Big Results or Big Buzzwords, good HR professionals should choose results every time.