CIPD 2014: Realising the benefits of HR analytics and big data

Big data is a big issue and not just in terms of its potential benefits. It also presents huge privacy and trust implications. Taking the stage at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) 2014 conference, experts on the issues presented their view on navigating the benefits and pitfalls.

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Successful HR data analytics can help drive the efficiency and effectiveness of HR support operations, while also driving performance through workforce and talent programmes. However, given that much HR data is employee related, and individuals have very different views on privacy, how can companies keen to derive the benefits of big data negotiate this issue?This was the opening gambit of Jonathan Ferrar, New York-based vice-president of IBM Smarter Workforce, and his colleague Dr Nigel Guenole, IBM and Goldsmiths, University of London, in their presentation “Working Co-operatively to Realise the Benefits of HR Analytics” on day one of the CIPD’s national conference in Manchester.Carefully untangling the latest research findings and the practicalities of using HR data today, Jonathan Ferrar first asked delegates attending this interactive presentation to participate in a live online survey, which asked how sophisticated their organisation’s current workforce analytics programme is.Around a third of the 150 or so delegates reported that most decisions are based on “historic data” with around a quarter saying “most decisions are made based on intuition.”Responding to these live survey findings with IBM Smarter Workforce's latest research, Mr Ferrar identified that "a lack of understanding and skills around how to use analytics" and a “lack of management bandwidth” on the issue are the top barriers to its implementation (around 28%-38% for each). Almost as significant is the ability to get the data (24%), a culture that does not encourage data sharing, and ownership issues or unclear governance (both 23%).However, “new types of data are needed for workforce analytics," explained Mr Ferrar. "If you think about social analytics and tools like Glass Door, Rate My Placement etc, tech trends and mobile devices, you can think where HR analytics is going to go.”Social analytics, neuroscience analytics, cognitive computing, integrating labour market information and sensor analytics are, according to IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute, some of the new types of data required in a world where companies need to be more externally focused to thrive.“All of this leads to the sticky issue of who owns [data] and how do you get people to share data. There is a tension between privacy and the organisation wanting to use the data and the legality of that,” explained Mr Ferrar. "The biggest problem is what can I use and what can’t I use, and that this is different in different geographies.“In HR we are already the custodians of sensitive pieces of information and have an awareness around the storage and security of that data and the tricky notion of consent, transparency and how the data is being analysed,” Mr Ferrar observed. "The next step then is to find out what would people like to share and what they don’t; and what are the steps can we take to encourage people to participate."In the relocation sphere, given the extent of GPS use and multiple geographies, mobile employees and employees are already perhaps more aware of the opportunities and challenges big data represents, as well as some of the issues around implementation in relation to tax and visa compliance. However, the depth of data captured and its potential could be enhanced, Mr Ferrar and Dr Guenole  suggested, if a company’s HR data analytics strategy aligns with IBM’s four “FORT” factors: feedback, opt-in, reciprocity and transparency.For the business benefits to be realised therefore they suggest adopting the principles of democracy to encourage information sharing. “Part of the definition of democracy is protection from arbitrary misuse of power, so tell people the benefits of participation and be transparent with workforce analytics.”Taking IBM as an example, Mr Ferrar explained how understanding and consenting to IBM-related data capture and analysis was part of the company’s internet policy and approach to openness. Now, 6,000 employees around the world, in consultation with works councils, have opted in to have their work-related data captured on Twitter feeds. “So, it’s about being totally open,” he reiterated.

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