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HR departments invaded by data scientists

Stephanie Overby | Aug. 28, 2013
As leading HR departments turn to 'talent analytics' for a wide range of staffing issues, CIOs are at the center of this data-driven transformation

CIOs are the key to helping the organization figure out what data matters, says Terry Sullivan, director of applied research and consulting at office furniture maker Steelcase. "Everyone is thinking about big data and collecting all kinds of data to try to figure out how to create smarter people. CIOs can drive this effort."

IT leaders are uniquely qualified to help their corporate counterparts navigate the minefield of issues associated with these nascent technologies and processes—including data quality, systems integration, security, privacy and change management. "The partnership with IT is critical," says David Crumley, vice president of global HR information systems for Coca-Cola Enterprises.

There's a broad array of uses for talent analytics: screening new hires, figuring out who should get promoted, efficiently staffing new projects, uncovering the characteristics of high-performing individuals or teams, and even predicting who's likely to head out the door.

"The way I think about it is using data to understand how people get work done," says Waber, CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a management-services firm that was built on his work at MIT Media Lab and that helps companies in one niche of the talent analytics field: collecting and analyzing sensor data to improve workforce performance.

Companies have collected employee data for years—from satisfaction surveys to ethnography. But, says Waber, this "next generation of stuff is moving away from those qualitative assessment modes into much harder behavioral modes, using digital data from email or sensors or ERP systems. That gives us radically more powerful information."

Historically, HR used data to report headcount or turnover information. "We're so far beyond that now," says Crumley of Coca-Cola Enterprises. "HR wants to expand its capabilities to help the business grow. To do so, we need to be able to be more precise and surgical about our interventions. That's where workforce analytics is huge—helping you determine where to place your bets."

Laying the Foundation
Employees generate petabytes of data about themselves every day, says Waber. But that data sits in disparate systems in different formats and is often messy. "To make it work, you need access to all of this information in real time," Waber says. "IT is the backbone for this entire process."

Implementing a single version of an HR information system itself may not sound revolutionary, but it's a critical first step for companies interested in more advanced analytics.

Jo Stoner, senior vice president of worldwide HR for Informatica, knew predictive talent analytics could benefit the growing data-integration company. "A lot of companies don't make it past a billion [in revenue]. We were starting to hit those awkward teenage years," she explains. Managing the company's assets would be critical to maintaining momentum. But "we don't own buildings or raw materials," says Stoner. "Our greatest asset is our talent." First, though, the company had to bring all its HR data together, applying the master data management services Informatica delivers to clients to its own internal employee data in order to layer analytics atop it.


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