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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

Now, when Praxair wants to make a bid or sign a new customer, managers can analyze HR implications first. Do they have people who speak Portuguese, have the necessary certification, and are willing to relocate to Rio de Janeiro? "We can do some modeling of the skill sets to determine if it's doable or if we will have to recruit externally," Franciosa says.

At GM, Arena has been implementing a three-phase analytics plan. First, integrate systems in a way that ensures highly accurate data is available. Next, push much of that data into standardized reporting tools and dashboards that business managers can use on their own. Then start building models. One of the first projects Arena implemented was a means-based comparison analysis of the top talent pool. The model examines every employee data field in the PeopleSoft database to look for important insights, Arena says. "Five or six experiences may jump out. Having international experience may statistically matter. Then we dig deeper. Are there certain types of international experiences that matter more than others? Does that need to happen earlier versus later?"

Divining Interventions
The real power is in applying predictive analytics to a corporate population. "Everyone's talking about it," says Chiquita's Ledford, "looking at all this data you have and trying to figure out the future."

"The typical data warehouse approach is looking back, but what we wanted to do was start looking forward," says Praxair's Franciosa. "What are the leading indicators we should be looking for? What are those metrics or data sets we don't have but, if we did, would really help us? What external data sources could we use to drive better decision-making?"

For example, Praxair is growing by double digits in China. "Rather than hiring a ton of people and trying to recreate the wheel [there], what I've been driving is how do we replicate rapidly those things that have made us successful in our mature geographies," says Franciosa. "There's a huge opportunity to use predictive analytics based on where we're best-in-class."

The predictive analytics market for HR is nascent and wide-open. "We partner with them all, from IBM to SuccessFactors to PeopleSoft," says GM's Arena. "They're all trying to play in the space, but I don't know that any of them have figured it out."

Arena's team has built a model that predicts what changes in attrition rates will mean for GM's workforce. Previously, if someone proposed hiring a bunch of young engineers, no one could be certain if that was the best decision. "Now we can say, let's see what that looks like five years from now," Arena says. "What are the dividends if we hire 200 entry-level engineers? Might we be better off hiring 50 advanced engineers? We can take that information to the head of engineering and say, 'Here's what it will cost you.'"


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