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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

The Importance of Transparency
Franciosa expects employees to put up some resistance to being physically tracked, much like the pushback the company encountered when it was first placing computers onboard its trucks. "It was viewed as Big Brother wanting to know how fast I drive or how hard I brake," says Franciosa. "The way to alleviate that is transparency. People won't like being physically monitored if they think we're trying to find out how long their break was. So we have to be completely transparent that we are using this for safety and long-term productivity. They'll recognize the value in that."

HR collects all kinds of sensitive employee information, but employees see physical tracking as particularly intrusive. "It is the boundary to cross," says Steelcase's Sullivan. All of Steelcase's sensor-related experiments are opt-in. Company analysts see only aggregate data, not individual histories. And Sullivan's team communicates the process and the intentions not just to those who have signed up, but also to everyone on the campus.

"In the U.S., employees don't really legally have protections around this data. A company can track you wherever you go and listen to all your conversations," says Waber. "But that defeats the purpose of this approach, which is trying to help people work better, be happier and stay at their jobs."

Communication is critical with any collection and analysis of people data—not just sensor data. "I don't think we're doing anything that people haven't been trying to do for years," says Informatica's Stoner. "But we have to say what we will do with that data."

Praxair's Franciosa has a close partnership with his legal teams around the world to navigate the various data privacy and protection issues in each country. "But even once we understand that we can have this data, we have to be very transparent and say, here's why we want your picture or your talent profile," Franciosa says. "That goes a long way toward gaining both credibility and traction."

The Role of Data in the People Business
"What's really happening right now is a shift in HR from an art to a science," says Crumley of Coca-Cola Enterprises, who's currently exploring how social network data and gamification might become part of his HR analytics platform. "A lot of HR teams are trying to figure out how to make that shift quickly so it's no longer HR sitting around waiting to be pulled in, but HR coming to the table with nuggets of wisdom."

Data analytics could enable HR to elevate itself from a tactical support function to a business partner on strategy, which ought to sound pretty familiar to CIOs.


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