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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Interview: Jonathan Ferrar, VP, IBM Smarter Workforce


1. Can you explore how organisations and employees will need to work together to maximise the value to be gained from big data analytics?

The availability of data is critical to the success of HR analytics, and some of the data HR wants for analytics might be considered personal by employees.  It is therefore critical that organisations and employees work together. That means following some key principles of transparency and openness. HR needs to tell people why they need the data for analytics and how the outcomes will support business success. Furthermore, HR should ensure that employees are able to opt-in to sharing their data, working with relevant Works Councils and employment bodies as appropriate. Making sensitive data requests optional will encourage participation of employees with less well developed employee relationships because they will feel they have control over the decision when they are involved.   

2.  You’ve used the term ‘social employee relationships.’ Can you expand on what you mean by this and why it’s important to businesses?

How employees feel about sharing what they may consider to be personal data with their organisations is largely driven by the relationship they have with their employer. High levels of social collaboration and involvement in social networks in organisations indicate that employees are already willing to share important data around their work and areas of expertise. Building on this social approach makes employees feel more comfortable about sharing personal data and it can also enable businesses to have easier access to employee data. 

3. How will society deal with the privacy concerns around big data and analytics in the workplace?

The way society reacts to legislative changes, privacy laws, EC directives and company data breaches helps to define the boundaries of what is ‘acceptable’ and what is ‘unacceptable’.  These boundaries and the public’s reaction change over time. Organisations need to be mindful of those boundary shifts in society as they affect employee attitudes towards workplace analytics as well. 

4. What are the biggest current obstacles to a world of data-led decision-making in business?

Data & data collection
Successful analytics requires data and in a broad sense, there are obstacles to work through; the governance of the data, the quality of data, how different data sources are integrated and managed and, security and privacy concerns that may be associated with that data. This is particularly relevant in the field of HR, when some data may be considered personal by employees or is sensitive / personal through legislation. There are clear steps that we can take to encourage a culture of data sharing within organisations. 

Creating business value from analytics requires HR professionals who understand business problems, have strong business consulting skills and obviously good data analysis skills. We need to do more to enable HR professionals to build those skills themselves and also bring outside experts into the HR family to increase our knowledge and understanding. 

Data visualisation
We need to see much better visualisation of the data and results of analytics to enable wider access to the insights it holds. 

In order to realise the benefits of workforce analytics, we also need the right kinds of technology. The technology not only needs to handle sophisticated analysis, it also needs to accept data from multiple sources and present the results of analytics in a visually attractive and accessible format.  And at a price point that is affordable. 

5. What are the less commonly talked about benefits of big data analytics?

I would say there are three key benefits of big data analytics that are less talked about: 

  • Insights for the top line. People tend to focus on the monetary savings workforce analytics can offer – particularly in terms of productivity – but getting insights that enable the right decisions for top line growth are as important. 
  • Employee engagement. Involving people in providing data, for example, social data, engagement data, sales data, text analysis, etc enables them to see clearly what actions need to be taken. Such employee involvement can actually help improve employee engagement. 
  • Cultural ‘fit’. Analytics focusing on cultural fit can help to ensure people get to be hired into the right company in the first place. 

6. What should HR be doing now to make sure it plays a part in the data-led decision-making future?

I would suggest two key actions for HR: 

  • Invest in the skills of HR professionals, including those already involved in analytics but more generally all HR professionals would benefit significantly from being more analytically minded. 
  • Invest in ROI studies for analytics and then reinvest the ‘savings’ in technology, data integration and visualisation. 
Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence