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Jim Webber


Chief Scientist

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The rise of graph databases in people analytics

Graph technology is giving people analytics a much-needed boost within those progressive organisations already deploying it. Database expert Jim Webber explores what graph technology is and how IT services company, DXC Technology, is reaping the benefits of it.
red and blue lights, depicting graph technology

In principle, modern businesses rely on clear structures to manage tasks. Over time, these structures accumulate well-understood reporting processes, which HR supports by setting up an org chart and recruiting into clearly defined roles. 

Even if this was true in the 1950s, it’s less clear-cut now. Post-covid and in a culture of continuous transformation, today’s workplace is a much ‘messier’ phenomenon. It is a richer fabric of connections, responsibilities, loyalties, tribes, history, and knowledge-sharing than the org chart suggests.

HR has responded to this complexity by embracing data. The aim of people analytics is to provide a comprehensive understanding of all the intricate relationships and roles within the workforce. But the sad fact is that it hasn’t fully delivered. Its underlying data model belongs to a previous era, and just isn’t flexible enough for what we want from a people analytics system.

Why people analytics is falling short

Most people analytics systems rely on traditional relational database technology. As global HR influencer Josh Bersin has said, “While most HR platforms are built around relational database technology (rows, columns, tables, and joined tables), today the company looks more like a network.”

The most natural way to represent a network isn’t, Bersin believes, a general ledger or an accounting system, but an HR platform that feels more like Facebook or LinkedIn. The fundamental data pillar in such a system is a graph database, which naturally represents what’s really going on inside the business, people-wise. A graph database is a type of database that is highly efficient at managing complex relationships.

The rise of graph databases in people analytics

This way of building and running people analytics is now on the ascendancy. Workday and ADP are notable examples of HR management systems built on graphs; Darwinbox is another. But user organisations are also developing their own graph-based solutions. US technology IT services company, DXC Technology, for example, is using graph technology to create a super-detailed map of all their people and their people’s skills as a graph.

A more personalised but also richer people analytics

Prior to using graph technology, DXC was an organisation with 130,000 people but completely disconnected and siloed HR systems. This led to challenges around hiring and promoting from within and creating attractive career pathways for employees.

In response, the company’s leadership wanted to create a situation where an employee could instantly access recommended pathways based on the roles that would be most valuable to the organisation. 

The result is a solution called Career Navigator – a people analytics solution built on graph technology that has taken previously siloed systems about employee performance, demand management, learning and development pathways and career profiles, and combined them into a single system.

This makes it simple for all employees to know how to up-skill and cross-skill based on available roles within the organisation, so they won’t have to leave to progress. And it benefits DXC, as retention and loyalty increase and project resourcing gets a lot easier.

Michele Howard, Human Experience Management (HXM) and Workforce Management Data Analytics Specialist at the firm said, “Essentially, we take the skills of our employees and compare them to their peers globally, and this gives recommendations on how they can up-skill and follow their development plan.”

She adds, “As an organisation, we benefit from having our employees stay longer, moving to high-demand opportunities and keeping their skill sets within DXC. For example, if you’re a software engineer and want to know the gaps between other software engineers with similar skills, the tool will tell you how to meet those gaps and start to upskill. We also look at transferable skills to see if employees have the base level of skills needed to upskill into new areas, like cybersecurity. This way we nudge our employees towards new career development pathways where we see high levels of demand.”

Graph technology is a win-win

Graphs give HR specialists not only a top-down view to identify which roles are needed and where, but a bottom-up view so that employees can have a career and skills path laid out for them that meets the needs of the business.

2024 will likely be the year a lot more CHROs use graphs to strengthen their people management capabilities with a more personalised and richer form of people analytics that’s fit for the needs of businesses now and in the future.


Interested in this topic? Read Will graph technology revolutionise HR?

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Jim Webber

Chief Scientist

Read more from Jim Webber