Tuesday, 6 May 2014

#BDW14 - Challenges for Big Data in HR

Tomorrow I'm attending Big Data Week's main UK event and am looking forward to finding out more about big data, and in particular how it can be used for HR.

And I do write how rather than if.  Big data analytics will have important implications for HR.  But unless you're Google, probably not yet!  Despite lots of books and blog posts etc I've still not seen many case studies of companies identifying anything new from big data analytics that they shouldn't really have been able to intuit strategically anyway.

And even in the future, we need to remember that measures don't mean anything without better management.  Comments like "The measurement of the impact on people is the Holy Grail of HR" (in a feature on data and analytics in this month's HR Magazine) are just plain daft.

These are my main concerns:

1.   Maintaining the coherence of the organisational system

Just because big data says such and such a thing provides greater benefits doesn't mean you should want to do it.  What's often most important in HR is alignment with strategy, and across HR process areas, ie we need to be thinking about benefits as being relative to strategy not in absolute terms.

2.   Accepting the complexity of the system

And anyway, just because we've got these benefits in the past doesn't mean we'll find the same benefits in the future.  The same set of activities can produce different results, and it's often difficult to know whether the first set of data were stable anyway.

3.   Understanding the negative correlation between importance and accessibility

The more important something is, the less likely it is to be included in your bigdataset.  Relying on big data can potentially optimise for efficiency but destroy effectiveness in the process.

So by all means check your strategy through the use of big data, and improve the efficiency of your HR processes as and where you can, but don't start strategy development from the analysis of your data, even if that's what the rest of your business does.  And don't pretend that what you can do is the holy grail!

And I agree with Andy Spence and Susan Popoola's tweets in the picture - what's important are your big questions, not your big data.  Put at least as much energy into developing your strategic awareness and planning activities as you do into your big data systems and analytics tools.

I'll see if I come away with any different opinions from tomorrow's event - and will let you know if so!

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  • jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com


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