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Should HR Invest in 'Big Data'?

Hosted by: Mondelez International

This was the question addressed to a group of 25 regional HR Business Partners gathered by The Chapman Consulting Group at the Mondelez offices in Singapore on 24 April. Many industries were represented by companies such as Goldman Sachs, Jones Lang Lasalle, Lego, Proctor and Gamble and Singapore Petroleum, among others.

The day began with a presentation from Zhi Rong Lim, Regional HR Business Partner for Asia Pacific Mondelez International, our host for the day. Lim provided an overview of Mondelez, a US$35 Billion global snacks company with operations across 165 countries and well-known brand names including Cadbury, Nabisco and Oreo. The group then tackled the key topic of the day: ‘big data.’

Big Data and HR

The discussion was kicked off by Richard Atkinson, APAC Director of HR, Global Operations at PayPal, who stressed that ‘big data’ can be a powerful tool for companies both large and small. He mentioned that organisations big enough to invest in and support ‘big data’ in a business context have access to extremely powerful tools which: analyse internal and external data, get accurate metrics, highlight trends, and even support business decisions.

When applied in an HR context, the benefits can be similar. Today, ‘big data’ is a costly investment that small and medium sized companies may think they don’t need either because of a lack of internal data or insufficient funding. According to Atkinson, these companies could and should utilise data, even in the assessment of external factors: “When it comes to Talent Acquisition, some recruitment organisations are turning to external data, which is widely available and accessible, to prescreen candidates. For instance, one search firm in the U.S. applies algorithms to open source code to identify the best software developers in the market. The company then targets these developers for roles with clients organisations.”

Data vs. Human?

These days, company leaders can use ‘big data’ to provide support for business decisions in terms of market trend predictions, increasing customer engagement, and even identifying candidate expectations and behaviours in a Talent Acquisition context. Questions were raised on this issue, as some may perceive it as a threat to human decision making, as the world becomes more and more data driven. This topic divided the group, but it was agreed that data protection is a potential concern, and the group was unanimous on the importance of IT and HR working together to protect employees’ privacy.

Communication support

When it comes to communicating HR data, it was agreed that HR should be involved in the entire process, end to end. Some noted that particularly with performance management, business leaders often track data using HR tools, and some even build their own performance management systems without informing HR. It is the role of HR to communicate and educate the organisation on both the process and the end goal of gathering data.

Zhi Rong Lim of Asia Pacific Mondelez International, detailed the importance of correctly positioning and communicating the use of data in an HR Business Partnering approach:“We use the language of business when we discuss ‘big data’ in an HR context. For example, we report HR analytical data in the following classification: ‘Buy, Make and Sell.’ From our perspective, it really helps us in our communication with senior stakeholders.”

Predictive Power

Richard Atkinson concluded, “When it comes to ‘big data,’ HR Leaders need to stop reporting the past. We need to be proactive and move beyond reporting toward predictive analytics – showing the business leaders the future and what HR analytics can offer. Predicting future trends for our business and correlating HR with business performance is essential to bringing credibility to the function. Not many of us do this well – yet.”

Be a Pioneer or Play Catchup

The question for organisations now is whether to be a pioneer and invest in ‘big data,’ or take a ‘wait and see’ approach and risk missing the boat. With the rise of Cloud technology, the market for ‘big data’ analytical tools is already making its management more accessible. Tim Spriggs, a Director with The Chapman Consulting Group, shared the view, “Similar to investing in social media, early adopters will gain a competitive advantage, which could have a significant impact on those companies that opt out further down the line.”

Conclusion

This concluded a lively and productive session with some good insights shared on how to make the most of ‘big data’ in what is a human focussed field. It is clear that data is high on the agenda for HR Leaders at the moment, and this is likely to increase as the tools and technology develop further. It will be interesting to see how the use of data evolves in the coming months and years, and the impact this has on HR. Many thanks go to Mondelez for hosting this group, and we look forward to further networking sessions in Singapore in November.

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