A Revolution in Employee Data Is Brewing

Article main image
Oct 29, 2021

We’re all aware of how personal data has fallen into the hands of large technology companies. Similarly, in organizations, information about an employee is in the hands of the employer. There is legislation to protect personal data, such as the GDPR, but the next step may be a revolution in database architecture that gives power over personal data to people — including employees.

This database architecture is called Solid, and it was designed by none other than Tim Berners-Lee the creator of the World Wide Web. The idea is simply that an individual can aggregate all their data in one secure location and easily share it if and when they choose.

You may be familiar with the idea of a portable talent passport discussed in Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s book The Talent Delusion. With a portable talent passport, the individual owns all their assessment data and certifications, sharing it with employers as needed. This would make it economical for individuals to have a much richer set of assessments since they could be used when applying to many different firms. For this system to work, though, there needs to be a secure data structure. Solid could provide this.

Another application of the Solid platform comes from the start-up Gobekli. Their idea is gathering all the data about an employee — e.g., information from their calendar, emails, assessments, project management software, and so on — and putting it on the Solid platform. From there, artificial intelligence apps, chosen by the employee, could plug into that data and use it to provide coaching advice. This is similar in some ways to what Microsoft is offering with Viva as an employee coaching tool. The difference is that with the Gobekli app, individuals are in control of their own data.

Meanwhile, fans of Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, the author of the books Sapiens and Homo Deus, may recall that he has been advocating for building AI apps designed to serve individuals, not governments or corporations. Apps like Gobekli on the Solid platform may be the path to delivering on Harari’s dream.

The takeaway for business professionals is that we are moving into a world where individuals will be lobbying for control over their data. Tools like Solid are being invented to make this practical. 

For instance, if a company gives an employee a personality assessment, the employee may argue that they have a right to a copy of that data. They may even argue that the employer has no right to retain that data once the employee has left the organization. 

This question about who owns data could extend to other areas, say, performance appraisals. Does the company own them? The employee? Both? If an employee completes an in-house training program, can they ask the company to certify that they’ve done it, so that they can add it to their portable talent passport?

The issue of ownership of employee data will be decided both in the court of law and the court of public opinion. New tools will move this debate from the world of theory to the world of practice.