Big Data: The Struggle in Asia For HR to Develop a Clear Strategy

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May 5, 2014

The topic of Big Data for Human Resources has sparked interest in the U.S. and Europe for the past few years — and Asia-based HR has also certainly been hit by the Big Data buzz as well.

According to a survey by IDG, Big Data adoption is already significant in the West, with 70 percent of enterprise organizations having already deployed or currently planning to implement Big Data-related initiatives.

However, less is known about the realities of HR Big Data engagement in Asia. In fact, based on publication of The Asia HR Big Data Survey Whitepaper Report 2014, 76 percent of HR professionals do not know what Big Data is, yet, confusingly, 79 percent claim that getting a Big Data strategy in place is a priority in 2014.

The HRBoss-sponsored survey included 430 HR professionals across Asia-Pacific to determine if the Big Data buzz has been translated into actionable HR strategy. Although Asia is a remarkably diverse continent, respondents were unanimous on three (3) key issues:

1. HR reporting is broken

The white paper report reveals a huge disconnect between how CHROs regard the reporting cycle and the actual burden it places on their staff.

Some 67 percent of CHROs believe that employees spend less than one day per month preparing reports. In reality, 88 percent spend more than two (2) full days per month preparing reports. A staggering 22 percent of HR in APAC are spending over six (6) days per month – that’s more than one entire work week.

The takeaway? Asia-based HR professionals are spending a disproportionate amount of time locked into demanding, yet inefficient, reporting cycles.

And it doesn’t stop there. Senior executives’ appetite for detailed, data-rich reports is increasing, and 87 percent of HR have to deliver reports monthly while 30 percent of HR administrators, managers and directors have a weekly or even daily reporting cycle. In the most demanding places, Japan and Thailand, 90 percent of HR professionals are also locked into weekly or daily reporting cycles.

2. HR lacks the right tools

Commenting on the results of the survey, Mr. Ow Seng Fong, Divisional Director of the National Human Resources Division at Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM), said:

It is true that HR professionals grapple with the need to churn out fast, accurate data to make fact-based recommendations, but it does not help that most enterprises deploy a myriad of applications that do not talk to one another… even generating simple queries from the more well-known HRIS systems can be such an onerous process.”

According to the report, 80 percent do not feel confident they have the right tools to offer strategic value to the boardroom. The greatest hurdles for Big Data adoption in HR are the lack of in-house data analysis expertise and inadequate IT systems for data management. Lack of time, budget, and overwhelming volumes of employee data to process were also cited as major inhibitors.

3. HR knows they need a big Data strategy – but don’t have one yet

With 79 percent of participants agreeing that HR Big Data will become a priority in 2014, HR knows that Big Data offers an opportunity. However, based on the report, HR leaders at the top tell a different story — 98 percent of CHROs said that they do not have a Big Data strategy in place for 2014.

This points to one thing: HR recognizes that they need a Big Data strategy but they don’t have one just yet. Dr Peter O’Hanlon, Chief Analytics Officer of Onetest in Australia, aptly points out that though there is a strong consensus amongst HR community that “Big Data will be transformative as it has been in many other domains, equally strong however is the belief that the opportunities associated with tapping into novel data to generate new kinds of insight are not yet well understood.”

“Companies here are currently still struggling with building the basis of strategic tools and cannot afford to focus in-depth where their future relies: the Human Capital” says Caroline Sirieix, Asia-Pacific Regional Human Resources Manager Air France KLM, who believes that there is hope for HR Big Data in Asia once HR acquires the right analytical tools to work with.

What’s the future for HR Big Data in Asia?

As the global economy claws its way back from the economic downturn, organizations in Asia will see a renewed emphasis on growth and will have to find smarter ways to source talent and re-engage their existing workforce.

HR needs to partner with business leaders in the boardroom in order to drive impact and smart organisations will save a place at the table for HR. Effective workforce analytics offering reporting to advanced data mining and predictive analytics will move HR from making judgements based on constructed models of reality to fact-based, data-driven decisions.

To my knowledge, there has not yet been a similar study on Big Data adoption by HR in the U.S. or Europe. I’d be interested to hear if HR in these locations are experiencing a similar gap between knowledge about Big Data, its perceived importance and then lacking in an actionable HR strategy to deliver tangible business benefits.

You can download a free, full copy of the Asia HR Big Data Report 2014 here.