Leveraging Big Data: HR’s Golden Opportunity to be Strategic Partners

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Mar 5, 2013
Just as having a saw doesn’t make you an expert carpenter, having Big Data doesn’t make you an expert analyst.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, titled Big Data’s Human Component, has reinforced what I’ve been thinking for some time. While the industry is getting excited about Big Data being the “next great tool,” it’s nothing without knowledgeable people making the essential connections.

Or as software architect Grady Booch famously stated: “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

Key steps to be able to really use the data

OK, “nothing” may be a bit harsh, and so might be Mr. Booch — though, for the record, I still think he’s right! My point is that data itself, no matter how “Big,” has little value unless it can be presented as timely, simple, and meaningful information to help drive quicker, more effective business decision making.

For HR leaders, herein lies a golden opportunity to demonstrate strategic partnership with your organization. You and your staff represent the people — the human component that can deliver the expertise, analysis, and reporting capabilities to turn data into something truly “big.”

While tools and technology can help collect and store volumes of bits and bytes, understanding how to use data requires several key steps that rely on human intelligence:

  • Knowing what questions to ask of the data, based on your business objectives and strategies.
  • Identifying what data is required to answer those questions.
  • Capturing and cleansing the data to ensure an accurate output. (You know the ol’ saying: “garbage in, garbage out.”)
  • Analyzing the data to develop answers to questions identified above.
  • Crunching the data into readable and easily understood reports, graphs, etc.
  • Reviewing and interpreting the results to get to that “Aha!” moment faster.
  • Developing the strategic recommendations and action plans based on the results.

Using data for informed business decisions

No CPU can replace the human brain. Data’s value to the business relies on how well people can efficiently and effectively perform these tasks, ultimately formulating questions, interpreting results, making informed decisions more quickly, and taking action to improve the business.

In the HR world, this can mean effectively leveraging Big Data to place your job ads in more strategic or targeted sites to improve the volume and quality of candidates. Or better understanding your top talent for deployment in key revenue-generating areas. Or anything in between.

In the “old” days of business intelligence, a slew of templated HR reporting solutions emerged to capture and display information based on pre-defined fields and user input. Out would pop a report and, BAM — you had instant analytics.

Leveraging Big Data is less about plugging information into an HR system and clicking the button. Rather, it’s about truly understanding what data is required to help leaders make informed business decisions, ensuring you have — or can capture — the required data, and then extracting insights from which you can quickly take action.

While I love computers, there’s no machine that can do this. However, I know several people who can!

This was originally published on eQuest’s Floating Point blog