The Trap of HR Business Intelligence for Everyone

July 9, 2014 Ray Rivera

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Many organizations find themselves stuck with sprawling business intelligence (BI) solutions that are underutilized and costly to maintain, thereby failing to deliver full value. Though highly capable BI and analytics technology are already available for use throughout business organizations, effective BI remains incompletely distributed, serving as the go-to tool for only a few roles, such as the Chief Financial Officer or the Vice President of Sales.

Lack of full utilization, however, does not explain why traditional BI approaches to workforce analytics have been unsuccessful, and consequently have failed to drive business transformation in which HR occupies its aspired role as a strategy driver. Businesses must begin to look beyond the capabilities of BI technology, which can enable analytics capacity, but nevertheless cannot support the transformation process of HR from being a service provider to becoming a business driver.

One of the main reasons is traditional BI solutions are best suited for large IT projects which include managing terabytes of data from transactional systems, for example data mining and data cleaning, both of which are necessary steps in performing analytics.

And herein lies the main limitation: BI solutions are specified for the larger purposes of IT, and not built specifically for HR analytics, or for that matter regular use by HR. Ironically traditional BI tools are most effective as tools built for analyzing the widest feasible range of data (ERP, production, finance, etc.), for a diverse set of use cases. Yet the wider the range of general applicability, the more complex the tools become. Ultimately these tools become the domain of specialists far removed from HR departments and business line managers, and minimally applicable in everyday HR use.

As HR tasks become increasingly diffused across the organization, complex tools need to be replaced by simpler ones, and methodological rigor in IT architecture replaced by practical relevance. Adding to this complexity/specialist trap is that fact that most BI tools are installed with limited or no workforce analytics capabilities, forcing organizations to build such capabilities virtually from scratch, which in turn relegates workforce analytics to a narrow subspecialty area rather than elevating it to a strategic partner role.

In-house IT teams, and even specialized analysts, may be able to assist HR in obtaining access and abstracting the data, yet still lack the subject matter expertise to be of substantial assistance to HR in determining which data ought to be looked at or how to measure workforce productivity. When IT looks at data, it sees undifferentiated data. HR needs professionals with workforce analytics domain skills to look much deeper, conscientiously helping HR clarify the fundamentals: what to measure and then how to analyze it.

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