HR Tech Day 2: HR Analytics Here to Stay, But is Data Reliable?

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

The HR Technology Conference & Exposition is in full force in the adopted home of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as vendors and practitioners from across the globe gather to share insights on the latest HR tech practices and insights.

This is my first time attending HR Tech, so a lot of initial observations.

First of all, if there's one theme that stands out above the others, it's HR analytics and so-called big data. 

I started off my day attending a breakfast put on by IBM's Smarter Workforce unit, which develops HR analytics software for corporate clients. The breakfast featured a demo of the company's latest version of its people analytics software, which has the capability to pluck and pull various data sets with a clean and user-friendly interface. 

But amid all the bells and whistles of HR analytics software begs an important question: Do companies currently have data on their people that is realiable enough to analyze in these fancy pants systems?

I'm currently in the process of interviewing the HR analytics folks at software company Intuit for the January issue cover story case study on how they built the company's people analytics function. One of the primary challenges Intuit had as it tried to build an analytics team and function from the group up was wading through the company's existing data sets -— which, mind you, were stored in various Excel spreadsheets — and determining if what they had held any integrity. 

In other words, was that existing data realiable and actually reflective of reality?

I imagine a lot of companies are asking the same questions about their own people data as they try to transition to more sophisticated people analytics software platforms.

After spending a day and a half at this conference, one thing is for sure: The technology is available.

That leads me to the other big topic: big data.

I attended a panel moderated by Workforce columnist Kris Dunn that included a number of technology experts from companies like Oracle, Workday and Cornerstone. Additionally, the panel featured Al Adamson of The Talent Strategy Institute, which Talent Management interviewed for the June issue on this very topic.

Big data, as everyone surely knows, is the buzz word of the times — one that I personally find is overused given the fact that most HR analytics does not deal with data sets that are too large to comprehend but simply large data sets. The panel, for its part, did a good job of clarifying definitions of big data. 

One topic the panel discussed that I think is important given both the big data conversation and the HR analytics software arena is the fact that many companies are still operating with mutiple disperate systems when it comes to how they track and store information. Integrating these systems to a point at which HR analytics folks can properly organize and glean insights is a major challenge that appears to be facing the industry.

But that's only if companies actually have HR analytics folks; many still don't. One audience member asked the panel to outline how they might go about creating an analytics function without having to invest in hiring a mass trove of data scientists. A creative answer: Have HR partner with marketing or a company's chief information officer; ask to borrow one of that function's data analyst for a few months; and have them wade through whatever data HR has to determine if there are some interesting trends and takeaways.

Then, if such trends come to light — and the prevailing wisdom is that they will — HR now has an interesting case to make to the C-suite to invest in hiring a few data analysts of its own.

Lots more to come here at HR Tech. I'll be writing a few more blogs before I depart back to Chicago early Friday morning. So keep it here for more coverage.