By Dave Crisp
You might say the triumvirate is complete with IBM’s purchase of Kenexa to go up against SAP with SuccessFactors and Oracle with Taleo — three information giants purchasing three big talent management software providers within a few months.
IBM makes no bones about its strategy to add to its ability to help organizations manage “big data.”
In other words, to these players, talent information is just one more (large) pot of data companies assemble that might go together with data from other sources to show something useful — hence some negative comments such as "talent management is dead" from some observers. There are plenty of other smaller talent management players, though they won’t have the horsepower to get into the big data game. And the question remains of whether talent management will survive being folded into big data.
The trend toward trying to finally get a handle on big data is exploding — the attempt continues to forge ahead to distill meaningful information from millions of bits of raw data companies generate and collect about markets, customers, products and more… including now their people and potentially all the connections their people have to other people, to payroll, benefits, pension information, training, performance data, resumé information as well as pure demographics and so forth.
As in-company social media systems allow people to share more information and collaborate at an unprecedented level that, too, potentially adds massive amounts of data to the pot.
Can you discover there’s an opportunity in some market to exploit a new product line, to build a new supply chain to cheaper vendors? How will you staff that? Where are the right people likely to be found? Can you get them to the spots you need or connect them virtually? Who’s got the skills, the interests, the previous experiences to make them helpful?
How can we contact them, appeal to them to get involved, pull them off other projects and redirect their energies at the same time we’re encouraging them to maximum engagement by allowing them to choose what they work on? The permutations are vast.
Oh yes, all these questions and many more can theoretically be answered, but we’ve been talking about data warehousing and data mining for 20 years and here we still are waiting for the ever-increasing floods of data to come into some semblance of order and for experts to tell us what could be useful in our companies.
Even Charles Duhigg, in his new book The Power of Habit, illustrates quite succinctly how knowledge of buying habits/behaviour allows retailer Target, as one example, to predict a woman is pregnant even before her family knows based on what she’s buying. Then they can market one-on-one to her by sending coupons and offers for what she is going to want to buy next before she even realizes those are the next things she needs.
In HR, for example, from employee survey results we should likewise be able to predict which departments are imploding with bad leaders, get them training and meanwhile offer their good people career moves elsewhere internally before they seriously think about quitting — just one example where big data analysis could help save millions in recruiting and failure costs on the HR side of businesses.
With HR professors John Boudreau, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Bob Sutton and many more all calling for HR to develop analytics skills and evidence-based decision making to show senior teams real data to back up HR strategies, such tools, if they ever truly become workable, will be invaluable.
Global IT research company IDG Connect puts it this way: “Big data is all the rage today. There's a lot of buzz about how it will transform your business with diagnostics and dashboards distributed directly to business users. The truth is someday big data will do just that… if your organization can clear a few hurdles in getting it under control.”
The big word here is “if.”
It would be nice to think these big shooters buying up talent management companies means they will pay attention to HR issues and what can be done with HR data (and more) to build better HR programs… but don’t count on it! With every other division in organizations demanding support and answers to ongoing puzzles — in marketing, advertising, supply chain, finance and more, HR may continue to find itself well down in the list of workable application development.
The dream of systems that can talk to each other and share information is still mostly a dream from what I read and hear. And beyond that is a dream that someone can pull out of the murk the right information to answer complex questions about building cultures that are more innovative, customer-friendly and so forth.
Worth watching? You bet. Just don’t make them mistake of thinking this will provide HR with actual solutions any time soon unless we in HR begin to envision, to do and to ask for the data analysis we need for some valuable targeted uses.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.