Picture yourself walking into a huge, imposing library.
Books of every genre and length line the shelves; those shelves begin at your feet and go up, up, up far beyond your vision. Then, imagine walking over to a random shelf and reaching out to the first book you see. You open the book and read the first line on the first page of hundreds of millions of pages in hopes of finding something – anything – that directly affects you.
This is how many businesses feel when it comes to analyzing big data.
As we continue operating our businesses, we continue producing cascades of data. In fact, Cisco Global Technology Policy Vice President, Robert Pepper, noted that in 2017, global internet traffic will amount to 1.4 zettabytes, which is larger than the history of the internet from 1984 to 2012 (1.2ZB).
Moreover, a 2013 Science Daily study revealed that, “90 percent of the world’s data today has been created in the past two years.”
Those are some big numbers; however, within that overflow of data are important pieces of information that can benefit a business’s bottom line. It is because of the inherent value in such data that those numbers greatly interest today’s businesses, and more specifically, today’s HR leaders.
Workforce analytics, the study of worker-related data, has recently become a buzz phrase. In the same way marketing analytics hope to capitalize on leads, workforce analytics hope to increase a business’s efficiency through predicting how employees work. In essence, workforce analytics focuses on people and tries to predict and promote successes through those people.
“[O]rganizations that use workforce analytics have the most engaged workforces, and they thrive in tough conditions,” said Tim Ringo, Harvard Business Review author. “Most importantly, they do fewer headcount reductions because they have lean and efficient workforces to begin with.”
Hiring the best people with the necessary skills for the right job sounds easy enough, right? However, going back to the library analogy, finding that perfect piece of data — the right book — in the vast information age is arduous, to say the least.
Starting with a Question
Workforce analytics not only analyzes people in hopes of optimizing their work, but it also predicts and prescribes statistically supported actions to business leaders.
Before predicting and prescribing, HR leaders must first know what they’re looking for, and like any good problem, an answer can be found by asking the right question. For example, if you walk into the library with questions like, How many works of fiction did Jane Austen write? How do you make a perfect soufflé? you’re more likely to find an answer than walking in with no direction.
Formulating questions such as, What type of work must get accomplished this quarter? Are my employees engaged? How many employees do we need to double our profit? will help guide your analysis. Once your business hones in on the right question, it can then begin the work of validating that the data is complete, doing the actual analysis, recommending a plan of action and defending that plan company-wide.
The Future of Workforce Analytics
In a perfect world, tools like workforce analytics would function quickly and efficiently to provide businesses with the information they need to hire right and generate revenue; however, the sheer amount of data and the infancy of the field has many businesses dragging their feet at the onset.
Thankfully, the recent push for analytics has allowed capable employees to fill the gaps. According to a 2016 Deloitte study about workforce analytics, “In 2015, only 24 percent of companies felt ready or somewhat ready for analytics; this year  that number jumped by one-third, to 32 percent.”
It is crucial that businesses don’t cower at the sheer volume of the data, or “books” they must absorb, but rather understand that within them are the answers that will put their businesses on the map.
All they have to do is understand the genre.