HR Operations, Technology and Analytics

Blog: Seven Rules of HR and Big Data

  • June 14, 2021
Nick Holley

Director of CRF Learning Nick Holley introduces his blog series on HR and Big Data.

I recently finished recording my content for CRF Learning’s upcoming On Demand module Workforce Analytics and Storytelling, due to launch in July. It made me reflect on all the hype on Big Data.

I keep reading the latest wow facts about big data:

  • Every minute 500 hours of video are posted on YouTube
  • Every minute more than 200,000 people participate in Zoom meetings 
  • Every minute users stream more than 400,000 videos on Netflix
  • Every minute Google has about 5 million searches
  •  Every minute WhatsApp users exchange about 42 million messages 
  • Every minute every person on the planet generates more than 100 megabytes of data 
  • But 99.5% of collected data never gets used or analysed

Big Data is one of those terms that has recently come to the fore and is already in danger of becoming a cliché. The amount of data we are generating is increasing exponentially and the IT tools now available mean it is possible to analyse these data in real time to drive insights that, when acted on, can enhance business performance. IT and data have of course been around for decades but what is new is that in the last few years the sheer quantity of data and the effectiveness of analytical tools have grown exponentially so traditional approaches only scratch the surface. 

“By using Big Data analytics solutions, and specifically high-performance analytics, businesses and governments can analyse huge amounts of data in seconds and minutes to reveal previously unseen patterns, sentiments and customer intelligence. This speed and accuracy of insight, delivered across any device including smart phones and tablets, means organisations can make better, faster decisions.”(Data equity – unlocking the value of Big Data. CEBR for SAS, April 2012

 This creates a massive opportunity for business. 

“As Big Data and its levers become an increasingly valuable asset, their intelligent exploitation will be critical for enterprises to compete effectively. We already see organisations that understand and embrace the use of Big Data pulling ahead of their peers in tangible corporate performance measures. The use of Big Data will become a key basis of competition across sectors, so it is imperative that organisational leaders begin to incorporate big data into their business plans.” (Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. McKinsey Global Institute, June 2011

This will be as true in HR as in any function, though HR has been slower than most to see the opportunity. It would appear to be obvious that data analytics is a tool that when used effectively can transform HR’s effectiveness and its relevance to the business. Data analytics provides HR with the opportunity to create game changing insights from data within the function, from other functions (marketing, sales, risk, finance etc) and/or from the external world. HR can use this opportunity to move beyond gut feel and intuition to identify the core drivers behind workforce and capability issues, thus ensuring HR doesn’t just do what HR has always done because it has always done it but focuses its activity where it can directly impact business performance.  

Phil Simon, in his book Too Big to Ignore: the Business Case for Big Data, talks about the popular perception of HR folks tending to almost exclusively rely on gut instincts versus making decisions based on data. “I’m convinced that as the profession continues to embrace the use of data and analytics into its practices, that it will also continue to solidify its role within the C-Suite.” (HR as a data leader: how it can help solidify your strategic role. David Bernstein, 17 April 2013,

Not only does this transform HR’s potential impact but it can also transform its relevance and hence credibility by ensuring it talks the language (data) of the business and engages in issues (profitability, productivity, capability etc) that the business sees as central rather than HR issues (sickness, absence, diversity etc) that the business see as things they can delegate to HR.

In thinking about this I have identified seven golden rules that I will explore over the next seven weeks:

  1. Drive your data analytics from the business issue not the data.
  2. Don’t overinvest in your data initiative; start small and prove the concept.
  3. Join your HR data with your finance, marketing, risk and other data.
  4. Don’t worry too much where your data analytics team sits but make sure they are connecting the data to the business issues and the HR solutions.
  5. How you present the data is as important as the data – insightful, impactful, simple and relevant.
  6. This will change HR so recruit HR people who get it: commercial, action oriented, focused, willing to challenge, agile and curious.
  7. Develop data comfort in the whole HR function.

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