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Big, Bigger & Biggest Data: How HR Management Could Benefit

By Robert Mattson, Director of Marketing for Talent Management, ADP®


Big Data has been the buzz phrase in nearly every business conversation in 2012—and it is expected to be that much hotter in 2013.


But what does it mean to HR practitioners and how does it affect how they execute their HR functions? 


Short answer: It means a lot.


So, what is Big Data? It is defined as the potential knowledge locked in the estimated terabytes, petabytes and exabytes of information that is being created daily and stored throughout the cloud. 


While many associate this information with traditional business functions, it is important to remember that HR hasn’t been left out of the data party. In fact, HRIS systems have stored enough core employee information on recruiting, performance, compensation, succession and learning to fill up hard drives in cloud servers around the globe. 


The ADP National Employment Report (visualized here as an infographic) is a good example of this, which indicated that 162,000 private sector jobs were added to the economy in September. That statistic—drawn from hundreds of thousands of data elements—is Big Data. 


But how do we obtain knowledge and insight from all of this Big Data?  What are the limits to what Big Data can supply us with? And does Bigger—and even Biggest—Data exist?


To answer these questions, let’s begin by defining Big, Bigger and Biggest Data as it pertains to HR:


  1. Big Data: All the HR related data that is available regarding past and present employees
  2. Bigger Data: A collection of more than one company’s Big Data that acts as a benchmark for analyzing information
  3. Biggest Data: All the Big Data available that can help answer questions beyond the scope of HR and into the realm of traditional business


One example of Big Data is when HR seeks to answer a key question that is being asked daily by companies all over the world: “Where do our top performers come from?” Whether they come from a particular college, geographical region or other third-party company is immaterial. The fact is that the company would have to break down silos in order to answer the question, and then the data would have to be related. This is the first—and most simple—level of Big Data for HR. 


Bigger Data is the next logical step because it requires gaining access to a wider world of HR data. For example, an HR VP would probably be interested in the answer to the following question: “If we pay new employees at 75 percent of the salary range instead of 50 percent, would we get the type of talent that would make us more successful?” 


There are numerous questions that have to be answered before the core question can even be attempted. What is the salary range? What is the dollar value of the 50 percent and the 75 percent? Are the people that are being hired for the positions at your competitors better performers? These questions add complexity, but they also increase potential for greater insight and more reward.


Biggest Data can break out of the HR domain altogether. Suppose there is a market analysis that says a new mine will open in 2015 that could supply vital raw materials a company needs for its product in Peru. Does that mean that it should staff a new factory in Peru? What will the talent market look like in Peru for skilled labor and management? Will current managers move there for a short or long term assignment? Biggest Data can help answer these types of questions.


With organizations only able to digest approximately 5 percent of the data they have today, the challenge of Big, Bigger and Biggest Data is daunting. 


However, unlocking its mystery could lead to Big rewards—all it requires is the wherewithal to seek the answers and embrace Big Data as the key to successful business outcomes.


Robert Mattson, director of marketing for ADP’s Talent Management division, is a 20-plus year veteran of the enterprise software space, and has been focusing on talent management for the past 10 years. An in-demand speaker, Robert has presented numerous webinars and at several national industry events and user conferences nationwide. Prior to taking on his role at ADP, he held management positions at Workscape, Applix, Eprise Inc., Interleaf and Allaire Corporation.  Robert's articles have appeared in Employee Relations Today, Workspan, Talent Management Magazine and the Compensation Handbook, 5th Edition (published by McGraw-Hill).