But there are limits to HR's data-driven transformation. "[Analytics] are all about probability, and there's just so far you can go with probability," says Crumley. "If you want to figure out how many employees you need to launch a new product, it can get you in the right ballpark. When it comes to predicting turnover, it's not an exact science. People are people."
"It's never black-and-white when you're talking about people," says Stoner of Informatica. While some folks get stars in their eyes when talking about big data, Stoner often sees a bigger haystack to sift through. But analytics, she says, help point companies in the right direction. "In HR, we live in a world where data brings more questions. You always have to look beneath it," she says. "It's not an exact science. But at least it gets us looking at the right part of the haystack so we can get to the answer faster."
That's why GM's Arena says his talent analytics will never be fully automated. "Sometimes we get projections wrong for all kinds of reasons. It can take several iterations. But HR still loves it, because it equips them to make intelligent decisions for their business partners."
9 Critical Success Factors for Talent Analytics
IT and HR leaders who have deployed workforce analytics systems offer these tips for success
Lay the foundation. Aim for a single source of HR information, if possible.
Account for imperfections. "We've got our foundational issues, for sure, but if you wait until it's completely perfect, you won't get anywhere," says Michael Arena, GM's director of global talent and organizational capability. IT can build reconciliation processes and automated audits to help HR with data issues.
Start small. Marc Franciosa, CIO of Praxair, began with an analytics pilot to map the company's high-potential employees. "If we had tried to do one big-bang workforce analytics project, it would never have gone anywhere," he says. "You have to get some traction in order to get credibility."
Tap internal experts. Both Franciosa and Arena have taken advantage of statisticians and others from their corporate R&D groups to develop their talent analytics programs.
Share the load with HR. Take advantage of HR and IT's complementary skills. IT can focus on vendor management, security and deployment, while HR might manage requirements gathering, process standardization and communication.
Bring in business know-how. David Crumley, VP of global HR information systems for Coca-Cola Enterprises, works with business leaders from functions such as supply chain, sales and finance to determine what data will drive talent analytics.
Hire external change-management help. Typically, HR leads change management in an organization. But avoid DIY change management in analytics efforts, warns Mark Endry, CIO of Arcadis U.S., who recently spent six months as interim SVP of HR. Hire external help to guide HR through its big changes.
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