Ever wonder what happens with all that information that we’re entering into those web browsers, online shopping carts, credit card swipers and smartphone GPS devices? Not to mention our driver’s licenses, facebook profiles, and travel itineraries? Although many people worry that such data collection may erode individual privacy, there are also many others who worry that we aren’t collecting enough of it — or making good use of it. To that end, seemingly overnight, a new industry has arisen to aggregate this massive quantity of data, strip it of personal identifiers, analyze it, and use it to help organizations make better workforce management decisions. It’s being called “big data,” and, today, it’s everywhere.
Want to know how consumers feel about your new headache remedy? Perhaps there’s some clue in the millions of tweets that went out over the last six weeks. Or maybe there’s a revealing insight into consumer behavior concerning brands that have been purchased alongside of yours. Or where they were purchased. Or at what time of day. Statisticians who are experienced with analyzing large scale data can sort out the correlations that are meaningful from those that are merely noise.
While Big Data projects often involve collection of external data, they can also involve analyzing internal data that your organization has been collecting for years. Human Resources managers are starting to discover the benefits of big data analysis. Staffing managers are moving toward methodical data analysis— looking at workforce management data, such as attrition rates, and analyzing it for useful insights on sourcing and hiring strategy.
Big Data’s potential for successfully sourcing talent was highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Meet the New Boss: Big Data. Workforce staffing managers at a large call center operation had relied on instinct and anecdotal evidence to make hires; they looked for candidates who had held similar jobs in the past. However, the ‘big data’ analysis of their internal human resources records showed that the strongest correlation for a successful hire was personality, not past experience. With almost 50,000 call center employees, this company had enough internal data to draw reliable conclusions, though the providers of big data services are careful to caution employers about the pitfalls of casual or inexperienced analysis in workforce decision-making.
With its reliance on statistics and standardized testing, many are concerned about bias that can skew against groups or classes of workers, or weed out those quirky, high-performers who may not meet the scoring threshold.
Regardless of the possible downfalls, it looks like Big Data is here to stay, in consumer sales, in business-to-business marketing, and in staffing, too. With employers looking to streamline operations and make better hires who will stay for the long haul, the lure is irresistible.
Who are the big players in Big Data? Among others: IBM, Kenexa and Oracle.