By Julie Windsor, Managing Director, Talentia Software UK

The human resource function has evolved considerably in recent years. The role of the HR practitioner has become increasingly strategic, moving away from an administrative approach, and as such many firms are now encouraging direct engagement between HR, line managers and employees to enable HR teams to contribute to corporate goals at a higher level. As HR’s evolution continues, companies are increasingly recognising how big data – and data analytics, specifically – can be used to effectively plan ahead.

A global corporate landscape
An increasingly competitive landscape is driving the need for firms of all sizes to embrace the benefits offered by analytics. Rising levels of globalisation and the need for companies to operate on an international level has driven the necessity for businesses to look outside of their own operations and carefully analyse what their competitors are doing.

Technological advancement has been instrumental in facilitating this shift. The rise of big data has opened up many organisations’ eyes to the scope of information that is internally available to aid with decision-making. Through data analytics, HR departments can now gather and analyse complex data in one place, turning this into business intelligence to inform strategic decisions.

Data analytics also better enables firms to ensure the health of the business. It does this by aiding with collaboration, and specifically helping HR to work more closely with the finance function in order to develop a shared understanding of the skills the organisation needs to invest in to support its future growth, predict the future, and get ahead of the competition.

Variety and speed are the key differentiators between big data and the large datasets of the past. Considerably more information can now be gleaned from the analysis of big data compared to a single dataset, and big data allows correlations to be drawn and business trends to be identified due to the volume and variety of data that is created and utilised. Specific human capital management solutions have now been developed to manage talent across organisations from recruitment to retention and draw comparisons from internal and external market data. Utilising data analytics in this way allows the HR function to move from a HR-centric model towards a collaborative model where managers, employees and HR can proactively address new business challenges.

Increased understanding of big data needed
Big data analytics is still a relatively new concept, of course, and a degree of misunderstanding currently abounds with regards to what the term actually means and how it can be applied by HR professionals. In fact, a recent survey of senior HR practitioners carried out by Talentia found that 56% of respondents did not understand the term in relation to human resources.

Greater education about big data’s practical application is clearly called for, as is the need for highly effective information lifecycle management (ILM), as there are now significantly heightened levels of data that need to be managed. ILM challenges – such as optimising storage, maintaining high levels of data security, and managing the maintenance and licensing costs attached to the archiving process – must be addressed. Doing so will allow businesses to utilise big data to make informed decisions to support business goals with lessened levels of risk attached.

It is important to recognise that the notion of big data will continue to evolve considerably in the years ahead. We are still in the early stages of the technology’s development, and the processes and capabilities of the software applications that manage the data will continue to advance in order to cope with analysing ever growing amounts and variety of data, as well as the speed at which it is created and used.

From a HR perspective, big data and analytics fundamentally enables practitioners to make swift decisions based on accurate information and to analyse internal successes and failures, taking this information to Board level in an accessible format. As well as providing HR with the ability to respond to skills gaps and plan for the future, it fundamentally provides the HR function with the key metrics needed to contribute effectively at a strategic level where the dialogue has now changed.