Big Data or big deal?

‘Big Data’ is definitively one of the buzz words in HR at the moment, with many experts jumping on the bandwagon.

The word on the street is that “everyday, people across the world create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data–so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.” (IBM research)

Imagine then how much data your employees create in their day to day activities.

My question is then, in the world of HR, is Big Data really that amazing or is it just a big ado about nothing?

I believe the answer comes down to the level of analytics and data maturity within each organisation.

It certainly is an opportunity, but only if you know what to do with it, otherwise it’s just data!

But hang on, I can hear you say, what is Big Data after all?

“Data [in general] comes from everywhere: from sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos posted online, transaction records of online purchases, and from cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data.

Big data spans three dimensions: Variety, Velocity and Volume.

  • Variety – Big data extends beyond structured data, including unstructured data of all varieties: text, audio, video, click streams, log files and more.
  • Velocity – Often time-sensitive, big data must be used as it is streaming in to the enterprise in order to maximise its value to the business.
  • Volume – Big data comes in one size: large. Enterprises are awash with data, easily amassing terabytes and even petabytes of information.

Big data is more than a challenge; it is an opportunity to find insight in new and emerging types of data, to make your business more agile, and to answer questions that, in the past, were beyond reach.” (IBM research)

So if Big Data is so amazing, what can we do with it in HR?

I found this model by Bersin to be handy, where it shows visually a step ladder approach to the maturity level in talent analytics.

Bersin talent analytics maturity model

The same type of model could be applied to almost all types of HR analytics, Big Data included, and truth be told, more often than not, most HR departments find themselves confined to playing catch up in the ‘Reactive Operational Reporting’ section of the model.

In addition to that, when you examine the success factors for Big Data integration, it’s not only about the ‘big-ness’ of the data, but also how fast, how smart and how relevant as well.

With critical success factors as huge as those, it’s no surprise that C level executives feel that “Big Data is somewhat more costly to bring in, and somewhat less understood. Most of the executives did not expect Big Data to become their primary form of analysis, choosing to focus on their core analytical capabilities instead. Only seven of the executives said companies should use Big Data as a substitute for older analytical techniques, and 25 said Big Data is not yet valuable enough to justify its costs.” (CFO Journal)

So the message here is clear: Unless organisations can somehow remove themselves under the huge burden of ad hoc and reactive reporting, and are willing to pick through a mountainous pile for the proverbial needle in the haystack, AND spend tons of money investing in technology enabling them to do that, Big Data might just end up being one of the most overused and misunderstood corporate buzzwords in HR.


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