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3 Lessons I learned about big data

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A term that has been popping up all over the place recently is ‘big data’. It has taunted me on Twitter, leered at me from LinkedIn, frolicked on Facebook and gallivanted all over Google +. And when I could take it no longer, and screamed: “Yes, I can see you’re there so I suppose that it’s time for me to find out more about you!”, I made the decision to attend the Going Big on Data event which was held at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

And I am so glad that I went because I learned A LOT!

Lesson #1: There is a great need for workforce-related data

Marius Meyer, CEO of the SA Board for People Practitioners (SABPP), launched the proceedings with some criticisms of HR in South Africa at the moment. The hardest-hitting fact for me was finding out that workforce analytics is a system that is largely ignored by South Africa’s HR practitioners.

Meaning of workforce analytics – Workforce analytics is a process during which an organisation’s leaders use statistical models that are created from internal and external business-related information to interpret employee-related data. As a result, leaders gain a better understanding of the workforce, which improves their ability to predict talent-related behaviour and anticipate any future worker-related challenges. Source:

Marius referred to an IBM study which measured the extent that workforce analytics is used by SA HR practitioners. The study revealed two startling facts:

1. A large number of the practitioners did not know about workforce analytics, and
2. The majority of them had no system of measuring or recording workforce-related data.

This means that leaders are not recording data such as absenteeism rates and staff turnover, which are possibly two of a company’s biggest expenses.

Why is it so important to record and interpret workforce-related data?

Interpreting workforce analytics leads to a better knowledge of your organisation’s workforce and optimises Human Resource Management (HRM).


By recording HR data, leaders can identify weaknesses or problems that negatively affect the workforce, and act accordingly. Workforce analytics help leaders to:

Streamline recruiting methods,
Identify the need for new roles and departments,
Monitor the company’s resources and accurately predict any future technological needs,
Determine the company’s top talent,
Support and encourage future leaders,
Retain talent, and, among others,
Reduce incidences of absenteeism.
Marius explained that, in addition to an absence of HR metrics, the HR profession has a lack of standards. In a bid to address this, the SABPP developed 13 HR standards for professionals to create much-needed consistency across the field of HR. These standards are currently in the process of public consultation and will be adopted at the beginning of August.

The SABPP website lists the HR standard elements as seen below:

1. Strategic human resource management,
2. Talent management,
3. HR risk management,
4. Workforce planning,
5. Learning and development,
6. Performance management,
7. Reward,
8. Wellness,
9. Employment relations management,
10. Organisation development,
11. HR service delivery,
12. HR technology, and
13. HR measurement.

Lesson #2: Visualising your organisation’s structure is necessary for successful workforce planning

Following Marius came, Helmut Kaitz, vice president: EMEA sales and business operations at Nakisa, which is a provider of Organisational Management (OM) and Talent Management (TM) solutions. Helmut also highlighted the importance of recording accurate HR data. Helmut, however, veered off in a different direction by explaining how a good knowledge of your organisation’s workforce structure can ensure effective succession planning.

Drawing from his experience in organisational management, Helmut identified some of the challenges that threaten effective succession planning:

Challenge #1: There is a lack of accurate employee data, which wastes precious time.
Challenge #2: Managers do not have the appropriate tools to facilitate the process properly, e.g. employee records, system software, administration rights or a certain skillset.
Challenge #3: Employees do not understand how succession works or cannot visualise the organisation’s structure.
Nakisa, in partnership with SAP, proposes a solution for all these problems

Helmut showed a demo of the SAP Organisational Management Visualisation product, which acts as an easy-to-use software where you can file all your workforce data and store an up-to-date illustration of your organisation’s structures and roles.

Lesson #3: Employees need to have direction

Talent management consultant Dirk Nieuwoudt was next on the line-up. Nieuwoudt was demonstrating another SAP- and Nakisa-produced software demo, SAP Talent Visualisation. This program allows you to see and manage your talent pool and in so doing, gives you the ability to align your talent to meet your business goals.

What really thrilled me was the career planning for employees’ functionality integrated in the software. The software allows you to plan for your growth within your current company and to see it visually.

In this portal, the employee can see all vacant internal job positions within the company and all the career paths available to him or her. This gives employees a really good grasp of how they can move within their organisation and what skillsets they would have to acquire to grow in a particular direction. It also allows an employee to record their individual career goals and show them what skills they lack or need to obtain to be eligible for other positions. In addition, employees can share their career aspirations with management and HR, which encourages a channel of constructive feedback from the powers-that-be and the employees.


Frew Murdoch is the assistant editor of HR Pulse. She is currently studying towards her BA degree in Communications and English. Christine Botha, co-author of 'Ethics in HR Management: A guide for HR professionals and line managers', had this to say: "I stumbled across your review of our Ethics Guide published 28 June 2012 and wish to thank you for the positive and complimentary comments made – this was a lovely surprise and most rewarding. I will certainly pass this on to all co-authors of the Guide."

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