HR directors warned not to ‘run before they can walk’ on analytics

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HR directors were yesterday warned by a panel of experts not to “run before you can walk” when it comes to data analytics.

Speaking at HR services provider Ceridian’s annual customer conference in London, Cerdian’s chief product and innovation officer David Woodward told the audience: “HR mustn’t run before it can walk. Getting an accurate headcount is still a challenge for some companies. The challenge moving forward is to make sense of the data, not the technology itself.”

Tom Standage, digital editor of the Economist, added that despite big data being a fashionable phrase, the term isn’t applied correctly to HR data. “There is a technical definition for big data, and this is not what we’re talking about when it comes to HR data,” he said. “Analytics is a better term for it.”

Woodward said handling this data required a different skillet from HR professionals. “You have to have the brain that understands analytics and understands what this means. People don’t tend to enter HR because they have a brain that works in that way. There’s a gap for people who augment HR in that way.”

However, Amanda Brady, hospitality group Whitbread’s HR director for Premier Inn and Shared Services, disagreed, saying today’s HR directors do have these skills.

“I have to be a commercial leader,” she said. “I have to understand and interpret data to make the right decisions and influence.” She accused Woodward of “stereotyping”. “HR professionals are very different now,” she said.

Carole Pearson, head of HRSS and people systems Marks and Spencer, said that HR needs to use data intelligently to support decision-making.

She added although technology is a huge enabler for business, “it doesn’t change the need to have engaged employees, the right skills and having the right people in the right place at the right time.”

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