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Workday Triggers New Optimism in People Analytics

Aug 01, 2016

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Workday’s announcement last week that it will acquire big data analytics vendor Platfora feels like the         shoe-drop we have been waiting for. Based on Workday’s history of disruption and its quest for the best possible user experience, we have high expectations for embedded analytics CFOs can invest in without betting the business.

For several years, thought leaders have harangued CXOs that they need to invest heavily in people analytics or risk being left behind in the race for market domination. That song has many melodies: upskill or die, predict or fail, and many others. It has seemed like an endless stream of dire predictions.

In the CIO Journal last December, Josh Bersin advised patience. He cautioned that we are in the early days of an exponential growth curve and predicts analytics will be “a standard part of HR operations” in ten years. We see caution also in the scale of the initiatives we support – nice wins with small, targeted investments.

The People Side of People Analytics

To avoid misunderstanding, let us say we get the message of the encouraging work by thought leaders like Jac Fitz-Enz and John Mattox (Predictive Analytics for Human Resources) and Jack and Patricia Phillips (Accountability in Human Resource Management: Connecting HR to Business Results). There is a bright future for people analytics. However, that the expected giant leap forward will come when vendors present the information in a way that ordinary business users can understand and use.

Learning managerial economics and predictive analytics in graduate school in the 1990’s was a study in apathy. Most classmates were in “required curriculum” mode, trying to get through it with as little effort as possible so they could move on to their real interests. Those who gravitated toward human resources and similar work were not engaged at all. Now we are asking those people to embrace predictive analytics.

Understanding Resistance

Big data is still in its infancy, and the evidence we see is in personalized marketing. Those targeted ads we see in web page sidebars tell the story of an effort to capture the attention of people searching for particular solutions. When we go to Amazon or a major retailer online to view a product, we see targeted ads related to our search on our news pages only minutes later.

But making a one-time purchase of a single item we will not purchase again for years, if ever, triggers a stream of ads to buy more. How many premium single blade razors does one man need? And why does a male seasoned citizen who has never bought a dress in his life need ads for plus-size dresses? No wonder business leaders tend to trust their intuition more than analytics.

The question we are asking ourselves is this: will the data scientists and user experience wizards come together to present solutions in a way that makes sense to HR leaders who hate math and CEOs who only trust their gut?

Your Turn

What are your thoughts? Where is people analytics going and how will you get there?

Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.

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