Successful Data Analytics Starts With Building Right Team

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By Genevieve Douglas

Successful data analytics endeavors don’t have to involve complex data mining, but they do have to start with a team that bridges the HR and tech divide, practitioners say.

Employers need data analytics teams with skill sets that range “from purely tech and analytics training to HR knowledge and business strategy knowledge,” Nestor Ares, HR analytics and processes unit chief at the Inter-American Development Bank, said June 19.

Data analytics presents employers the opportunity to measure and quantify business processes that mostly have only been qualitative before, such as employee engagement, retention, or productivity, Alym Rayani, director of Office security and compliance for Microsoft Corp., told Bloomberg BNA June 20.

By analyzing data on employee behaviors, such as when workers are sending email, how much time they spend with managers, who they collaborate with, or when they’re accessing work after hours, HR has the opportunity to identify workflows and employee characteristics that are working for these jobs, Rayani said.

And it doesn’t have to require HR to aggregate financial and operational data that can be difficult to gain access to, he said. This kind of data can be generated just from the “digital exhaust” of everyday interactions online, according to Rayani.

But first, the company has to build the right analytics team, Ares told attendees of the Society for Human Resource Management annual conference in New Orleans. There may be challenges incorporating analytics into HR’s more traditional workflow, so there needs to be partnership between HR business strategists and data and tech professionals, he said.

Building the Team

A successful data analytics team often includes a data wrangler, a developer, a business analyst, a statistician, a “visualizer,” and a communicator, Ares said. There doesn’t have to be one employee per role, but all roles are essential to a successful team. “They are very different functions,” he added.

According to Ares, the goal is to have enough expertise to accomplish:

  •  Data management and security: The data specialist will be focused on understanding the different source systems and how to extract data from them. Applying these skills requires extensive knowledge of the organization’s internal systems and how the data is stored, he said.
  •  Statistics and data analytics: Everyone on the team “really should have some numbers sense,” Ares advised. While there may be team members who are much more advanced than others in this sphere, this will be key to being successful, he said.
  •  Design and visualization: Not all analytics outputs need to show “complex” graphs and visuals, but having this resource will make the communication around the data and findings easier to disseminate, Ares said.
  •  Communication: Analytics teams need a team member with good communication skills and “a gift for storytelling,” according to Ares. This team member’s main goal is to bridge the gap between the needs of the business and the data that is available, he said.
The biggest challenge that should be on an organization’s radar when building this team, however, is not technology or skills on the analytics team, “it’s cultural,” Ares said. It’s essential to turn the numbers into business strategy, and the employees with that expertise may not be natural data analysts, he said.

Finding These Skills

Today’s competitive labor market may make it very difficult to hire all tech positions from outside the company, Ares said, so it’s important to look within the organization to find the employees who have these skills.

For example, there may be people inside the HR department who already have some knowledge of statistics or are used to managing numbers. “With a little training, these are the kind of people who can start making HR data talk,” he said.

There may also be workers in other parts of the company who can move into HR, such as from IT or finance, Ares said. Intern programs are another potential resource for data analytics skills and knowledge, he added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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