Moving from HR Reports to HR Analytics in Asia
Businesses and boardrooms around the globe have long been aware of the importance of big data analytics, visualization of first-hand information and trend predictions – all keys to outrun your competition and to manage risks before they really happen. There are many expensive business intelligence software products available on the market right now and we can anticipate the number to grow as time goes by. What is the future of reporting, charting and dashboarding? What tools should you use now and tomorrow? What will be the new rules for business intelligence five years down the road? These are all hot discussion topics that business professionals are seeking answers to these days.
Ironically (if you are not finding it too sarcastic, “pathetically” would be a better word to use otherwise), most of the HR generalists in Asia are still struggling hour after hour, day after day to generate reports, writing old style query languages in HR systems, cleansing and aggregating data from different sources in an Excel spreadsheet. This snapshot, being so familiar, seems to have been frozen in time for the past 20 years!
Who and what has brought HR professionals to this situation? Is there a way out from this “dead-end alley”?
The Era of 2D Reporting Is Over.
Not to mention costlier and sophisticated business intelligence software, let’s look at the reporting tool that 1.3 billion people are using: Microsoft Excel. The era of 2D reporting has long gone. Microsoft Excel is no longer just a spreadsheet builder, it has become so much more since its last version. And as long as your copy is correctly licensed (Office 2013 Professional Plus through volume license of Office 365 cloud subscription), you already have a business intelligence software running right in front of you – with reasonable functions for connections and integrations for different data source, data cleansing, analysis, data modelling, and all the way to interactive visualization, cutting and dicing, thanks to add-ins such as Power BI, Power Query, Power View, or Power Pivot, you name it.
So why such powerful and convenient tools haven’t benefited HR so far?
To answer this question, let’s look at where most of the HR data comes from. If one looks at the most popular HR systems in Asia and Hong Kong, it is not difficult to spot that most of these systems are still using technology dating back to the early ‘90s: think clients, primitive authentication and connection methods, etc. Software providers seem to have stopped R&D investment for far too long.
Such delay in getting up to speed affects the way HR data is held. Outdated design on data storage algorithm (so called outdated in a sense when compared to today’s standards at the very least!), poor indexing leading to poor performance, inexistent relations between tables as well as proprietary design, all seem to be the result of the efforts made by the software giants in the past two decades. Despite the availability of powerful and convenient reporting tools in the market, jacking them into old fashion HR systems is most certainly a major challenge.
Corporate Attitude towards HR System Spending & On-demand Computing
When compared to other IT budgets like finance systems, ERP or POS, most corporations in Asia seem to have a much stingier attitude towards spending on HR systems, leaving a very slim spectrum of choice from local system vendors only.
The evolution of employee-centric functionalities such as Employee-Self-Service (ESS) and mobile apps also hits hard when HR managers plan their budget. Traditionally, a line of simple arithmetic is sufficient to compute total software cost. Sum up the implementation fee, the cost of one or two computer servers, and three to five years of maintenance fee to come up with the result.
However, this evolution has remarkably increased the demand for infrastructure investment including network bandwidth, hardware redundancy, data backup devices and system security. Such investment, being vital to the enablement of these modern functionalities, may sometimes represent as much as 80% of the overall hardware investment. Sadly, these costs are in most cases overlooked by HR managers in Asia!
Today, on-demand, hosted, SaaS, cloud, ASP, subscription-based (or whatever you wish to call it) HR systems equipped with state-of-the-art business intelligence functionalities are far from uncommon and are available at very affordable monthly subscription fee. Most corporations in the US, Europe and Australia have now a good understanding of this, and it has since become the main revenue stream for most international HRIS vendors for the past 10 years.
The slow adoption of on-demand HR systems in Asia inevitably limits choices, leaving no alternative but to go back to the old “neighbourhood stores”. The difficulty in breaking the ice of old perceptions for system and data ownership, system security or also switches from CapEx to OpEx investment models may also slow down the whole adoption process despite the continuous astronomic investment made by technology giants in corporate education and on cloud security (for instance, Microsoft Azure)
A Quantum Leap from 2D Reports to 3D Analytics
Many HR practitioners in Asia freak out right away when terms like technology, cloud, .NET or web come into play. Don’t be! Technology nowadays is more easily learnt and adopted by laymen and is also much more affordable!
A good example is that instead of writing complicated “SELECT” queries in an old style HR system, natural language processing automates this operation within most business intelligence software. HR and executive users can simply ask questions like “Tell me what’s the average salary by department?”, either from their own desktop, mobile phone or tablet devices, by typing in or just speaking out the command directly to be served with the result instantly.
To achieve the ultimate goal of having access to useful analytics, HR practitioners in Asia need to shift from a 2D to a 3D thinking. They need to understand the subject to be analyzed and the different ways a business problem can be approached in order to define which data to cut and slice in order to get an appropriate answer. Once you know that, you can just leave the data processing to technology, which can include:
- Querying and cleansing: to automatically connect, relate, extract and filter data from different sources and transform it into clean, human friendly information;
- Integration & Aggregation: To merge and relate information from different sources in a predefined schedule for subsequent analysis. From a HR management perspective, it could be the process of merging sales data from a ERP system to the performance ratings held in the HR system. Another example consists in combining the salary review data stored in the HR system with the employee attendance records that are being stored separately;
- Modelling & Enriching: to automatically relate data, enrich it with additional information (such as calculations, KPIs), and with assistance from machine-learning functionalities, to spot changes amongst data for information that may be easily overlooked by humans;
- Visualization: to form reports, charts, dashboards and to cut and dice via simple human-machine interaction; and finally:
- Automation & Sharing: the ability to share real-time visuals right to the point of consumption, anytime, anywhere and from any device.