Big Data: where do we start?

Big data

Big data is by no means a new concept or phenomenon. The decision by organisations to collect large and complex data sets on their customers and users is a well established act. However the correct analysis of this data, so as to leverage its value fully and deliver relevant insight is still a dark art.

New research is beginning to shine a light into this dark cave of mass data and uniformed decision making. The traditional analysis of big data, via segmentation and algorithmic mining has been shown to underutilise the information available, thus hiding the most insightful results.  The research shows that in order to gain the most value out of their vast collections of data, organisations must look inward first.

Big data and HR

Rather than focusing on customers and consumers (the traditional focus of big data) HR departments and recruiters are beginning to see real value in turning their eye to the data available on those whom they currently and in the future might employ.

Using software and bespoke algorithms some rather fascinating results have been found. Evolv, a recruitment monitoring company, analysed over three million data points from more than 30,000 employees to find that people who complete online job applications using internet browsers that did not come pre-installed on the computer (e.g. Safari on Macs or Internet Explorer on Windows) but instead deliberately installed a different browser such as Firefox or Chrome, performed better in their roles, moved jobs less and in general made more informed decisions.

This of course could just be a coincidence; however this is not the only example of interesting results being drawn upon by HR-driven data research. For instance, firms routinely cull job applicants who have a criminal record.  But research using big data has strongly suggested that in some job roles, particularly at call-centres, workers with criminal records actually perform better. Likewise, HR departments regularly eliminate candidates who have jumped from job to job, however, counter-intuitively, those which have moved jobs rapidly in the past showed no more propensity to quit quickly than fellow workers that had not.

“Firms routinely cull job applicants who have a criminal record.  However research using Big Data has strongly suggested that in some job roles, particularly at call-centres, workers with criminal records actually perform better.”

Gaining insight

Organisations leveraging big data internally can also ensure that they improve the way they evaluate candidates in interviews.  For instance, little insight is gained when asking a candidate if they are honest, however a study of 20,000 workers showed that honesty can be measured indirectly by asking questions like “What does control-V do on a PC?” as opposed to “How good are you with a computer?”  Small changes maybe, but the research in big data demonstrates that these make a tangible difference to how the overall workforce performs.  Interestingly, for some reason though these “more honest people” make less effective salesmen….

For some organisations this level of insight may not be applicable. However for organisations that recruit hundreds or thousands of employees, they can now leverage research and developments from this data-driven digital revolution. Implementing small changes to their recruitment process can have a big impact upon the efficiency and outputs of their personnel.

Printer manufacturer Xerox is a great example of this. They found that one of the single best indicators that an employee would stick with their job is if they live close by and can easily commute to work.  These findings have resulted in a reduction of attrition rates by 20%.

Big data is all around us, and organisations have been very good at gathering it. Using it correctly to make informed decisions both internally and externally still leaves much to be desired though. Gustave Flaubert put it best: “God is in the detail”. By analysing the masses of data which companies already have at their fingertips, they are now able to make better decisions to drive growth and productivity into the 21st century.

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