PARIS — After having crept into the realms of marketing and commerce, big data is now penetrating human resources. 

Big data — the term for a collection of information so large and complex that it can’t be processed with traditional applications — allows information to be cross-referenced with that of other branches of a company and even with information from outside businesses (social networks, CV libraries, and public database, for example).

New tools made possible by big data can, in short, enable companies to make better decisions. Thanks to mathematical algorithms, software can sort through information to find correlations and identify recurring patterns. “This makes it possible to find the right candidate among a pile of applications, to better manage capabilities thanks to the detailed analysis of annual interviews, to organize internal mobility, and to individualize wage policy,” says Macia Roca, head of the business unit for a company that sells IT services.

Bank of America has used the tool to study movements and interactions among its staff members. It noticed that the teams with the best bonds were also those that were most efficient. So the bank introduced regular staff breaks to encourage employees to gather and exchange around the coffee machine. “Big data adds value to human resources,” explains Jacques Bossoney, vice president of solutions recruitment for IBM Europe. “It removes uncertainty and adds intelligence and insight into several fields.” 

It even reads résumés

When it comes to recruiting, Big Data software can sort through thousands of applications very quickly by filtering CVs with key words and desired skills. Even better, profile analyses of employees can be associated with the skills they had when they were just job candidates and also with their history at a company. So it’s now possible to “rate” candidates and employees.

Once the right person is recruited for a position, the challenge for companies is to win his or her loyalty. Again, big data is very effective in this process, as it can help companies anticipate why employees in a specific region or in a specific position might be difficult to retain. 

A chemical company, for example, was able to identify an employee population that was at particular risk of leaving their jobs. It then launched a program specifically targeting this group, making changes in their job descriptions and salaries. By doing so, it reduced team turnover to just 5%, below the average of 8% for the sector.

Big data has other advantages too. “Thanks to predictive modelization, a company can look into the future and anticipate the evolution of the jobs it offers,” notes Mouloud Dey, head of solutions and emerging markets for the publishing house SAS. “It can also foresee its needs, taking into account the employees who will retire, the time necessary for training new skills, etc. It can thus maximize its strengths over time.” 

This ability to establish patterns, to answer questions and to ask new ones will deeply transform the work of human resources departments. “Big Data is not the solution to everything,” admits Albert Ofrah, head of offer management of human resources for SAP Europe. “It will, however, have an impact on companies’ human resources policy. Thanks to very precise measures based on vast quantities of data, it will show whether a solution is good or not. That will allow the head of human resources to efficiently apply the strategy established by the board of directors.”

And maybe, just maybe, it will also change the image of human resources to something more than a spiritless dismissal office.