Analyzing the Analytics

analyticsThe era of analytics is here. We’ve been talking about it for years, but companies are starting to actually do something about it. While attending the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas last month, every conversation eventually touched on analytics. It’s money ball for HR. Just like baseball management use statistics and past performance to predict future performance, so too is corporate management turning to data and statistics to better understand their talent and the impact it has – and could have — on the organization.

Navigating an Ocean of Data

It sounds great. The problem is, not a lot of people really know what they are doing yet. They’re sort of floating in an ocean of data saying, “look at all this great data we’ve collected!” Well, that’s data collection, not analytics. So they reach into the ocean and pull out a cupful of data, declaring, “80% of enrolled learners completed this course!” Well, that’s reporting, not analytics. Data collection is a means to an end. It provides you with your ocean of data, but by itself, it’s meaningless. Reporting goes a step further, but it’s a small step. It’s just a static snapshot of one or two data points without much context.

Analytics is a huge leap beyond all of this. In keeping with the data ocean metaphor, it’s like going from fishing to marine biology. Now you are taking samples from different parts of the data ocean and using them to identify trends and patterns. Soon you’ve got an understanding of how the ocean works and how everything in it works together (or doesn’t!). After a good investment in this kind of analysis, you can move on to predicative analytics, using the analysis of the data to make decisions based on what’s likely to occur.

Going Beyond Dashboards and Pretty Graphics

The problem is, most learning, HR and talent functions do not possess the skillsets internally to do the kind of analysis required to make the data they are collecting meaningful. They default to generating static reports that don’t tell the organization very much.  Technology platforms are providing all kinds of data visualizations and dashboards, but most often these are just pretty web versions of the same reports. If a company is going to truly embrace predictive analytics, dashboards won’t cut it. You need to be able to manage actual databases.

So this is the crossroad at which we find ourselves. Organizations are hungry for analytics, but unsure how to get there. The truth of the matter is that beyond some of the larger, more technical organizations, most companies are not going to be hiring PhD statisticians for learning data analysis. However, technology providers are becoming savvier in the tools they are delivering. I’m seeing more data tools lately that allow someone with almost no data analysis background to run functions like correlations and regressions.

The timing is important on this. Whether they look for external tools, third-party contractors, or internal expertise, companies need to get good at this quickly. The technology advances of the past few years have flooded us with data, and most companies have no idea what to do with what they already have. The sources of learning, talent and HR data are growing exponentially, and companies are facing a tsunami of data in which they will drown unless they develop their analytics strategy now.

David Wentworth, Principal Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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