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How real-time analytics can benefit HR

For analytics to be truly useful, it must be embedded into user workflows. Learn how HR tools are incorporating such approaches and where they can offer employers the most value.

A small but growing number of business and HR leaders are examining ways to harness real-time analytics throughout the employment lifecycle.

Real-time analytics delivers insights at the moment managers and HR practitioners need it.

The value of such information lies in its being appropriately timed, said Ian Cook, vice president of people solutions at Visier, a data technology provider based in Vancouver B.C.

For example, many talent acquisition teams pride themselves on their responsiveness, Cook said. That often leads them to jump on new recruiting emails or assignments, which can result in neglecting to monitor campaigns that were launched days ago. Tools that use real-time analytics can crunch data from an organization's applicant tracking system overnight then present recruiters with areas that need of attention so they can better focus their workday.

That helps talent acquisition teams make informed decisions about their recruiting priorities that day, Cook said. For example, the team could review the data and spot a job requisition that hasn't seen any activity in five days.

Such applications, HR leaders say, are more useful to more people than dashboards that are removed from day-to-day processes.

Data acceptance fuels real-time analytics

To understand real-time analytics' burgeoning growth, it's important to understand the growth of a data mindset and people analytics more generally.

The spread of data in our everyday lives contributes to the receptivity to real-time analytics, said Imran Ahmed, director of product marketing for ADP DataCloud. Today, consumers of all stripes look to Google Maps for real-time analytics on traffic or go to the web for travel data or sports data. Data drives the recommendation engines of widely used sites such as Amazon and Netflix.

"[Real-time analytics is] a part of our day-to-day lives now," Ahmed said.

That desire for data and the insights it can bring has spread to the enterprise, including the HR department.

The growing use of real-time analytics is probably an extension of HR's adoption of data, said Pete Tiliakos, principal analyst at Boston-based industry analyst firm NelsonHall.

About 56% of companies that have purchased human capital management technology are using some type of analytics tool, Tiliakos said.

According to Deloitte research, 71% of organizations believe people analytics is a high priority, while 31% rate it as very important.

Still, people analytics has grown slowly in HR, as many struggle to understand how best to use data and analytics, which points to why a real-time focus is still small.

Even as technology advances and more people grow comfortable with the idea of using data, a relatively small number of employers actually take advantage of the tools they have, Tiliakos said.

"You'd be shocked by how many [employers] deploy high-end solutions and don't even use the mobile features," he said.

The reason is that users often aren't sure what to do with data once they have it, he said.

Real-time analytics focuses on actionable steps

HR technology providers are beginning to offer user-friendly real-time analytics to HR professionals and front-line managers. These tools take a nuts-and-bolts approach: They steer users to issues that need attention and provide options for handling them.

They help users who aren't data scientists and who do not have a skills gap take advantage of real-time analytics, Tiliakos said.

The onus is on the tools to provide action steps.

To succeed, real-time analytics tools must do more than simply provide data, said Phil Strazzulla, founder of Select Software Reviews, a buyer's guide to HR software based in Boston. They must also present the next step of what to do with that data in the existing workflow, he said. The real-time analytics must present solutions in an obvious way since they they'll need to work for a wide range of users.

"Otherwise you're giving information to the folks who are executing and aren't used to thinking strategically," he explained. "It has to be the appropriate information, presented in a way that's very digestible and allows me to do the right things."

Presenting the right real-time analytics at the right moment also puts information in context.

And eliminating even simple steps in a workflow -- such as switching from one program to another -- can make users more productive, Ahmed said. Dashboards that allow users to drill down into different bits of data can be powerful, but switching to one from another application interrupts the task that you're trying to accomplish. Incorporating real-time analytics allows tools to streamline processes by serving up insights as part of natural flow of the work, he said.

HR analytics roadblocks, future

Technology won't solve strategy issues, and this is true for real-time analytics in HR, as well.

For example, organizations that work with real-time analytics must bridge communication silos. Imagine a company where the compensation staff uses one set of data to plan budgets while recruiters use another to formulate offers. A tool that flags a salary offer as too low based on market analysis without incorporating allocated job budgets won't be helpful to recruiters at that moment.

"What, exactly, is the recruiter supposed to do with that information?" Cook said. "The decision to change what's being paid doesn't lie with the recruiter or even necessarily the hiring manager."

That may sound like a data governance issue, but not every situation can be anticipated. In this case, recruiters may not be able to address the discrepancy immediately, but they can look for ways to address it in the future.

Looking ahead, real-time analytics will drive other tools to help HR become more effective, Strazzulla said. For example, analytics could uncover unsuccessful email recruiting campaigns and then trigger semantic analyses of email subject lines followed by editing suggestions to raise the message open rates.

In the meantime, real-time analytics will become more of a norm in HR software, allowing users to successfully use data without being a data scientist, Tiliakos said.

Although real-time analytics show real promise and value, employers may expect them as part of their HR software package, Strazzula said.

"I don't know how many organizations are going to be willing to pay up for something like that," he said.

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