Data already plays a vital role in all of our working lives, and that is only set to increase in the years ahead. We have now built the capability to accumulate immense amounts of information on a daily or even hourly basis, and to store this affordably in the cloud. Organisations are making use of the data they have to find out more about customers, understand their buying habits, predict future events and even hold conversations through chatbots.

This is also having a significant impact on the way businesses operate internally. Artificial intelligence (AI) means it is possible to detect patterns in a matter of seconds, delivering analysis that is much more insightful and unlikely to be picked up by humans. A simple example would be an accounts team using payment data to highlight the risk of accepting business with a particular client and suggesting the most likely method of extracting payment, based on previous history.

Human resources and employer/employee relations are also being transformed by digital innovation. Businesses can use the data they have on employees to create a digital feedback loop of their interactions, giving vital insight into how they can best retain staff and grow their workforce, as well as helping employees better manage their careers and wellbeing.

For example, it’s possible using information about employees’ skills, training, performance, wellbeing and benefits usage to glean insight into their lives, and to use that data at a generic level to identify types of employee that are more likely to stay for longer, develop fast- er or be more productive. This kind of information can then be combined with a broader understanding of staff to create a more round- ed view of the employee population as a whole. In practical terms, such data could be used to identify key talent and manage succession planning, as well as flagging up potential are- as where individuals or groups of employees need additional training or support to move up to the next level. It could also help highlight any possible concerns – such as high levels of physical or mental ill-health – enabling businesses to develop strategies to counter these.

Some industries are already making strides in this area, but the reality is that most businesses are still unaware of just how valuable the data they have on employees can be. Even those that do realise data is their biggest asset often have multiple sources of information stored in disparate formats and locations. This makes it almost impossible to glean a holistic view, let alone one that can be compared across sectors.

There are other challenges, too, that businesses need to think about when looking to
make better use of the valuable data they can access. First, there’s the issue of just how reliable is the data they have in their systems and how accurate are the conclusions that are drawn by machine learning and AI. Businesses need to be able to trust the conclusions any technology offers, but it can be hard to do this
without a tried and trusted solution.

Data and AI need not conflict with security, privacy and ethics. Companies must structure security into their businesses. Privacy must be respected across all scenarios, understanding who is allowed to control and process data. Even if systems are secure, respecting privacy laws, we must build into our businesses the humane side of dealing with data in order to ensure ethical use. Only then will we gain the full trust of employees and empower them fully through their data.

By working closely with people analytics experts, such as Zellis, businesses can not only ensure the quality of data they have is up to scratch, but can also rest assured that they fully meet all the requirements around ethics, security and trust.

Drawing on insights from other organisations and sectors, they can also compare their own performance against that of similar sized businesses or those operating in the same industry, enabling them to truly gauge how well they compare and identify any areas for improvement. Such capability is simply not possible using only data drawn from the confines of one organisation.

The message for businesses is clear: those that act now to ensure they can make the most of the data they hold and reliably compare this with industry peers and competitors will be best placed to understand and meet the needs of future employees and the business itself. Those that continue to bury their heads in the sand will find themselves falling behind as others embrace the power of data.

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