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Big Data - HR Mindfulness

Release Date

16 September 2013

In the past HR's concerns around data were mostly for the security of employee information. This led to a fairly simple conversation with IT about whether or not employee data was secure enough.  Today, depending on your workplace, employee data may live on company IT or in a 'cloud' system possibly based in another legal jurisdiction or possibly managed by a third party. 

A recent survey on "Rethinking HR for a Changing World", conducted by KPMG with the Economist Intelligence Unit indicated HR business partners rated "adopting new technologies" as one of the top areas of focus for HR. The HR technologies becoming more common were wide-ranging but, unsurprisingly, the majority of the areas uncovered revolved around better use of cloud services, data and social media. In these terms HR needs to be mindful of the next steps in BIG DATA capturing and implementation.
In fact, 69% of those surveyed highlighted web-based and mobile HR platforms as a key focus, closely followed by technology to capture performance reviews and other workplace reports (68%). Use of social network sites to recruit talent featured highly on the list (65%), in addition to using social media to reach alumni (54%).  Other technologies drawn out by the survey included workforce data analytics for business intelligence, rated as a focus area by (57%) and delivering business applications via Software-as-a-Service and other cloud models, picked by (49%) of those surveyed. 

These evolving technologies can bring very significant benefits to the work environment, with today's employees expecting the same power and convenience in their work life that smart phones and apps have brought to their social life. However this more open and socially connected world brings risks that need to be understood and managed by HR.  Given this context, there are a few key areas where HR needs to engage with the CIO, and potentially the CFO or OHS Risk Officer as they look to revise their systems, processes and policies to bring them into the BIG DATA era.

Employee data and its protection

As corporate IT systems evolve to the 'cloud' - i.e. to internet enabled systems, it is recommended the security and physical location of employee data needs to be looked at in a more mindful manner and somewhat 'outside the box'.  Some data may well be governed by local regulations inconsistent with the legal frameworks in the country where the data is hosted. 

As with customer data, the vulnerability of employee data to malicious attacks and identity theft can have a far-reaching impact on corporate reputation, on revenues and the share price. More obliquely, it may provide the entry point for cyber attacks looking to engineer access to broader corporate systems and intellectual property. 

The answer is not just an IT issue.  IT controls will do little to protect employee or corporate data in the face of weak policies and procedures on passwords, clear desks, or if physical security measures are not robust. Thought too needs to be given to what data requires which level of protection and or specific management.

Employee use of social media

Just like their employees, more and more organisations in Australia and globally are making use of social media in their marketing.   Moreover, whilst customer contacts, professional networks and so on, cultivated on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and beyond, are managed and maintained by the individual, they do expose businesses to risk. However, it is not certain who owns the social media profiles of employees. 

It's safe to say the issue of social media ownership is not as clear as employees may believe and this suggests perhaps, contrary to employee expectations, social media profiles cultivated during working hours belong to the employer, not the employee.

Recommendations for HR

HR business partners who are not mindful of or in conversations with their colleagues in IT, the CFO's office, the legal department or risk management teams, really need to kick those conversations off. It will not take much to go wrong for your company to be on the wrong side of data regulation, the law, or even the vast array of (social) media.

HR policies and procedures need to evolve to cover these new BIG DATA applications and corporate and personal use of social media. But one size will not fit all. For some, a shared moral compass may be more effective in driving effective policy than a long manual.  HR has a pivotal role and your colleagues will rely on your support, whether it's the IT team trying to control and limit security exposures, the marketing organisation trying to develop a corporate presence on social media or the legal and risk teams trying to ensure corporate compliance and manage risk.

HR policies and procedures in line with BIG DATA will set the boundaries and framework, define the values of the organisation and deliver the training and compliance checks needed to ensure the business remains on track as BIG DATA becomes a part of everyday working life.

Larry Forsyth is a Senior Manager, WHS & HR Consulting Services with Australian Business Consulting & Solutions. If you have any questions, please contact him on 07 3842 2210 or larry.forsyth@australianbusiness.com.au

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