‘HR Big Data’ Still New Concept in Asia, Survey Finds

Respondents cite frustration with lack of automation, stuck in ‘Excel Hell’

By Roy Maurer Aug 25, 2014

Even though a majority of HR professionals in Asia realize that using workforce big data analytics would add value to talent management decisions, and even daily HR reporting tasks, very few companies actually have an HR big data strategy in place, according to a recent survey.

Nearly 80 percent of 427 companies across Asia recognize they need an HR big data strategy to leverage employee data and improve operational performance, according to the Asia HR Big Data Survey 2014, conducted by HRBoss, a provider of HR and recruiting software for the Asian market.

The survey found that even though adopting an HR data-driven approach to reporting was on most companies’ radar, many HR pros in Asia are still confused about HR big data and how to implement a big data strategy.

Broken down by job role, 98 percent of senior HR officers said they have no big data strategy in place and 79 percent of general HR practitioners were not sure what HR big data was. Only 25 percent of responding chief human resource officers and 33 percent of HR directors were confident about their knowledge of using HR big data to add value.

“As the study reveals, the workforce big data movement is ostensibly U.S.-focused [where it originated] and has had a gentle outward ripple effect across the global HR profession, with questionable impact on day-to-day HR practices in major Asian economic hubs such as Tokyo and Singapore,” remarked Eloise Sutton-Kirkby, director of marketing at HRBoss. “Beyond the media interest, there is scant evidence that companies in Asia, outside of early adopters such as Google are applying big data knowledge to the workforce at all.”

However, the survey found respondents in Hong Kong (67 percent) and Vietnam (50 percent), especially interested in using HR big data.

Why Is HR Big Data Important?

Big data can help solidify HR’s reputation as a strategic business function that makes analytics-driven, evidence-based decisions about employee management and reporting, said Sutton-Kirkby.

HR thought leader Josh Bersin has been talking about the inevitable shift to HR analytics for years. “Now, given the global recession and talent imbalances in the world, companies are focusing on replacing their legacy HR systems to help apply analytics reasoning to HR and talent,” the founder of research and advisory services firm Bersin by Deloitte said.

But despite the technology that’s available, the real challenge is defining the process and finding expertise. Most HR teams are not ready for this evolution, he said.

Multiple data sources and a demanding reporting cycle has HR struggling to keep up, the HRBoss survey found. When asked “How long do you spend preparing HR reports each month?” 88 percent of respondents answered more than two full days. Twenty-two percent spend more than an entire workweek per month preparing reports.

“HR professionals in Asia are stuck in Excel hell, expending far too much time generating monthly, weekly or even daily reports for higher management,” said Sutton-Kirkby.

Ninety-two percent of Asia-based HR professionals said they were frustrated by how long it takes to report HR data. And this comes at a time when the C-suite wants more frequent and increasingly in-depth and detailed employee data reports, according to the survey.

Ninety percent of respondents in Japan and Thailand are expected to deliver weekly or daily reports. In addition to the frequency of reporting, a majority of HR professionals (57 percent) reported seeing a leadership shift toward wanting more in-depth data-driven analysis.

This shift comes at a time when even simple HR tasks are not automated. Three-quarters of respondents are still tasked with manually updating their organizational charts, according to the survey.

Challenges in Managing HR Data

Inadequate IT systems for data management and reporting (21 percent) and a lack of in-house data analysis expertise (19 percent) are the biggest challenges for HR in managing data, according to the survey. Lack of time and budget (16 percent), and too much data to process (14 percent) are also problems, respondents said.

When it comes to accessing data, 85 percent of report end-users want to access the data via real time dashboards or on a mobile app. Yet, only nine percent of HR respondents said they can provide this. The vast majority of HR executives in Asia are receiving reports via spreadsheets (28 percent), e-mail (23 percent), PowerPoint (22 percent) and on paper (15 percent).

Big data has reached Asia, but it has yet to be translated from theory into actionable strategy and business value-add, said Sutton-Kirkby. “When it comes to adopting a data-driven approach to HR it seems that Asia still has some way to go, but the appetite for all things big data at least indicates that we are on the right track.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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