Press release: “Dude, 20,000 employee records is not Big Data!”

20 April 2015 

“Big Data” continues to be the most used catch phrase in the business world. It is hard to go a single day without seeing an advert from a management consultancy or tech player offering “big data solutions”.

Someone said to me recently that Big Data is like teenage sex. Everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone else thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.

Surprise, surprise…. “Big Data” is now being thrown around in the corridors of the Human Resource department.

To use the phrase “Big Data” in the world of people analytics is nothing short of a “Big Con”.

2 years ago I attended a conference in the US, named “Data Visualization for Big Data.” As the founder of a software company in the human capital analytics arena, I wanted to meet the sharpest minds in this emerging category, the skill of converting data into interactive, visual insight.

I soon discovered that the majority of attendees at the event were not from the corporate world, but actually working in the press, or academia. Individuals who were passionate about storytelling through data.

One after another, these software designers took to the stage and explained to the group how they had taken a very large data set and converted into graphics to tell a story.

The data sets were varied, and very large. 5 million homes powered by a single energy company, 90 million parcel deliveries across the USA, 50 million Justin Bieber Tweets, 100 million electronic trades on an stock exchange.

One of the examples that I loved was a data set of 2 million tweets taken during some major riots in a European city. The designer had converted these tweets into journalistic style visualization. As the user scrolled through a timeline, minute by minute, individual tweets were converted into nodes within a cluster, separated by negative and positive sentiment – across different parts of the city. In seconds, the user could see where the next riot was likely to happen!

After the presentation, I approached the designer to congratulate him, and to ask if he would be willing to meet with me, to explore how we could build similar software for the corporate user, based on employee records. We agreed to meet for breakfast the following day to explore some ideas on data viz in HCM. He insisted I send a data set in advance. These artists use data as their paint. “Without data, there is nothing to talk about,” He told me.

That night, I sent over a file with 20,000 employees from a fictional company. Data included employee ID, gender, location, business group, performance level, compensation, start date. Really basic stuff.

At breakfast I eagerly awaited what cool designs he would share to visualise a workforce.

The designer (with ripped jeans, t-shirt and a beard) approached the breakfast table the next morning.

“Sam, I got the data from you last night and took a look. I am confused”

“Did the file not open?” I asked.

“Yes, I got the data and it looks fine. But I just don’t get why you are here.”

“I don’t follow?”

“Sam, you are at a big data conference. Big Data means millions of fields of data. Dude, 20,000 employee records is not big data. Even 500,000 employee records is not big data. Why would a company not be able to understand such simple data on their most important asset, people who they pay a salary to every month?”

I was speechless. He was right. It was at this precise moment that I realised I had been conned into believing that human capital information is big data, that was too hard to navigate at speed.

It was also at this moment that we decided as a company to hire people with his approach to data analysis and storytelling.

I meet hundreds of companies a year, all with varying levels of sophistication when it comes to handling people data. But none of these organisations are a lost cause when it comes to being able to visualise their workforce in a relatively short time frame.

Our company adopts best in classes data visualization techniques to convert people information, from one HRIS platform or many, into interactive graphics that help users take insight in seconds.

The software is easy to use, affordable and takes a few hours to get live. Click here to view our PDF on how easy our software really is.

Drop us a line and we will show you how to get started.

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