Think about it: the computing cloud containing your HR services is not much different than the physical clouds that roam the earth. Both contain tiny elements that when viewed alone are simple, but when aggregated into a large set can take many shapes. And like physical clouds, each of us sees something different when we look at the whole formation from our point of view.
Since cloud data can be seen in different ways by many people, it is important to develop strategies to manage and use your HR cloud services effectively. As a technology entrepreneur who found my way into HR about a decade ago, I have a unique perspective on how the two worlds are integrated. Let me share three strategies that I have found useful in building an effective HR department that helps leaders drive effective business decisions.
Just as in the business world, the strength of your network directly impacts your success. Most HR professionals focus on software and services, but forget to review the networks involved in HR cloud computing. For instance, while the cloud service providers provide a reliable, on-demand solution, does your own company’s IT network provide that same reliability? And will your teams be able to download information and reports from the cloud without your local system timing out?
We faced situations where the cloud computing system was powerful, but one of our corporate offices was only operating at barely DSL speeds. This severely throttled the capabilities of our staff at that location. It is vitally important to review the reliability and bandwidth capabilities of your offices to make sure the teams can effectively access the information. And if you have remote workers, be sure to set standards for their bandwidth expectations to ensure their ability to complete their work.
Data Needs to Die
As HR teams have implemented cloud-based technology solutions, the focus is typically on the services provided. We made the same mistake. We were so focused on the capabilities that we forgot to develop our plans for datastorage and retention. When using cloud services, we often overlook the mountain of data our HR system collects every week.
"Cloud computing has changed the way that HR collects, reviews, and makes decisions from data. Developing the proper strategies will help you become valuable trusted advisors to the company’s leaders"
Your first task with storage is to test your backups! It is easy to say that your data is being backed up, but you don’t want to learn the hard way, like I did, that when you really need your back up, it is not there because the systems were not operating properly. We had a system where files were being generated on a regular basis and stored off-site, but the files were not in the format we needed to restore them. We spent an enormous amount of time decomposing the stored files, then transforming them into a format we could use to restore our services. You cannot afford to make the same mistake.
The next objective in this strategy is to develop and manage a data retention plan. Storage is cheap and you can simply add more storage. While keeping everything sounds like a good plan, there are two major issues you encounter. First, when you do have to restore a backup, you will have more difficulty separating only the data you need to restore for a given time frame if you have more than you need. With a solid retention policy, you will only keep the data that is needed, so restoring all of the stored data becomes easier.
The second major reason for a proper data retention plan is “discovery.” In lawyer’s terms, any data that exists in your system is “discoverable” and you can be required to hand it over to a legal team for scrutiny. Trust me – I have been there. What can be a simple request for information to defend against a lawsuit can turn into a much larger issue if you retained more data than you are required to keep. Consult with industry experts to determine what data you have to keep, and for how long, then create a data retention team who will ensure that your organization is following the policy.
Advise, Don’t Just Inform
We have seen it before – the dreaded pie chart or histogram of some glop of data. It is so easy to put the pieces together and throw them into a PowerPoint presentation. But HR needs to move beyond just informing people to become trusted advisors to your colleagues, including executives, on the business decisions they should be making based on the information presented.
Today’s cloud computing capabilities allow for some powerful ways for you to develop decision-making solutions using your data, like building data warehouses. Data warehouses are not just copies of your data, but your data is separated and segregated into a format that is easier to review. Dashboards built from the data warehouses can have drilldown capabilities that allow leaders to develop stronger understandings of the information. And a data warehouse allows you to store sets of information over time, which can be quickly used to view trends, further enhancing the decision-making process.
One of the most exciting capabilities to come along with cloud computing is the ability to use Machine Learning (ML) to discern concepts beyond standard dashboards and drilldowns. One example of using Machine Learning is to combine your customer transaction data (purchases, locations, customer demographics) with your employee transaction data (demographics, work schedules, education, performance reviews) and allow the machine to discern any patterns. You don’t “program” it to look for something specific, but instead provide the ML engine with parameters to see what it can find. We even once used the local weather tied to a customer transaction to see if it had an impact on sales – which turns out it did.
Cloud computing has changed the way that HR collects, reviews, and makes decisions from data. Developing the proper strategies will help you become valuable trusted advisors to the company’s leaders.