Big Data: Operational Quick Fix Or Strategic Value?

Big Data Value

Big data is all the rage. Indeed, according to research firm Gartner, 2013 is the year of big data. Suddenly managing vast quantities of unstructured data is box office. But just how can a business turn big data into usable insight that can support both operational and strategic requirements?

While rapid and unprecedented access to candidates globally is compelling, to really exploit the value of big data organisations need to step back and use analytics internally to gain real insight into the short to medium term talent requirements.

New Recruitment Processes

While everyone is talking big data, opinions as to what big data is, what it should be and how it should be used to deliver business value differ widely. The concept of big data analytics has been around for a decade. The current surge in interest is fuelled by two key trends: recognition that there is a mass of information now publicly available on the Internet that should be exploited; and the maturity and accessibility of supporting technologies.

The problem is that few organisations have yet to get a handle on just how or where business value can be attained. At first glance, it would appear that the value of big data is all about rapid access to a new breadth and depth of candidates.Certainly, the ability to search the Internet, capture and analyse vast amounts of unstructured data is beginning to open up new recruitment processes.

Big data analytics is already being used to understand vacancy scraping – assessing vacancy information to identify areas in which a requirement for particular skills quickly appears. It is also enabling organisations to search across geographic areas to identify candidates, significantly extending the breadth of candidates under consideration.

Companies can also use publicly available social media information not only to gain further insight into the quality of active candidates via their Twitter activity, LinkedIn profiles or blogs, but also to identify high quality individuals that are not actively seeking a new job but could be tempted into a move – the sought after passive candidates.

Strategic Value

However, while this mass of social data has the potential to provide additional insight to recruiters and offer day to day operational benefits in identifying and interacting with candidates, its long term value may be questionable. Individuals, especially highly skilled and in demand individuals, are increasingly security savvy and restrict access to online information.

In the medium term, and certainly in the case of corporate in-house Talent teams, there are likely to be more strategic benefits to be derived from the analysis of existing internal data. Those technology companies that provide analytical tools developed to explore and exploit Internet based big data, often also have the ability to provide similar tools that should first be deployed internally to determine a business’s talent requirements and capabilities over the next two to five years.

Using analytics to explore internal data can not only identify gaps in the current skills landscape, but also predict potential shortfalls in Talent required to service a company’s business objectives in the medium term. Once Corporate Talent Departments have established where their gaps are and quantified their weaknesses as a department, they can then begin to explore and exploit the new options for locating, attracting, training and communicating with candidates.

Data Verification

Once the correct tools have been put in place organisations cannot simply rush in and gather this mass of Internet based data without putting in place robust processes for managing, extracting and analysing external data. These data sources are valuable, but their value is unverified and unsubstantiated – unlike the internal database of candidates that most organisations have invested heavily in creating. Organisations cannot risk compromising internal data in the race to explore the depths of external information.

While there is clear value in building a more colourful candidate profile that links internal and external resources, it is vital to avoid contaminating the internal database with incorrect or corrupt external data.

For example, organisations must ensure that internal existing candidate and the sourced external candidate is the same person – current technology should be comparing multiple record fields to guarantee an accurate match before records are merged to ensure the candidate information remains robust, resilient and clean.

Furthermore, big data can only deliver great insight when used in conjunction with a workable analytical tool; any technology must have an interface or method of turning vast amounts of retrievable data into something that is commercially useful and operationally relevant.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that big data has the potential to deliver real benefits. At an operational level, linking Internet based search data to existing candidate database records extends the potential pool of talent and enables interaction with candidates not responding to traditional means of communication.

The value should be improved candidate quality and reduced costs. In the longer term, however, big data’s true value will be the provision of new insight into trends that can inform strategic decision making not only in recruitment but also in business direction and development.

There is unlikely to be a one size fits all solution – at least in the short to medium term. The process of adopting a big data solution is likely to be bespoke and will demand clear corporate vision, measurable objectives and an understanding of the impact on day to day processes.

Big data is compelling: but managing and exploiting complex, extended data sets remains challenging. Organisations need to understand just how this data can be used to deliver commercial and operational benefit and deliver a return on investment.

Stephen Blackmore

Stephen Blackmore has worked in the sales industry for over 12 years, specialising in human capital management and sales leadership. He is responsible for heading up DaXtra sales activities across Europe, developing the new business strategy and building a new team across Europe. Prior to DaXtra, Stephen was Client Director of SaaS Workforce Management Solutions provider Workplace Systems. Here he was responsible for business development within large multi-national enterprises where he used his skills of working in high pressure environments and managing complex sales cycles within vertical industries, as well as wider business.