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Workforce analytics offers insights into performance

This article appears in the issue November/December 2013, [Vol 22, Issue 10]
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The surging interest in performance measurement pervades all aspects of business and is prompting growing interest in workforce analytics. The ultimate goal of workforce analytics is to connect employee behavior with organizational performance, thereby prompting data-driven decisions rather than subjective ones. At this point, most organizations are not able to establish a causal relationship, but the increasing ability to analyze information from disparate sources enterprisewide is helping them make use of the plethora of data they collect.

Although workforce analytics is a small portion of the overall analytics market, IDC identifies it as a growth area, reporting a 15.8 percent increase in 2012. Several workforce analytics product categories are emerging. Business intelligence (BI) solutions such as MicroStrategy are being used for workforce analytics. Talent management software products, which support a variety of HR functions, are adding analytics to their suites. Technology companies such as IBM, Oracle, and SAP are acquiring talent management companies and then incorporating analytics. Finally, some companies such as Visier offer standalone workforce analytics applications.

Performance vs. goals

Ceva Sante Animale is a rapidly growing veterinary pharmaceutical company headquartered in France. Operating in more than 40 countries throughout the world, Ceva serves the agricultural and consumer animal health markets. The company has a large mobile sales force that uses iPads to document sales activity and to access information from the customer relationship management (CRM) system. The MicroStrategy business intelligence platform is used as the interface to present the CRM data and to perform analytics.

"We use MicroStrategy's interface to provide information the salespeople will need when they visit a client," says Francois Tricot, CIO of Ceva. "In addition, the salespeople enter their transactions to report on their visits, including what they committed to doing and what actually happened."

The goal of a visit might be to obtain a first order from a customer or sell a new product to an existing customer. "The salesperson puts in very specific information, such as which products were discussed in the meeting," Tricot explains. "The result or outcome of the meeting-for example, whether the customer placed an order-is also recorded." That procedure allows for the subsequent analysis of employee performance against his or her stated goals.

In addition, the MicroStrategy platform is integrated with Ceva's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which contains information about sales made directly to customers, and electronic data interchange (EDI) system, which provides information about distributors' product sales. "The number of visits and the amount of time the salesperson spends are not the critical factors," Tricot says. "The final outcome is the sales volume. The details about what happened during the visit help us know whether the salesperson's behavior is having a direct effect on sales."

Impact on strategy

On the iPad, salespeople can see side-by-side comparisons of monthly sales, product by product. "They can compare the frequency with which they have talked about the product and then look for a direct correlation between that number and their sales," Tricot says. That allows the salespeople to monitor their own performance.

The business strategy may vary over time. For example, during one initiative, salespeople may focus on customers they have not seen in a given time, or that have not increased their order volume. "We can begin to correlate the impact of the salesperson on our strategy," Tricot says. Some supervisors also use analytics when they coach the sales representatives, but that is not universally applied.

MicroStrategy's analytics use the same data to create reports and dashboards for managers. "Managers can see the same relationships that the salespeople can, and the same customer data," Tricot explains. "Whatever data we want to incorporate into our analyses can be included to get a full view of all the transactions and their impact on the bottom line."

An advantage of using a BI platform for workforce analytics is that it can be adapted to include virtually any type of data that is collected from within the business or from outside it. "Although basic statistics such as time and attendance are important for operations to know, the pivotal use is to figure out how to interpret the information to drive higher levels of value, such as correlation with customer satisfaction," says Kevin Spurway, senior VP of marketing at MicroStrategy.

The MicroStrategy platform is designed to bring together information from many systems to solve complex problems. The output might be an executive console, a report, dashboard or an ad hoc visual analysis. "We see our customers leveraging this capability in many different ways," Spurway adds, "including pulling information in from mobile devices."

The use of mobile devices has produced a much higher volume and granularity of information about the workforce. "Companies are looking at leveraging the information that is captured by users' mobile devices," Spurway says. "For example, we have a mobile sales enablement app called SuperLink, which has content that supports sales initiatives. We can track and see how salespeople use it and whether the information has an impact on performance."

Talent management gets analytical

Software products that have supported HR functions for many years are now beginning to include workforce analytics as an option. SuccessFactors, an SAP company, for example, offers an HR solution that includes an employee database as well as tools for recruiting, onboarding, learning, compensation, performance and goals, and succession planning. It recently acquired and integrated a solution for workforce analytics.

Black Hills Corp. provides energy for nearly 1 million customers in the Midwest. A recent acquisition doubled the size of its workforce, and at the same time, a large number of its employees are reaching retirement age. The company needed a method for succession planning and a more effective method of developing its existing talent.

The company selected SuccessFactors Cloud Talent Management Suite, which includes a performance and goals management component, as well as compensation management. In addition, the workforce analytics module allowed Black Hills to model various scenarios to assess the impact of employee retirement. The company was therefore able to plan better for its future staffing needs.

Planning for large-scale retirement is a common reason that companies perceive a need for more effective management of human resources. "Part of our advantage is being able to bring together, through our analytics, data from HR, financial and other systems," says Mick Collins, principal consultant for workforce analytics and planning at SuccessFactors. "Workforce planning in essence is a risk management tool that ensures a company's needs are understood and that the company can respond in an agile manner."

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