Are we Jumping the Shark on Big Data for HR?

Jumping the shark is the moment in a TV show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, where the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.  As a result, the show loses credibility and starts its long decline into irrelevance.  The term Jumping the Shark is actually named after this scene in Happy Days, where Fonzie did actually jump a shark on waterskis, inexplicably wearing both a leather jacket and swimming trunks at the same time:

Big Data Bandwagon

All aboard the Big Data Bandwagon

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of HR vendors jumping on the Big Data bandwagon, and I wonder if as an industry, we’ve jumped the shark on this one.  Many of the articles and whitepapers I’m reading are describing Workforce Analytics, but claiming to be Big Data.  Some of them go to great lengths to define Big Data in ambiguous and overly-generic terms, so that they can claim to be offering a “Big Data” solution.  Let’s be clear – Big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional database management tools.  Think Sentiment Analysis from Twitter feeds; Behavioural Analysis, or Resume Screening for structure and soft skills – these data sources are largely unstructured, and require non-traditional approaches to data analysis like NoSQL and R.  

If you’re crunching internal data about your workforce from your HRIS and ERP systems, even if that data is coming from multiple sources, you’re not doing Big Data – you’re doing Workforce Analytics.  The good news is that:

  1. There are some really exciting potential applications for Big Data in the Workplace; and
  2. Workforce Analytics generates some meaningful and actionable insights for organisations, and is still gaining traction – though it’s been around for much longer than the term “Big Data”.

My concern is that Big Data for HR will go the way of Gamification for HR – another trend where some vendors will add token functionality and claim to be in the space for marketing reasons.  The result of much of this effort will be that, like gamification, clients will become disenfranchised with the field because it won’t deliver results.  The reality is that both gamification and Big Data have great potential – for the right organisations, and using the right tools – but you need to sort out the marketing spin from the significant offerings from vendors who understand and embrace the potential of these concepts.  If you really want Big Data, run a competition on Kaggle.  If you want actionable insights from analytics and, like 95% of organisations out there, aren’t suited to Big Data, then what you’re looking for is Workforce Analytics.

Big Data has big potential – just don’t jump onto the bandwagon until you know how to play an instrument – and remember, the plural of statistic is not strategy.

Jumping The Shark