Don’t Let the Bling Distract You from the Basics of HR Employee Data

With cloud technology, big data and talent optimization the front-burner topics for today’s HR professionals, plain old employee data often gets ignored. And that’s a problem. Because without effective management of core employee data, cloud systems demos, analytic dashboards and flashy transformational RFPs are superficial bling – lipstick on a pig, in other words.

With that thought, let’s review the latest trends in the most basic of HR activities. Specifically:

  • central management of employee data
  • add / change / delete processing
  • ensuring high quality and accuracy of employee data

Global HR Master Data.  Replacing consolidated headcount reports with a single global HR system of record has managed to capture significant mindshare (and budget) in recent years.  Decision-makers are accountable for global results, making visibility to headcount and cost around the world a critical input.  Managers navigate a mobile workforce charged with crossing boundaries to deliver world-class products and services.  Even companies with a culture of autonomous business units, nimble decentralized locations or rapid growth by merger/acquisition recognize the need for visibility into people resources.  Five years ago, an HR organization that had bothered to implement a single global HRIS was a rarity – today, centralization is a mandate.

Employee Data changes are fluid.   Self-service is touted as the #1 enabler of a “transformed” HR, and yet the roll-out of new portal and transactional features is still closely guarded by HR gatekeepers.  Workflow approvals are configured, transactions are automated and event-driven, but HR is reluctant to step aside.   HR SaaS has renewed excitement in an intuitive and mobile HR experience as a force to drive a significant increase in employee adoption.  But will companies truly empower the line manager?  HR gatekeepers – it’s time to leave your daily watch over high-volume employee data changes and accept the higher calling to coach the organization in talent strategies that underlie the exception changes in salary, position, and employment status.

Employee Data’s BFF (Best Friend Forever):  Payroll.  Employee data and payroll is the perfectHR example of the chicken-and-egg quandary.  Reaching a truly synchronized flow of information between employees and their pay has plagued systems and begs the question of whether functionality must be married in a single system or separated.  Early global HRIS deployments captured skeleton data sets and interfaced only the largest countries due to cost, while local payroll solutions continue to serve as the source of truth for key employee data changes.  Global HR systems struggle to be viewed as relevant outside of the home country, while employee data becomes stale until next year’s annual performance and compensation cycle.   Navigate the integration of HR-Payroll data with care to find the most efficient balance between investment in core HR and local payroll – seek advice and consult your business case.

Data standardization matures.  Growing pains continue as HR is challenged to “undo” years of diverse policies and practices for changing employee status, job, pay and all of the program eligibility and time-off rules that have become the status quo.  Companies with unions find negotiations can result in non-standard practices that limit the ability to move into a new generation of tools, self-service and analytics.  Early system rollouts and outsourcing touted the potential of transform-then-transition, but instead of reaching agreement on standards often produced customized code and retained unique processing for the sake of keeping the peace.  HR organizations hoping Software-as-a-Service will bring mobile access, self-service adoption and useful analytics will now need to reckon with data clean up and standard processes to move forward.

Blurring the lines of employment.   Managing a global workforce has long included oversight of full-time and part-time employees, as well as those with a fixed duration contract or seasonal hires.  However, in today’s workforce nearly one quarter of all people resources are supplied by alternative arrangements as part of the organization’s Contingent Workforce.  Factors such as geography, economic climate, public policy, legislation and even generational culture all contribute to driving people into new alternative forms of employment.  Headcount, cost and forecasting are being applied more broadly across the workforce and HR tracking once limited to employees is now expanding to include company-wide view of people resources that include temporary staff, independents, project-based freelancers and contractors.

History and reporting evolve.  Even as HR seeks to take its employee data management to the next level, someone inevitably asks about the past.  There is a strange comfort in being able to recreate history in detail, but exhaustive history and transition of old data to support custom practices is now being left behind in archives.  As for reporting, HR is still struggling to bring forward actionable information.  In October 2013, Josh Bersin reported in Forbes that 84% of HR organizations are still dealing with reporting challenges that include the burden of ad-hoc reports and standard operational metrics.  Going forward, we must encourage the shift from report generation to on-demand access with robust analysis capabilities for both strategic and predictive purposes.

These and other best practices in employee data are critical building blocks to HR’s future ability to bring on the bling.  Before focusing on all things Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC), ask yourself if you have your employee data house in order as a firm foundation.

Julie Fernandez is chair of the Thought Leadership Council for HR Better Practices at the HRO Today Services & Technology Association.

About the author

With more than 25 years of industry and consulting experience, Julie is an invaluable advisor for enterprises needing to evaluate and assess alternatives for multi-process HR service delivery, including workforce administration, payroll, benefits, compensation, recruiting, technology, learning, and talent management. Julie leads complex global HR assessments and transactions around the world. Prior to joining ISG, Julie worked for nearly a decade as an independent consultant, providing market research, vendor assessments, systems testing and implementation consulting to a broad community of benefits administration vendors and human resources departments. Julie started her career in human resources outsourcing, establishing shared service centers for a national benefits consulting and administration firm. She is a well-published thought leader in her field.