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Big data and the human element: the strategic workforce

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In the 1980s, the most precious resource to innovation – capital – was scarce, causing a slow pace of advancement in the technology sector. The proliferation of private equity and venture capital changed all that in the 1990s, and these investment sources eventually became powerful forces that could make or break a major leap in technology.

Today, talent is the bottleneck for innovation – a far more complex and pervasive issue than access to capital. Organizations that understand how to manage the employee lifecycle (plan, align, attract, develop and retain) will emulate the successes of the top technology firms that knew how to attract and manage capital in the 1990s.

Big data enables smarter talent management

Big data is providing the edge in talent management, enabling companies to go beyond the standard workfore planning model of the past 40 years. It provides the necessary insight to plan and align business strategy with human capital before the organization embarks on its investments.

Moving talent management upstream into strategic planning will be the key to how high-flying firms stay ahead of their competition. For example, integrated workforce planning not only identifies the types of expertise needed to advance a particular product, but also shows when it is needed, for how long, and what steps to take in advance if the requisite skills and competencies are not easily available.    

This approach is a significant shift from common budget-driven practices. To sell more product, companies would traditionally ratchet up sales and marketing and demand an increased headcount for the roll-out. That approach to workforce planning is a recipe for treading water in an age of specialized knowledge – finding the right 10 people can generate a wider margin than an army of sales professionals.

Using big data to understand talent needs

In our experience, companies that are leading the competition think about leveraging big data in the context of these questions:

  • What knowledge will move us forward?
  • When do I need the knowledge on board?
  • What do we have to do to sustain and grow our talent?
  • How do we overlay employees to reduce knowledge gaps?
  • Where do we find the knowledge we need (internally or externally)?

Strategic workforce planning is here, now

The need for a better understanding of talent is universal. Financial services firms are using big data to better align complex customer behavior and talent, helping them to deploy critical skills and competencies in areas that give them the best return on their strategies. As a result, they are gaining efficiencies across a wide range of disciplines; they are looking specifically at their geographic structure, examining which type of talent is critical to each department, and identifying where shortfalls are occurring.  

In pharma and manufacturing, the issue is less about customer behavior and more about scaling the workforce based on seasonal demand. Traditional strategy dictated that, during slow times, entire units were cut from the floor – including seemingly insignificant skill sets that actually proved critical to ramping up production. When the busy season came into view, new employees or contractors were hired in anticipation of increased order fulfilment, but the floor leadership necessary to get on track most efficiently was already lost. In these industries, understanding which talent is most impactful and when it is needed, and developing strategies to retain that labor is paramount in maintaining productivity and achieving lower operating costs.  

We have always believed that data should be used to shape strategy, and our access to big data now allows us to dig much deeper into the best solutions.  Companies will continue to think about capital investment as they go to market, but big data lets them see how the workforce can make that happen faster, better and at lower costs.

To find out how your business can benefit from integrating talent management using big data, contact us now.

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