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Employee data: The truth is out there!

If you are working in a company with many subsidiaries and/or offices at an international level, you might have difficulties answering the simplest questions on your workforce: how many employees do we have? In which location or subsidiary? If you want to dig further, for example to perform gender and compensation analysis, you might find yourself in a nightmare of multiple data sources, csv files to export and compile, heavy Excel cross-table formulas to handle and the horrendous 'N/A' value appearing everywhere.

Maybe after taking some aspirin and once you have recovered from your migraine, you might start thinking it could be useful to have a way to get this sort of information at your fingertips, without spending millions in a multi-year project that could put your career at risk.

Centralising your employee data

What you need is a place to help gather employee data from all your systems, whether they be outsourced payroll providers, legacy core HR systems, or other smaller systems. This centralised system of record will become your 'single source of truth' and gather all information you might need. With effective dating features, you’ll even be able to analyse consolidated evolution over time.

This sounds nice, but you might have heard from other vendors that what you truly needed was a complete human capital management system that would unify your entire organisation across a single tool. Indeed, such offers exist on the market and can be useful, especially if you are a very large corporation with a limited number of huge offices gathering an important number of employees. In this case, you might be able to get some return on your investment after managing the implementation of such a system in each country over a few years’ time and a lot of money spent. That is if the project is successful, but there are always some horror stories to remind us of the risk inherently attached to pharaonic projects.

The benefits HRIS can bring

Now, the question you need to ask yourself at that point is as follows: if back-office HR is working fine (even if there’s always room for improvement), what I am really missing and to which extent could this justify an investment in an HRIS project? Apart from a few cases such as the one just described, the most important reason that drives core HR projects is the need for a single source of truth. The good news is that there is an alternative to the big, risky projects that could completely change the tone of your discussion with your management, the CFO and the IT department.

Once you’ve carefully analysed your situation and defined the true business objectives of your project, you can start thinking about your data hub strategy, with the underlying philosophy being that 'you don’t need to replace what isn’t broken'. If we focus the discussion on employee data, what you really need is a global data layer, not a global system replacement. This data layer will consolidate data globally to provide global management Information and act as a single hub for employee data.

You might say that at this point, gathering data in a single file or database might serve your purpose. Well, not really, because there are some basic features you might want to consider. The first tricky one is effective dating. The idea is to be able to have a vision of your company at a certain date, in the past and in the future. If someone was hired two years ago at a certain position, then moved last year to another department and will be promoted next year, you’ll need not only to store this information for this employee, but also to be able to have a picture of your workforce at a specified date.

Another very useful feature is employee self-service. There is a certain amount of administrative data which is effectively owned by the employee: all the personal information, contact data, and any other element he or she needs to provide (address, bank account, other contact details, family status, and other regulatory elements depending on the country). Related to this functionality, you’ll also need some employee file storage feature, and workflow processes to handle the data communicated by the employee. Some might be done via data exchange from one system to another, others might need manual activity from the HR department.

The advantage of having an intelligent system to gather and manage those elements is also being able to carefully define who has the right to see/write/modify/delete what. Especially in Europe where data privacy is paramount, the best policy is to be very clear and transparent about those access rights, so as to avoid any legal or ethical issues.

Last but not least, once you have achieved your goal of setting up such an employee data hub, you will be able to access reports and dashboards to monitor your workforce and manage all your talents in a single place.

Yet this is just the beginning: having a consolidated view of your organisation is very useful but this is just one small piece of LEGO in the entire playground of business-driven HR activities. This data hub is focused on admin information, which is great housekeeping but doesn’t help you make decisions in terms of talent development, promotions, or succession planning. For this purpose, you need to expand your scope to a unified talent management strategy where you’ll have the highest impact on the business.

Geoffroy de Lestrange, Product Marketing Manager EMEA at Cornerstone OnDemand