BI for Workforce Efficiency: Big Data is not Big Brother

I just reread George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time since high school. I must admit that his idea of ‘Big Brother’ watching us all feels so much more real today than it did when I first read the book. Browser cookies, social media tracking, geolocation apps, the NSA and Edward Snowden all give me the willies. I admit that my laptop’s Webcam is covered with one of my business cards and a piece of duct tape (luckily both are black and match the case). But I still worry about my microphone (testing testing).

At home and when we go mobile, we encourage our kids to be vigilant, keeping an eye out for cyber stalkers and suspicious emails, texts and tweets. That’s all good advice. But we all want to believe that the ‘snooping’ is limited to the ‘black hats’. From all the news over the last few years, we don’t really know where and when a government agency is ‘in our business’. For most of us law-abiding citizens, however, the truth is that we probably don’t have much too worry about.

The same is true for employees in large corporations. A growing number of companies track employee efficiency electronically. But aside from military and security organizations, where electronic surveillance is more focused on stopping leaks, workplace monitoring is generally ‘nothing personal’. Our activity is monitored not to dig into our personal lives but for the most important reason: so that the company can make more money.

Workforce efficiency monitoring is growing. With more and more systems providing digital interfaces, collecting trending data from numerous sources has gotten easier. But with data volume soaring, it can become more difficult to make heads or tails of it. To get a more accurate picture of what is going on in a company, the BI system should be used to correlate and filter the data.

Once properly managed, HR and other monitoring bodies need to have intuitive tools and easy-to-understand visualizations, including Infographics that provide insights into company performance targets. Visualizations can offer quick insights based on geography, department, efficiency levels and any other measurable quantities or KPIs such as overtime hours worked, absences, on-time project management, expenses reimbursed per project, whatever.

For example, shipping companies, fast food restaurants and other service-oriented businesses track the speed of their employees from order to delivery. A single employee working more slowly than others can easily be spotted and then observed to determine if remedial action is required. But what happens when an entire shift slows down or a section of a factory? HR or operations can set thresholds and rules in the BI system to define situations based on multiple real-time data points such as execution speed, order volume and complexity and even environmental conditions. Then, using more real, objective data and less intuition, BI users can pinpoint systemic problems that can affect large numbers of workers and the bottom line.

Keeping employees motivated is also a serious challenge. One way a smart self-service BI solution can help is by providing real-time company-wide, group or even individual workflow progress reports. Customized dashboards for each user in an enterprise can give everyone the tools they need to better understand their status or their team’s status within the company. Interactive dashboard tools can give individual employees one-click access to the data behind the reports to help them understand the why and how of their status. Face it, wouldn’t you like to know how the company perceives your performance before your manager knows?

In large organizations, even internal problems can be hard to understand when peer collaboration is weak. With a smart BI solution, anyone can discuss a problem that arises in one department or site and learn from colleagues who have dealt with a similar problem to avoid it or alleviate it in another instance within the organization. Then the solution, the conversation and the links to the relevant internal contacts can be connected to the data behind the problem to help anyone else deal with similar issues down the road.

Smart BI tools are not just for business KPIs. With a bit of creativity, HR and other internally focused teams can more easily and quickly investigate root causes for problems that are attributed to workforce efficiency. They can also set thresholds for workforce efficiency values, and then report to management in anticipation of impending problems.

Although smart BI solutions can help you turn into Big Brother, when used responsibly, to help improve employee satisfaction and efficiency, BI can be win-win for management and employees.

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