In the spring of 2019, when summer still felt like a distant dream, we conducted an online poll and more than 20 interviews with people analytics practitioners and solution providers to understand their current challenges and what they most wanted to know about the people analytics technology market.
We did this so we could better understand what our overall research – including our online survey and literature review – on people analytics technology should focus on. We figured you’re likely curious to know about what we learned, so we’ve summarized our findings in this article, specifically focusing on
- Poll results
- Interviews: what we heard
- Overall impressions
- Our next steps
Our poll revealed some interesting insights into what is on top of minds when folks think of people analytics technology. We asked respondents (vendors, practitioners, and others with an interest in the field) to tell us what they think we should 1) cover in our research, 2) not cover in our research, and 3) any other feedback or ideas they wanted to share. The findings reaffirmed our suspicions: the top issue is better understanding the solution categories and capabilities for people analytics technologies.
Interviews: What we heard
Capabilities and needs – mo' solutions, mo' problems?
As our poll reflects, more than 70 percent of respondents indicated they want more clarity on people analytics technologies’ capabilities and a framework for thinking about the different solution providers. This sentiment was echoed in our interviews: when we asked folks to provide a way to categorize the market, we received as many different frameworks as interviews!
Our conversations revealed that while some group people analytics solution providers into categories of data storage, analysis, and visualizations, others think of them in terms of solutions that perform transactional/reporting versus analytics functions. Still others separated solutions into pure-HR players versus ones that cater to business intelligence capabilities.
Ultimately, both technology providers and organization leaders recognize the opportunity to work together to identify and use technology in a meaningful and purpose-driven manner. To do so, buyers and users should have a realistic and accurate understanding of the technology.
A good starting point for the users could be clarity, consistency and agreement on how they define people analytics and success within the organization. Buyers could also work with the vendors more, especially at the beginning of implementations, to put in place processes to ensure insights and findings from using the technology are shared broadly in an actionable way.
Similarly, vendors need a clear understanding of the business and talent challenges as well as the objectives of the organization. One of the vendors we spoke to stated,
“[Customers] typically start by saying that they have a data problem…and are trying to wrangle the data etc. Once we talk to them though, the problems that they are trying to solve for are business problems, such as turn over issue and are trying to wrangle the data to figure out what is driving the turnover.”
This points to the need for customers to spend time clarifying the business problems they are trying to solve and for vendors to spend time ensuring they understand those problems before implementing a solution.
Data Integration – Connecting the Dots
A topic that frequently popped up in our interviews was the opportunities and challenges of data integration from different sources. Some of the key questions we heard from practitioners during our interviews included
- Are there people analytics tools that can help practitioners integrate their data and allow for data interoperability?
- Which technologies speak to each other and can be used as an integrated suite?
- Do the existing tools require data be within one system or should it be siloed in different systems?
While some of these concerns tie in with the issue of capabilities that we touched upon earlier, it is clear that data integration is a major challenge Practitioners we spoke to mentioned that a growing number of vendors claim to offer multiple services and solutions for all things people analytics, but fail to provide that. For example, one person stated,
“[I] really wish the technology vendors would stop promising a one-stop shop for all your analytics need…These technologies require a lot of thoughtfulness in implementation to have them be useful.”
Further, other practitioners indicated a frustration with vendors who have incremental additional charges for additional data sources. While no one likes being “nickled and dimed,” these practitioners were especially sensitive, as they felt that for the extra time, effort, and cost to integrate these additional data, they could build the analysis capabilities themselves for roughly the same cost, and with additional flexibility.
Data Security and Ethics – Collect, Measure, Share?
A recurring concern expressed by practitioners and vendors alike centered around the issue of compliance and ethics in data collection, use, and sharing — almost a third of those who responded to our poll listed issues of ethics, access, privacy, ownership, and security as a top issue they want to better understand. Vendors we spoke to also brought up issues of data democratization such as how do businesses view their position in terms of data transparency and what should they be doing with it.
One of the vendors we spoke to expressed concerns about not keeping employees in the loop with regards to the data collected on them. As tools that monitor and collect passive data (which can often be sensitive [e.g. email data]) become more popular, managing and sharing that data with employees is increasingly becoming an issue of concern and was frequently brought up in our conversations.
Another vendor we spoke to referred to the recent data privacy breach incidents at Facebook and Google and their impact on the conversation about data sources by bringing it to the forefront.
Some of the concerns raised by people analytics practitioners and vendors regarding this issue include these questions:
- How transparent are the solution providers regarding the data they are collecting and providing access to among the various levels within the customer's organization?
- What are some of the decisions made by solution providers to help customers protect their employees?
- How much of the data do practitioners tell their employees they are collecting?
- How involved and informed are the business leaders about the data that people analytics practitioners have?
Implementation and End-User Value – Will the Real People Analytics Solution Please Stand Up?
While there is a lot of marketing about the value of people analysis technology, practitioners want to understand – ideally from other practitioners – others' implementation experiences and how quickly and efficiently those solutions delivered value.
In particular, practitioners would like to see more real customer case studies and to have opportunities to discuss the “how-to” and “lessons learned” with other practitioners. This will allow them to align their expectations and objectives and achieve greater value from these solutions.
In addition, practitioners would like more information about whom the technology is designed to serve. For example, they reported that they will often hear that a solution can be made accessible to HR Business Partners, only to find that it is too technical or difficult for someone who is not especially data-savvy. By having a more realistic understanding about whom the system is really designed for, people analytics practitioners will be better able to understand and highlight the value of specific technologies.
Vendors are also interested in gaining greater clarity on who the organization leaders see as the end-user of the product and the expectations and practical ways organizations intend to use their solutions. They want to understand from practitioners not only what they want, but for whom, and why they want it. As one of the interviewees we spoke to put it,
“[Certain technologies] require a level of sophistication from HR folks to go into the tool and identify the questions they should be asking….The people analytics team, the HRBPs, or the communications… [they] have such varied levels of maturity.”
And while upskilling and building data capabilities for the wider section of users is crucial, it should be matched by a clear identification of the primary user.
Both the conversations and poll results are reflective of our findings from the literature review: the people analytics technology landscape is a rapidly growing space with great potential. However, there remains an urgent need for greater clarity and knowledge sharing on issues of various technology capabilities, ethics and security, data integration, and transparency about real use cases on scaling insights for business value and custom solutions that fit business needs.
Our Next Steps
We recently closed our online vendor survey (and thank the more than 35 vendors who participated!). We are analyzing that data and holding vendor briefings over the course of summer. We will also be conducting a second round of interviews with practitioners during the summer which, along with the survey results, will inform our final findings. These findings will be presented in the fall at PAFOW Philadelphia conference, with the final report published later in the fall.