Kouros Behzad, Director of Solution Management, Line of Business HR, SAP

Wikipedia defines big data as “a term applied to data sets whose size is beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, manage, and process the data within a tolerable elapsed time. Big data sizes are a constantly moving target currently ranging from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data in a single data set.”

Typical large enterprises have between 5,000 and 50,000 employees. Very large organizations employ numbers in the single-digit millions – which is still not considered big data by itself. Yet if this isn’t big data, how do we get to petabytes of data in HR?

What Constitutes Big Data in HR?

  • Inactive, retired, and terminated employees – everyone who’s ever been employed by the organization
  • Recruiting and candidate pipelines
  • Personnel actions associated with every worker during his/her tenure, including transfers, promotions, demotions, relocations, resignations, and rehires
  • The tracking of every role, position, and job (each has a clear meaning in the HR world) a person holds; each title, salary, and compensation history; and performance history
  • Payroll data: payroll frequency, which varies by organization and can range from monthly, semi-monthly, biweekly, weekly, and even daily, which doesn’t account for off-cycle payroll runs, adjustment, and retroactive pays (gigabytes of data can easily accumulate as each set of payroll data includes many records for each of earnings, deductions, and taxes)
  • Benefits enrollments and accruals, changing benefit plans, and status changes throughout the year
  • Time and attendance data, such as vacation, sick, time off, holidays, float days, regular and overtime reporting on timecards or time-clocks, and time recorded against projects, tasks, or work orders
  • Employee participation in internal and external training and webinars that deliver new skills, updated proficiencies, new or updated certifications (each instance is recorded and sometimes contains evaluation data)
  • Records for contract and temporary workers that complement the workforce of almost every organization


Take into account the constant reorganizations in companies at employee, department, division, or higher levels, retroactive adjustments, and future-dated records associated with HR transactions, and it adds an extra dimension to the complexity and fluidity of HR data.


But That’s Not All – Other Complications in Big HR Data

Technologies of yesterday did a decent job of storing this data and looking at each area in isolation. However, reporting and analytics in HR have always been a challenge and become magnified when organizations attempt to cross corporate functions and overlay their workforce data with sales, financial, health and safety, operations, manufacturing, and supply chain data to determine correlations and trends.

The complexity further grows when the reach for data is extended to external sources such as demographic and employment benchmarks (i.e., Bureau of Labor Statistics and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The challenge increases for practitioners when exploring and making sense of the data


Benefits of Harnessing Big HR Data

Businesses can gain an advantage over the competition when they can:

  • Determine how the data is related – quickly
  • Identify where the trends are
  • Determine what the causes and effects are and how to surface problems
  • Verify hunches and uncover differentiators
  • Turn insight into action quickly


Consider all of the above, and it’s easy to see that HR data isn’t multiplicative nor additive. However, HR is certainly considered big data in terms of volume, velocity, variety, validity, value, and complexity.  These are the terms SAP, IDC and Gartner used to describe big data at the recent Gartner Conference.  Read more about this in the recent blog post Big Data for Small Companies

This is where SAP HANA, SAP BusinessObjects business intelligence solutions, SAP ERP Human Capital Management (HCM), and solutions from SuccessFactors Business Execution Software (BizX), including Workforce Analytics, come into play. Together, they enable easy access and analysis of big data in HR.


Learn More about Big Data and Analytics for HR at SAPPHIRE NOW 2012

Here are some specific opportunities to learn more and explore big data and analytics for HR when you’re in Orlando for SAPPHIRE NOW :

  • Harness the Power of Workforce Analytics for Better Business Decisions, Tuesday, 11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m., in the Run Better Microforum, RB112
  • Use SAP Technology to Enhance Sales, HR, and Procurement, 5/14 – 5/15, at the Test-Drive Area Show Floor, RB143