People that are demanding real-time HR information are missing the point. It may sound great to have a human capital management (HCM) solution provide you data about your people and your business in real-time. Because it doesn’t get any faster than that, and getting something you want faster is better than waiting. But dig a little deeper into what real-time means to your HR department and you’ll see it is at best a ‘nice to have’, possibly plain overkill, and at worst an expensive distraction diverting your attention from differentiating HCM solutions from metrics that truly matter.
If you head over to Wikipedia, they’ll tell you real-time data is “information that is delivered immediately after collection. There is no delay in the timeliness of the information provided.” That’s a pretty good definition and there are certainly times when you want real-time data. The balance of your bank account needs to be updated in real-time to be of any use. A thermostat wouldn’t be much good if it didn’t update the temperate data in real-time.
The problem when focusing on solutions providing real-time data has to do with the difference between data and information. Google ‘data vs information’ and you’ll get this from Diffen:
“Data are simply facts or figures — bits of information, but not information itself. When data are processed, interpreted, organized, structured or presented so as to make them meaningful or useful, they are called information. Information provides context for data.”
Software providing you real-time data, just raw data, isn’t enough. Something has to be done to that data – processed, interpreted, presented – to make it meaningful or useful; to make it information. Fuel gauges have evolved to master this. Think of the standard fuel gauge. It gives you real-time data on the fullness of the car’s gas tank. Half full? Quarter full? Below the E? You might occasionally need to do some guesswork as to whether you can get to your destination – everyone’s probably played roulette with that gauge once or twice – but it’s information not just data.
New cars come with the range estimate on their gas gauge. The logical conclusion. This is useful information: taking the real-time data of the gas in your tank and turning it into the approximate distance you can drive with that amount of gas.
So what does this all mean for HCM solutions? Don’t fixate on the timeliness of data an HR department and the solutions they use can provide; what you want from HR is useful, meaningful information. I propose a new definition of real-time when it comes to HCM software:
Real-time means getting information in time to act meaningfully on it.
There are plenty of functions that benefit from this kind of real-time information. Front line managers need to know when their people do not show up for work so they can call-in staff to cover; recruiters need to know when a position has been filled so they don’t interview additional applicants; changes to an employee’s schedule should be posted online right away so the employee doesn’t come in on their day off.
Another aspect to the discussion of real-time data is the quantity of it. Meaningful information implies a manageable or bite-sized amount; being told that Jerry, a worked at your plant punched in at 9:17 am, along with the names and times of the hundreds of different employees punching in that morning, is not meaningful information. That’s too much.
Instead, for punch times to be information that you can act on, sent in time for that action to be meaningful, it should be the pieces you need to know. Receiving an alert that Jerry has punched in more than 15 minutes late for his past three shifts, violating company policy, that’s information. Knowing that before Jerry’s next scheduled shift so that HR can issue a verbal warning, that’s real-time.