Over the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Executives and global HR leaders from multinational organizations across the U.S, EMEA and APAC. There are obviously several key challenges and trends in the global HR space, but two in particular resonate with me.   

The first one is the transition of HR into a strategic, business-focused role. This apparently does not only resonate with me, as according to McKinsey & Company, 80% of CEOs believe it is critical for HR to play the role of a “high-impact business partner.”

The second one is around the power of big data to deliver key insights to guide business and HR decision making. 

The two are actually inextricably linked. Without exception, each time I engage with a Global HR Leader to talk technology, one of the questions I am asked is, “How is this solution going to put my data to work for me?” Companies can leverage big data to make better decisions, and ultimately achieve business objectives, but only if that data  is fit for strategic focus in the first place.

In order to really harness the power of Big Data for business gain, global companies need to ensure that any data used for decision-making is accurate, accessible and absolutely secure.

If you add the effects of globalization and the ongoing war for key talent to the mix you soon realize why the pressure and spotlight is firmly on HR to become more strategic.  Businesses and C-level executives are turning to  HR to provide the information that will enable organisations to attract, retain and engage key talent that will in turn help to achieve global business growth.

A great example of the topics that HR is being quizzed on, is global benefits spend. Now that the multiple generations that make up the key talent pool do not view compensation alone as enough to attract and retain their services, the focus is shifting to the other elements of the employee value proposition, in particular total reward and benefits. 

As benefits spend increases worldwide there is an additional pressure on HR to know exactly what is being spent on benefits packages and where. (Interestingly in the Asia Pacific, the 2015 Towers Watson Asia Pacific Benefit Trends Surveys reveals that a large number of employers are spending more than 20% of total payroll on benefits.) We are already seeing more CFOs wanting to know how much is spent globally and wanting to understand how HR are measuring ROI.  

Measuring and demonstrating that ROI is proving to be one of HR’s biggest problems. According to the latest research by KPMG, 49% of global executives believe that HR leaders are currently unable to demonstrate tangible correlations between HR initiatives and business outcomes. 

Being able to answer those questions accurately and in a timely fashion is one of the biggest drivers for multinational organizations looking to global, integrated technology systems to deliver the necessary data sets. 

Data quality counts

Before we had access to sophisticated technology based HR systems, if a multinational organization’s head office wanted detailed and accurate information on global benefits spend, it would involve a long and laborious task of gathering data from many different people, brokers, consultants, systems in each country.

No longer does technology structure (or lack thereof) drive process. I can check who is calling me while I’m out for a run simply by checking the fitness tracker on my wrist – no longer do I have to stop, pause my running app, accidentally cancel it and then wonder why I even bothered (first world problems, I know). Back in the business world, with an integrated global technology, Global HR leaders are empowered to take control of their benefits data and use it to support important strategic decisions. 

Data can be accessed immediately and analysed by region, country and demographic. We should note that it is imperative that any Global HR or benefits technology  is flexible enough to accommodate the local nuances in each country across different regions. 

Once you are sure that your data is accurate, consistent and up to date, it can be leveraged to enhance decision-making on benefits spend. 

I’m conscious that it is very easy for me to talk from my “benefits bubble.” In this blog I have looked at benefits data as an example, where benefits should be considered a vertical within the wider HCM eco-system. It is highly important that the level of integration ensures that data is up to date, accurate and secure when transmitted between systems and considered as a data set in the bigger picture. 

The ultimate aim of data analytics is to improve the performance of the organization through more efficient and responsive HR practices. Through their ability to harness big data, Global HR leaders are in prime position to adopt a more strategic approach, respond to C-suite requests for information and in many ways create a new organizational role for the function.

And implementing the right HR technology to ensure the highest quality of data is the first step.