Why your HR Analytics Team Should Be Using IT Metadata

The use of analytics in HR is rapidly growing. Companies have been staffing up their HR teams with software engineers and data scientist. Plenty are now relying heavily on data for making key people decisions. In spite of all this positive momentum, too many HR organizations still take a rather conservative approach when it comes to the data they analyze.

These teams focus their analytics efforts almost solely on HR data. This includes things like employee records, performance review results and salary information. While these records are a useful source of data for analysis, they tend to tell an incomplete story. People are more than just their salary, title and demographic data. If HR teams are going to realize their goal of driving positive change throughout organizations, they need to look beyond HR!

If HR teams are going to realize their goal of driving positive change throughout organizations, they need to look beyond HR!

IT metadata provides an exciting new source of data for HR teams. IT metadata is data stored within cloud tools like Microsoft Office, Email, Calendar and Salesforce. It is automatically gathered whenever individuals collaborate or complete work within an organization. Typical IT metadata includes millions of bits of information on things like:

  • the various types of work done;
  • the extent to which people and teams are collaborating;
  • resources and time dedicated to various tasks (e.g., planning, meetings, communication, development);
  • the external clients and partners that work is shared with;

IT metadata captures the story of all digital work and communication happening within an organization.

Predicting employee performance


Gathering IT metadata from cloud-based productivity tools

Below are a few of the key reasons why HR teams need to start including IT metadata in their analyses.

1. IT metadata is real-time

IT metadata updates every minute, hour and day, as work is completed. It’s one of the most dynamic signals for how people are doing. Employee records tends to be relatively static. Changing a couple of times a month or less. The advantage of real-time data is that it provides early signals for potential problems. When doing things like predicting employee engagement, the earlier issues are detected the better. Early warnings give managers time to take action.

Patterns in IT metadata can indicate early changes in employee engagement with work and peers. For instance, individuals who become isolated and collaborate less, can be at greater risk of turnover. These patterns are often detectable many months before people actually decide to leave an organization. Biannual engagement surveys, on the other hand, are often pick up problems when it’s too late to act. Real-time data also gives a much earlier signal for measuring the effectiveness of actions taken. HR teams can see within weeks (instead of months) whether interventions are leading to positive change.

2. IT metadata is objective

IT metadata is a clear, objective measure of how and what people within an organization are doing.

The performance and engagement surveys many HR teams rely on are often riddled with issues from question design to bias. One need only look at the significant amount of work done showing the problems with annual performance reviews [1] [2] [3]. Or think about the incentives and implications of asking an employee if they enjoy working in your organizations. Do they feel safe or comfortable sharing the truth? Are they growing tired of filling in repetitive pulse surveys?

IT metadata tells an objective story of what his happening in your organization.

Output of skills assessment


Assessment of software development skills from IT metadata. Review captures hours spent by individuals developing software using various technologies. These datasets provide an objective view of real employee skills and competencies in action.

3. IT metadata is freely available

There’s a reason that HR data is less dynamic than IT metadata – it’s expensive to collect. Surveys take a lot of time to run and people don’t like doing them. Gathering information manually is always labour intensive and slow.

It’s a no-brainer: why not use the data you already have?

IT metadata is freely available within an organizations. It can be automatically gathered from application interfaces (APIs), at very low cost. It’s a no-brainer: why not use the data you already have?

Predicting employee performance


Scatter plot of daily hours worked vs performance ratings. Helping to dispel the long held belief that working longer hours always leads to better results!

4. IT Metadata is Social

Other than the org chart, HR data has little information about relationships within an organization. IT metadata, on the other hand, is inherently social. It captures the flow of communication and collaboration within an organization. If you want to answer questions about people and how they fit into an organization, it’s critical to layer on this social context.

In studying management effectiveness, the interactions between managers and their teams is a great source of insight. IT metadata captures factors like how often managers interact with reports and the depth and tone of the interactions (meetings, code reviews, feedback). These factors can be great predictors of employee satisfaction and manager success. IT metadata is a powerful source of data on the millions of tiny interactions constantly happening throughout and organization.

Code Review Network Graph


Network graph of code reviews made in Github. Node size proportional to number of reviews made. Shows how a small number of “Super Reviewers” drive much of the technical feedback process within an organization

Accessing Data

Unfortunately, accessing IT metadata can be challenging at first. It tends to come from a variety of different sources: Microsoft Office, Exchange, Google Apps, Github, Salesforce, JIRA, Rally and Slack to name just a few. Once gathered the data often needs to be aggregated and normalized before it is useful.

At Worklytics, we’ve worked with a number of organizations to give HR teams easy access to their existing IT data. Our pre-built application connectors make accessing and cleaning data easy. Our team of people analytics experts also works with HR organizations to help incorporate IT metadata into existing models and analyses.

If you would like to learn more about how IT Metadata can help your team, feel free to contact me at philip@worklytics.co.

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