Perhaps one of the few advantages of hitting 50 is being able to reflect on how much “working life” has changed over the past 25 years. It has been a period of unprecedented change and on a level exponentially more complex or rapid than that of my parents generation or those before them.
Probably the biggest shift during that time has been in who’s responsible or accountable for Mr/s Employee – that’s you and me. The image below illustrates how accountability for our working “status” has shifted from the company to the individual.
I can no longer rely on a career for life. I am now expected to manage my own development. The company no longer provides core benefits, simply a cash lump sum, which I use to buy the benefits that suit me. And in more recent attempts to reduce the organisations’ asset burden, I’m now encouraged to provide my own hardware – Bring Your Own Device they call it.
The strange thing is, that even though the main catalyst for change has been the advancement in technology, the solutions that support the employee/employer relationship seem woefully inadequate to facilitate the transition illustrated in the image above. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the way we treat and manage employee data.
Any reasonable sized organisation with an employee payroll numbering 10,000 or more, will probably have an HR technology stack from the likes of SAP™, Oracle™ or Workday™, or a combination of some or all of these.
Whilst these companies all have ‘SaaS’ offerings, and purport to manage your “end to end human capital processes” (Yuk!), they are not new businesses, or solutions. Even workday is 10 this year, its architecture being built very much in the shadow of its competitors. And in general, the model hasn’t changed; the organisation owns the software, the software is designed around the organisation, not the user (The employee, candidate or alumni), and probably most importantly, it keeps and manages the data.
But this doesn’t help me, the individual, lead the increasingly personally accountable career I’m now having to live. How can I manage a ‘flexible’ career when all of my work accomplishments and achievements decay and die in an instance of Workday™ when I leave my current employer?
The answer is I can’t. So I’m faced with pulling it together with bits of software from third parties within which I can punch in my payslip history, manage my insurance details or record my achievements. But why should I have to do this? And who’s data is it anyway?
Consider these two key issues:
Data ownership – If I’m responsible for managing my own career and development, I need the data that goes with it. As an employee, why can’t I own, or at the very least co-own, my employment data? Why can’t I use a single solution, or collection of core apps that simply ‘plug’ into the organisations slimmed down enterprise hub? And why can’t I take it all with me when I leave?
Data structure – More and more information that defines me as a person, and my potential, is “unstructured”: My social updates (internal and external), my blog, my online community posts, the papers I’ve written, my check ins, my likes, my recommendations and endorsements. The list goes on. This unstructured content is rapidly emerging as a core element in big data and predictive analytics, so why isn’t it a core element of my employment profile?
The concept of #BYOS isn’t new, but the conversation up to now has been around using apps to work alongside or around enterprise HR/Talent solutions, and to perform tasks, such as file transfer or note sharing etc. If the above issues are central to the future of the employee data management landscape – which I think they are – what is the implication for enterprise HR/Talent software when even the very best in class solutions would struggle to deal with these two fundamentals?
I see a future where I own and manage my own data through my own mini ‘portable’ enterprise employee portal in my pocket. The problem is, I don’t think the major vendors see it the same way.
An interesting angle.
The importance of data ownership will probably be seen in centuries to come as a fundamental issue, perhaps leading to events as significant as the signing of the Magna Carta. That sounds a little grand, but I don’t think it is.
Your data (it should be yours) is at the very least an asset and arguably even a currency.
That we allow corporations to own parts of us is another example of where the balance is currently wrong.
Be the corporations those that we work for explicitly, when they are our employer, or implicitly when we trade our preferences, location and interests for notionally their services, search, email, my favourite social media, messaging, showing off and so on, the balance is wrong at present.
It is very early days and it will take a while for a balanced bill of digital rights to settle (it is currently skewed towards anonymity and plagued by encryption, a recipe for unaccountability, in turn a recipe for different flavours of tyranny) but I am sure will settle, with ownership balanced by accountability at its heart.
Will services then evolve to allow us to manage and trade on our data? For sure.
I am expecting disruption, as usual, this will be fun to watch!
Thanks for the comment Anthony. A thought provoking response. I agree, there is a defining data ownership point coming along although i hadn’t quite visualised it in on the scale of the signing of the Magna Carta! But who knows? I do think we are sleep walking into the data mess and that it will out. I can’t see a future for the current enterprise way of doing things and the solutions they use. And whereas even 20 years ago you could probably get away with responding a bit late to a market shift, you can’t any more. I don’t think we have seen even a fraction of the impact of this on how we work, trade our personal talent IP and generally get on with the grubby business of earning a living. Thanks for stopping by!
As always, very interesting and logical.
I’m not sure however if the world is entirely moving in the direction of employees gaining greater control. Of course it is to a certain extent (and for some types of organization and skills). That said, there are loads of organizations that “own and direct” the work of “their” employees. For this latter group, it’s difficult to see them move quickly in the direction of employees owning their data. These same organizations – plus some of the good guys too – also want to “own” the IP of the work that “their” staff produce.
Nevertheless interesting ideas
Hi Julian, great to hear from you! Hope all is well! Thanks for the comment. I agree, I think a lot of companies will not move quickly. And lets face it, they can only move as quickly as the technology or innovation allows. In data terms, pretty much every existing business of any reasonable size has a set of systems and processes built around the existing crop of enterprise software applications, built on dubious structured data sets. As it is they struggle to deliver real value or insight from the existing key data sources, let alone be able to draw predictive insights from other sources, especially unstructured content and data sources. The “new world” requires a different kind of service and technology, such as above. And that requires a monumental swap out as I dont believe there is enough time for the existing players to fully develop suitable alternatives.
I guess on the data front, shared ownership should be the starting point.
For data entered into company forms, or even data entered into sites like LinkedIn, I’ve always assumed it is their data and it has been my responsibility to create my own backup. Owning my brand is why I bought my domain names, and I’ll bet Gareth Jones there was thinking similarly. If it is really important, or ephemeral, take on the responsibility of maintaining it right away.
For data entered into company forms, or even data entered into sites like LinkedIn, I’ve always assumed it is their data and it has been my responsibility to create my own backup. Owning my brand is why I bought my domain names, and I’ll bet Gareth Jones here was thinking similarly. If it is really important, or ephemeral, take on the responsibility of maintaining it right away.
Great article – there’s clearly a direction of travel here with the ‘Gig economy’ becoming more evident on an almost daily basis. Increasingly the HRIS landscape is becoming less about systems of record and more about systems of engagement with the winners and losers being defined by those entities (these might be individuals, communities of interest, multiple organisations such as JV’s and other special purpose vehicles or even, dare I say it, the traditional enterprise) who can orchestrate the two sides of the picture in the most productive and cost effective way. Taking this to its logical conclusion, employee data and the enriching and keeping up to date with our experience, interests, values, achievements and so on has to therefore sit with the individual and organisations will naturally evolve to implement (technology) solutions that enable them to tap into that vein of talent.
Hi Iain, thanks for the comment. Only time will tell I guess but I agree that the logical conclusion will be that the data should reside with the individual and the organisation “taps in.”