The Human Face of Data Analytics


Every day from the moment we rise to the moment we return to bed we leave an ever increasing trail of data. As our digital touch points both at work and at home (or working at home!) increase there is an expanding set of data created. All this data can be used to optimise how we work. And optimising how individuals work and the processes behind them impacts the whole company. From customer engagement to HR retention, data is the new information. Yet for all the potential to transform how companies organize, manage and create talent, hardly any do.  There is already 40 times more bytes of data created then stars in the observable universe and each day this increases exponentially. Yet currently companies only use around 0.5% of the data available to them (Forbes).

What stops them? What stops you?

Part of the problem is that the CEO’s and top executives who can drive this change are not used to the handling of data. There is a gap of the appropriate skill sets to do so in the company. Yes, there are brilliant outsourced expert data analysts but very few in house people they can work with. You need to combine the skills of those who know how to use data with purpose with those who understand the company processes, employees and priorities. You need people who can ask the right questions to ensure that data analytics delivers applicable, useful insights. There are few companies that have someone within them who can lead data analytics, articulate its purpose and then translate it into action.


Why? Often we are led to believe that software will deliver a one stop solution. But when performance is the end goal, advanced analytics becomes simply a means to an end. Analytics technology is a powered by human intelligence. Alone data and AI has no value. Analytics can be used to identify a value driven answer, but a human must ask the questions. These depend on an organisations best informed priorities. Clear and targeted. These can range from how to reduce costs and to how to reduce time to market for product to how to improve productivity of each member of a team.

Questions lead to insights and these small wins add up.

A recent McKinsey report highlights how the impact of data analytics is often manifested by thousands of incrementally small improvements in business. This is often understood in terms of making processes more efficient but less so of people. A major bank recently used data capture to analyse the tone and language of employee conversations. Noting its top-performing call centre workers took breaks together to let off steam, the bank implemented group break policies. It resulted in an increase in performance of 23% whilst stress levels dropped by 19%.


Sodexo’s recent Workplace Trends Report likewise talks about how decision-makers can leverage data to make beneficial, productivity-boosting policy changes. An insurance company analyzed group productivity data and found that work-from-home employees were 18–22% more productive than their in-office colleagues. Instigating a work from home policy actually boosted productivity. The data was further analysed to look at what aspects of that arrangement could be used to improve those in the office. Known as “data driven people decision making” this powerful combination of human understanding and data analytics is driving performance.

And this is performance across all aspects of the employee lifecycle.

From improving hiring decisions by identifying talent gaps, to unlocking potential, driving individual development and increasing retention. For example, fuelled by data and analytics, ‘adaptive’ learning technology allows courses, activities and tests to be personalised to a learner’s pace and style of learning. This is far more cost effective, integrating ongoing development into employees daily routines. Using data well a company can optimise its workforce, streamline processes and understand both its customers and employees better. All which will also support work culture, wellbeing, build loyalty and trust and of course lead to productivity gains.


Analytics doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary, but it does have to be done right. A business-led approach not an IT led one. A CMO directing where the value is working with a CIO on what data is needed, what analytics applied and what IT stacks need to upgraded to underpin it all. All anchored on a business priority. A recent study by the University of Texas of 1000 Fortune 500 companies showed that a company could increase return on investment by 0.7% by increasing both the intelligence and accessibility of data by just 10%.


Of course all this must be underpinned by an empowered employee culture. The lack of trust or communication that currently surrounds data use can undermine a successful data strategy. Unconfident employees are reluctant to release data leading to inadequate data sets. Building employees understanding and trust must be part of the process.

Finally, companies must remember that an increasing trail of usable data means more compliance and regulations.

For instance, GDPR grants data subjects several core rights to access and control their data which if violated can explore companies to fines of up to 4% of a company’s total global turnover. This is just one of a growing list of globally varied data-related legislations.


Organizations across all sectors will need to keep pace with the rapidly changing regulatory landscape. Here analytics can help again. Data analytics (FDA) for example, can be used to question and analyze structured and unstructured data, identifying patterns of data that need closer attention for risk control purposes, such as compliance monitoring. Moving forward it will become of increasing importance to be on top of this to attract and retain both talent and customers, as well as for safe guarding the whole company. 


People are the critical part of your data and analytics journey. Those that can connect the needs of the business with the understanding of analytics are crucial. These people can drive a company's  transformation. It may seem like a big challenge but the opportunities are even bigger. It is an evolution, step by step. But put in place the right talent, create powerful linked data assets, build the capabilities to extract insights and then direct them towards meaningful action. Even if that means you first have to learn to walk, start today. You will not regret it. In the words of Pink Floyd, walk before you can run but then run like hell.

Katherine Templar Lewis

Katherine Templar Lewis

Katherine Templar Lewis spends her time as a Futurist, science communicator and consultant. She has travelled the globe speaking on new technology and its impact on individuals and society and has appeared on range of media as a science and technology expert including BBC, Sky News, Radio 4, NBC and the Today Show. She is a contributor to a range of media and is a guest blogger on The Huffington Post and is a believer in building a better future with human first technology.