Howard Gerver is a self-proclaimed human capital data geek.  His “day job” specializes in finding innovative and practical ways to save money by identifying “golden nuggets” mined from Big HR Data sets, such as claims and human capital data.  A lot of this work includes analytics, claim auditing and eligibility auditing.  His “nights and weekend” job focuses on helping clients leverage their HR, Benefits, Leave and Time & Attendance data to help improve compliance with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).   Throughout his career, he has focused on improving the financial performance of the Payroll, Human Resources and Benefits functions of his clients through advanced technology, process improvement and auditing. In his spare time, he researches new and exciting ways to use Big HR Data to address broader business issues vis-à-vis predictive analytics.

MC: How do you define Big HR Data?

HG: In my humble opinion, Big HR Data applies to the leveraging of “wide and “deep” HR data assets in conjunction with non-HR specific enterprise data as well as external, third party data. Examples of non-HR specific data include: sales, production output, production quality, customer satisfaction surveys and financial results. Examples of third party data include: consumer (e.g. household composition, home ownership, shopping, interests and hobbies), census, health rankings and competitors (i.e., the local labor market).

The key idea is to leverage these collective data sets to:

1) Better understand what has happened (analytics), and

2) Identify what is likely to happen (predictive analytics).

From a business perspective, Big HR Data can be applied to virtually any HR functional area such as talent management, employee engagement, and health benefits.

For example, Big HR Data can address important talent management questions, such as which candidate is likely to succeed? Or, which employees pose a “flight risk?” Regarding employee engagement, Big HR Data can be utilized to identify which employees are more likely to have higher levels of productivity and conversely, which employees are likely to have lower levels of productivity. This information can then be applied to creating budget estimates, for example. Lastly, in the context of health benefits, Big HR Data can be leveraged to identify which employees are likely to have ineligible dependents.  

MC: Which types of “golden nuggets” might an organization uncover by mining Big HR data sets?

HG: “Golden nuggets?!” Can I get some fries with that? In all seriousness, “golden nuggets” can be found in many places. To get the best yield, forensic, or CSI-type tactics need to be employed. Leveraging all data, including written information stored in filing cabinets needs to be included.

Example 1 – High Turnover

Case-in-point, while performing a turnover analysis for a manufacturing client, we initially zeroed in on locations with the highest turnover. Interestingly, it turns out 24/7 plants had the highest turnover. Upon further review, we discovered new hires working the “graveyard shift” had the highest resignation rates. The average “newly resigned” employee lasted only 8 weeks. Naturally, HQ sensed the likely suspects were either environmental, the “job” or local management. This was not the case, it turned out the root cause was never documented in any system.

So, what was the culprit? Drum roll please…During the exit interviews it was learned that these “newly resigned” employees NEVER worked the “graveyard shift” before; these employees had no idea how different the “graveyard shift was from their own day-to-day routine and the impact it would have on their family and social life. While each of these same people as candidates needed a job, they didn’t think through the lifestyle difference between working a traditional 9 to 5 job and a “graveyard shift” job. To remedy the problem, management improved the selection process which included adding a “do you have “graveyard shift”” experience question, as well as the inclusion of probing related questions during the interview process.

Net, net – management recognized the value and importance of a richer HR dataset. Moreover, the new owner (which was a private equity firm) enjoyed the productivity and financial improvements derived from these improvements.

Example 2 – Lowering Healthcare Costs

Another “golden nugget” example pertains to reducing healthcare costs (yes, that’s not a typo – Big HR Data can be used to save money in a transparent, immediate and recurring manner!). For example, a large employer with several thousand employees decided to confirm the eligibility of the dependents enrolled in the medical plan. In spite of the compelling ROI, management sensed the audit would be disruptive and costly. Rather than require 100% of the employees to submit supporting documentation, management sensed there would be a way to leverage its HR and claims data. Essentially, this data would be used to audit only those that made most sense to audit.

To bring the vision to life, we were hired to calculate a risk score for each employee and to stratify the population. Inputs to the risk score included two major categories 1) Demographic outliers and 2) Dependents whose medical/Rx claim costs were higher than the respective per capita costs for their dependent category (spouse, domestic partner, young adult, child). External, third party consumer data was also integrated. Employees representing all geographies, divisions and departments were included. “True” random employees were also added to balance the model. The results were stunning. Approximately 90% of the savings were realized simply by auditing 25% of the population. The “icing on the cake” was an interesting discovery. It turns out about 30 of the spouses had gastric bypasses. Ironically, gastric bypasses were excluded from the plan design. At $30,000 each, this drove the savings even higher!

Net, net – management became a strong proponent for Big HR Data.

Example 3 – Insider Threats

Cybercrime continues to be a material threat for ALL employers. Basically, no firm is safe – even from its own employees! While employers have increasingly strengthened physical controls, fortified processes, updated data security programs, and provided employees with requisite training as an effort to mitigate enterprise risk, cybercrime continues to be an area where employers simply continue to feel exposed.

To that end, the C-suite and the Board are under continuous pressure to make sure tangible and intangible assets are not compromised. Ironically, the same employees who are touted as the “number one asset” are under scrutiny. Here’s where leveraging human capital data assets in conjunction with enterprise as well as external, third party data comes in real handy!

First, please allow me to illustrate a realistic scenario. John, a loyal 12-year veteran of the company did not get the promotion he was counting on. Needless to say he didn’t get the big bonus either. In the short 12 years he worked there, John always got top reviews and got good bonuses. The word on the street was he was a strong contender. While his historical performance was solid, his recent results were off. John attributed his recent performance to stronger competitors and management’s unwillingness to make deals.

Much to everyone’s surprise, John abruptly resigned. To exacerbate the issue, not only did he take valuable clients with him (and millions of dollars in business), but he also took trade secrets and all the pertinent client data files. The sad thing is, part of the problem could have been avoided. Here’s how Big HR Data could have tipped off management that John was at-risk.

Using external legal data, management would have seen that John filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year. He also had a DUI just a few months earlier. A pattern analysis of his network usage also would have shown that he accessed folders that he never previously accessed. Moreover, his visits to social media sites, such as Linkedin and job sites including Indeed would have tipped management off that John was potentially, looking for a job.

Again, the use of data could have lessened the severity of what became a big issue. Imagine a world where Big HR Data in conjunction with legal data, network usage data and website visit data co-existed! While it would not change John’s promotability, management could have leveraged the data to then take appropriate measures.

MC: What types of systems might an organization need to organize and cross check their data to confirm it is accurate?

HG: Hmmmmm, those are two great questions! Let’s first explore the systems an organization needs. The answer varies based upon 1) the business question you’re trying to answer, and 2) the data that’s available. At a minimum, we only require a minimum amount of indicative data, such as employee name, address, birth date, hire date, department and title. We can then append third party data to get a more comprehensive understanding of each employee’s demographics, interests and even legal history (legal history includes arrests, bankruptcies, liens and judgments). Other HR and non-HR data as listed below can also provide value.

  • Applicant (e.g. previous addresses, work history)
  • Skills
  • Training
  • Time & attendance
  • Performance
  • Medical Claims (self-insured plans only)
  • Pharmacy Claims (self-insured plans only)
  • Workers’ Compensation Claims
  • Disability Claims
  • Retirement Elections
  • Stock Purchase Plan Activity
  • Voluntary Insurance Elections
  • 401(K) Loans
  • Production (e.g. sales, units produced, quality metrics)
  • Exit Interviews

While this may appear to be a lot of data, that’s the point! Big HR Data is by default, BIG. It is only when disparate data sets are linked that give real gems the opportunity to “pop.”   Ultimately, management will learn which data types have positive and negative affinities; this will enable management to only work with data that provides value.

The second question pertains to data quality. As everyone knows, it’s critical the foundation of the house is solid before the first and second floors are built. The same applies here. The first thing that comes to mind is the use of internal controls. Since many different datasets are likely to be involved, management should first take an inventory of each dataset. This includes taking a point-in-time record count by business unit and/or geography. This will help establish data compatibility. In the event there’s a data gap, either a replacement data set should be created or the gap needs to be accounted for in the analysis.

For employers that don’t have the requisite controls in place, “approximate math” could be used. For example, an employer embarks on a workforce planning exercise and the goal of the project is to identify future workforce gaps. A critical input is skills inventory data. A quick computation reveals the average employee has 10 different skills.   Management could then determine whether 10 skills “makes sense.” If it does, great! If not, management would need the employees to update their respective skills before the analysis started. Please note, in this scenario it would also be prudent for management to review sample employee skill inventories to make sure they’re current.

MC: How has the use of Big HR Data by organizations changed over the last five years and how do you see it being most useful to an organization going forward?

HG: Big HR Data itself has not really changed at all. What has changed is the mindset of the HR community. Whereas 5 years ago most analyses were limited to data that was sourced from one system due to system constraints as well as limited IT resources, today power HR users can do their own analyses by using intuitive data visualization tools.

Going forward expanded HR data sets will continue to be leveraged by best practice organizations. Given the pervasive use of analytics in every part of the enterprise, it will be “data or die” as the C-suite will no longer accept we don’t have the data or we don’t have the technology to access the data. Net, net – Big HR Data will continue to play a critical role in helping employers maintain a best practice human capital ecosystem.

Editor’s Note:  Proper analysis of Big HR Data can assist organizations in achieving cost-savings across a myriad of programs and departments.  It can also provide great insights into the composition and actions of the workforce itself.  As technology, and its usage, advances, it will be important for employers to monitor and comply with changing laws and regulations as well as ensure that any personally identifiable information is secured and protected.  Employers should also take care that they are not violating applicable laws, such as employment-related or privacy laws, when obtaining data and implementing decisions based on data analytics.

Gene ZainoGene Zaino, a nationally recognized expert in the contract workforce market, launched MBO Partners to re-invent the way independent consultants and organizations work together. MBO Partners provides technology solutions and personal service that both simplify and expedite business processes for self-employed professionals including: incorporation, contract setup, billing, financial management, payroll, tax compliance, and health and retirement benefit programs. MBO Partners also provides access to the largest network of “engagement ready” enterprise companies, as well as portable benefits to independent workers.  Zaino is a major force in the independent workforce movement, committed to making it easier for self-employed professionals and their clients to work together.

The meaning of the “workplace” continues to evolve in the Digital (also referred to as the “gig,” sharing or on-demand) Economy. From shared workspaces, to the introduction of machines, artificial intelligence and robots into the workplace, traditional employer-employee relationships that we have known in our lifetimes are being reconfigured at a rapid pace. I caught up with Gene Zaino to explore some of his thoughts in response to the following questions regarding a growing segment of the workforce-the self-directed or independent worker.

How do you define independent or contingent workers, and are they one broad category or would you classify them into different segments?

MBO Partners defines independent workers as adult Americans aged 21 and over of all skill, education, and income levels who turn to consulting, freelancing, contract work, temporary assignments, or on-call work regularly each week for income, opportunity, and satisfaction.

The entire contingent workforce is a broad category. Anyone working in a nontraditional job – that is, outside a 9 to 5 desk job – could be considered a contingent, temporary, or “gig” worker.  But the ride-share driver you frequently see on the road faces different challenges than the independent consultant working for a major accounting firm, so it’s important to make distinctions between these groups when discussing issues like providing portable benefits and meeting their business needs.

How much of the American workforce is currently comprised of independent workers, and how do you think that will change in the next 5 years?

There are just under 40 million independents in the American workforce, which includes 16.9 million in full-time positions, 12.4 million who work part-time, and 10.5 million in occasional independent roles. Based on our latest State of Independence report – the longest running annual survey of the independent workforce in the nation – we expect the number of independents to grow to an impressive 48.9 million by 2021. By this time, nearly one in two people will work independently, or will have done independent work at some point in their careers. Suffice it to say, the independent workforce is rapidly growing and the workforce we knew even five years ago will look vastly different in another five years.

What do you see as the main drivers behind the rise of the independent worker?

The numbers and testimony from our annual survey show that independents overwhelmingly find independent work is a satisfying, and self-determined, choice. Both full and part-time independents say their career choices stem from a desire to have greater flexibility, freedom, control, and purpose. In terms of flexibility, 63 percent of independents cite control of their schedule as a top reason to work independently, and 59 percent say their top motivator is the increased flexibility independent work provided not only in their careers but across all aspects of their lives.

Forty-seven percent of full-time independent workers report making more money on their own than they would in a traditional employment setting. Specifically, three million independents earned more than $100,000 last year, a 50 percent increase from the two million who earned the same just five years ago.

Generationally, Baby Boomers now constitute 31 percent of the independent population, driven in part by the desire to supplement retirement benefits that are facing sharp declines over the next decade. But the independent workforce is also growing younger, millennials accounting for 40 percent which is higher than their makeup among the labor force at large. In contrast to Baby Boomers, Millennials see independence as an opportunity to get a toehold in the labor force and as a resume-builder.

What are the main needs of independent workers?

One of the major needs of independent workers is the ability to maintain a robust network of clientele for future work. MBO ConnectTM, considered the industry’s leading preferred talent network and direct sourcing product for engaging independent workers, is just one platform through which independents might find future projects and connections.

Like all workers, independents also need benefits to support themselves and their family, including retirement/401(k) and health insurance. Since those benefits are often employer-provided, it can be difficult for independents to find security working on their own. MBO Partners helps by providing access to group plans for its qualifying associates as well as by educating independents on how to acquire portable benefits.

Do you find that independent work is more appropriate for experienced workers in their field of expertise, or can those new to the working world successfully embark upon independent work arrangements?

The independent workforce is diverse – it includes Americans of all ages, skill, and income levels who turn to independence for income, opportunity and satisfaction. We’ve seen a growth in the experience level thanks to the continuing commitment of more seasoned workers primarily from the Baby Boomer generation. Many independents report getting work assignments because they offer a specialized skill that requires certification, special training, or education. This often means added experience in the form of years on the job.

However, millennials just entering the workforce also represent a growing percentage of the independent workforce – up to 6.76 million last year from 1.9 million in 2011.

Are employers in particular industries more inclined to engage independent workers currently and will this change in the next 5 years? 

As the workforce continues to change, employers across nearly every industry are engaging and hiring independent workers, and we see the flow between traditional and alternative work arrangements increasing in numbers and growing in momentum over the next five years. By 2021, almost half of the private workforce is forecast to have spent time as independent workers at some point in their work lives. As a result, savvy companies are already competing to become a Client of Choice for top independent talent. Forward-thinking companies are already thinking of the best ways to engage independent workers compliantly and efficiently, often using a company such as MBO Partners to do so.

Does the proliferation of the independent worker erode the promise of the so-called social compact or “model social safety net” or do you see ways that these workers can obtain retirement savings security, and other necessary employee benefits? 

The growth of the independent workforce has changed the way we think about providing employee benefits, and companies like ours have adapted to that change. MBO Partners has provided portable benefits to independents for over a decade, giving our associates access to the power of their group purchasing to access healthcare, disability and business insurance, as well as 401(k) options for retirement savings.

Moving forward, the government will need to take steps to help the independent workforce. This may involve further discussion of portable benefits, the creation of a new classification of worker to help independents work compliantly with clients, or something else entirely. MBO Partners is proud to work closely with top leaders in Washington and on Capitol Hill to remain a part of these vital ongoing conversations, now and in the new administration.

 

Editor’s note: As the workplace continues to change, employment arrangements will evolve.  It will become increasingly important for employers to monitor changing employment -related laws and regulations and to ensure that adherence is given to current laws, especially with regard to worker classifications, overall workplace management, employee benefits and immigration issues.   As the nature of the very workers retained to perform services changes in unprecedented ways, new ways of thinking about these issues and regulating them will surely come to pass.

 

Jonathan-Blitt.jpgJonathan Blitt, CEO and Co-Founder of aText, Incorporated, has over 24 years of experience in the application of high technology in industries ranging from software, telecommunications, and network infrastructure and is an expert in the application of multimedia technology to a myriad of operations. In this interview, Mr. Blitt provides his insights into the benefits of leveraging legacy technologies and leading with passion:

What is the mission and vision of aText, Incorporated? On one level, the mission of aText is to take an intimate , interactive, and immediate legacy form of technology and apply it to industries that need to disseminate and collect information in real time. However, the real impact of leveraging this type of completely ubiquitous technology has yet to be tapped. With 97 Percent of all text messaging read within the first 15 minutes of being sent there is no other method of communication that can so consistently reach its recipient wherever they are. The most advanced device found around the world is a mobile phone, not computers, the internet and not smartphones. This became apparent when I visited Liberia upon the invitation of President Sirleaf in 2008. My business partner and I visited Liberia to assist with education reforms. We soon discovered that the lack of infrastructure and a centralized power grid would present huge obstacles to development of any computer-based instruction to the people. We decided then that there had to be a way to find a solution to atextthis problem. Interestingly the solution came in looking backward not forward. By creating a layer of intelligence to overlay an existing form of technology we were able to reach nearly every person carrying a legacy phone, rather than only those few that had access to more expensive methods of communication. This principle is just as valid domestically as it is on the international stage. Innovation over invention can often open up huge markets to young companies. While our focus is primarily domestic at this time, the need to access people irrespective of infrastructure is a global concern.

How were your communication services recently utilized in Hurricane Sandy? The recent hurricane caused severe power outages and many levels of destruction. Many people found that text messaging was the only form of communication they had with family, neighbors and co-workers to obtain information. aText leveraged this technology with its own employees and was able to be in constant contact with them. In addition, we reached out to several companies and municipalities to offer them free access to our SMS collaboration tool which can facilitate real-time information sharing by and between people working for different organizations via text messaging. From power outages and downed trees to the collection of clothing, food and clean up materials the ability to communicate is paramount to any successful response to crisis. The events of Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that text messaging can be a very viable resource for mass communications during a disaster and this event has driven us to look for ways to develop this technology further to address the needs of all organizations needing communications in crisis, including the healthcare service industry.

What best prepared you for your role as CEO of this emerging technology company? The best preparation for me was being an actual user of text messaging. I travel a lot and see various problems with communication and technology and want to solve those problems. It is important to be passionate about what you are doing and when you actually use the technology you work with every day, you are definitely passionate about trying to find ways to make it better, or ways to use it in different, creative ways.

What have been some of the greatest business and legal challenges in growing your company? The patent process has been challenging as well as navigating the securities laws on investments and disclosures. In addition, it is important to know with whom you can communicate your ideas and technology with while maintaining the security of intellectual property.  As aText grows and explores global opportunities, it will also be challenging to determine the right business partners and navigate the laws of foreign countries.

What advice would you give to other start-up and emerging technology companies? It is important to obtain proper funding for growth and development. Being cash strapped, however, can also help a start-up learn business efficiencies early on. It is also imperative that you believe in what you are doing, be passionate and tenacious about it, and don’t let others tell you what you can or cannot do. Many folks had disregarded text messaging as an effective means of communication. However, text messaging is a powerful, legacy technology that can be extremely useful and vital for communications. The possibilities are endless and the impact will be profound.

Editor’s Note: In today’s fast-paced environment, it is also important to understand the potential legal implications of various communication technologies, including use of social media in the workplace.  Consulting with legal advisors  sensitive to such issues is the best way to tap into the power of such communication tools in a sensible, risk-reducing way.