New Architecture of Work VIII: Harnessing Employee Data - by John Sumser - HRExaminer

The social communications content between employees and between employees and their networks offer a data bounty.

New Architecture of Work: Harnessing Employee Data

Have you been following the emerging conversation about the Internet of Things? At it’s simplest, it’s the idea that the heaviest users of the intenet will be things. As sensors (like RFID tags) get cheaper and smaller, they’ll be embedded in everything (and everyone).

Already, the majority of the people reading this article carry a device with them that tracks movement in space and time, correspondence and other communications. The social communications content between employees and between employees and their networks offer a data bounty. Employees will shortly be entering the workplace with an wardrobe of wearable computers from Google Glasses to Apple Watches. At $99, employee DNA data is going to be increasingly available.

The current fad, Bring Your Own Device, puts the organization at risk of not having direct access to critical information generated by employees while they are at work. Besides creating a nightmarish tangle of concerns relationg to social media use, BYOD separates ownership of transactional – physical work data captured by employee owned devices from that collected by company owned devices. While that moves us towards an era of outcome based performance assessment, it moves us away from the organization as repository for the wisdom gained from the work performed. It underscores workers’ increasingly independent relationship with the organization.

The stage is set for a moment in time where employees are in control of (own) data and information that may be strategically important for the company. The prevailing case law seems to indicate that the owner of the device is the owner of the data.Thoughtful HR workers are already trying to wrap their brains around this question.

Organizational responses to the question will run the gamut of a continuum that has the company providing equipment and demanding that employees and contractors use company provided gear on one end. This gives the company clear ownership of the data. At the other end of the spectrum is the BYOD notion which yields control of the data employees generate at work. The middle ground will be a patchwork of agreements that specify data formats and require the use of specialty software designed to capture usage data.

This is a potent and murky arena. The paranoid will worry about spying and or loss of control. The lawyers will squirm when the the data gets close to genetic, medical or personal finance. Expect much hand-wringing as the question comes into focus.

Big data offers a host of very positive opportunities that require and harness employee data. Equifax, the credit reporting company, has moved into this arena in visionary ways. Using only aggregate employee data (anonymized), the company can provide its customers with a deep look at employee loan volume, car purchase and mortgages to name a few. With this data in hand, a company can negotiate favorable rates or tune retention programs accordingly.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with OpenPaths, a combination data app and marketplace from the Research and Development Lab at the New York Times Company.

OpenPaths is an app that takes my location data from my phone and gives it back to me as an animation (or points) on a map. The data, which is uploaded and protected, remains mine. Openpaths provides a market in which the data can be sold. Each potential buyer of my data is required to explain the potential use and benefit to me. While I haven’t seen a cash offer, the whole idea is that my data has value. I can delete my data at any time.

It seems like a good way to handle the employee data question.

The middle ground of the debate might be for companies to provide secure storage and tools for the personal analysis of personal data. Any time the company wants to use some of that data, they can make an offer to acquire it from the employee. The marketplace design makes privacy an app controlled by the employee while giving the employer legal access to the data.

The same employee data can be used to precisely tailor working conditions, validate productivity or offer enhancements to people with special needs.

The future is arriving quickly.