Creating Data Driven HR

Omar C. Reid, Former HR Director, City of Houston, SVP, Harris Health System

Omar C. Reid, Former HR Director, City of Houston, SVP, Harris Health System

Information drives decisions. “Effort is nice results count.” How can one make educated, informed, strategic decisions without data and analytics? Human Resources, as much as any other field, have seen an exponential shift in the amount of Big Data available for analysis. Every week it seems that new technology, new apps, new innovations are being released that will help us make more informed decisions about items from healthcare to workforce planning. With this ever increasing flow of information, how can HR leaders focus on making data driven decisions that align with the strategic priorities of the rest of the C-Suite? How can we synchronize the necessity to create value with the stewardship of our leadership?

“Next, we laid out a multi-year approach with incremental actions to move us from transactional to transformational”

I have always been interested in innovation and excellence. In my formative years, I gravitated towards a career in technology and engineering. I along with my peers spent much of our time discussing things like Cray Supercomputers and IBM Artificial Intelligence. I was more than a casual observer, I was a curious consumer.

More than 25 years of my professional career was spent time at one of the largest transportations companies in the world. Technology, engineering and logistics were integrated daily to produce outcomes that gave us a competitive advantage in a market with low margins and high overhead. 

The majority of my career was spent in the operations part of the business. I saw how data and analytics was the blood flowing through the veins of the organizational decision making model. I became a student of the power of data analytics. Everything I do, I mean everything, has a measure associated with it. Annually, we would set strategic goals and analytics which would guide our every action. If we operated near the established goals, a successful outcome might be anticipated. 

In March 2010, I left the hyper competitive world of the private sector and moved to my next challenge and opportunity; the world of municipal government. As a career development move, it was absolutely the best move for me. Having a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the newly elected Mayor of the fourth largest city in the Unites Stated was both exciting and intriguing. The allure of being a public servant was something that had always appealed to me. I had watched many members of my family work as public servants and I was ready to join the ranks. 

I looked forward with eager anticipation about what new technology and processes I was going to learn, as the Chief Human Resource Officer. Unfortunately, what I encountered was a team trapped in the analog world of the past. A team that was strictly transactional. (I suspect that may be the same reality of some of you reading this article). More paper and manual processing than you would like? I reflect on my first day when I walked into the department, employees were still using typewriters and carbon paper forms to complete processes; we were very paper intensive. The department’s transactional focus made us spectators trapped in a technology time-warp within a world that was outpacing us by leaps and bounds. With a workforce of over 22,000 employees (66,000 counting our retirees) I had no shortage of obstacles to overcome. Addressing technological deficiencies and increasing innovation became a cornerstone for progress.

We started our transformation by understanding the importance technology needed to play in our future with declining budgets and increased demand for services. I partnered with the IT function to determine what solutions were available and what best practices should be implemented. Next, we laid out a multi-year approach with incremental actions to move us from transactional to transformational.

In 2016, after years of deliberate and intentional actions, the City of Houston Human Resources Department is at the forefront of HR technology. We are currently going through a records automation process and converting over 2 million benefits documents in the next three months. Our HCM usage of our ERP system has moved from thirty percent to over eighty percent. Employees are now able to track changes through our Employee Self-Service (ESS) web portal; and the use of wireless technology and smart apps is in a development stage. This new technology will help us leverage the ability to track health outcomes. We are anticipating a deployment date of late 2016. 

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