Data analytics driving employer strategy, healthcare benefits improvement

Data. Whether it’s big or little, descriptive, predictive or prescriptive, the need to utilize data analytics to improve business results is a prevalent theme at this year’s HR Technology Conference and Expo.

When discussing how HR and technology can – and must – work together, Rahaf Harfoush, digital innovation and foresight strategist at The Decoded Company, pointed out that the term “big data” often carries a certain stigma to those in non-technology facing positions. She also added, “if you don’t think [big data] is an HR thing, you’re in for a rude awakening.”

By using data to make informed decisions and meet business objectives, employers are better able to build a culture of intent, noted Harfoush. Why is this so critical? The answer is simple, really. Data analytics identify key patterns, trends and opportunities for improvement, ultimately enabling HR leaders to gain insight into which initiatives are or are not working and how to adjust accordingly.

This necessary agility in how we process and use data was also a key topic of a panel discussion on “How to Make HR More Data-Driven and Why.” With HR leaders from Workday, Oracle, Cornerstone, the Talent Strategy Institute and Kinetix on the panel, the discussion centered around how data on employee activity should actively drive enterprise business decisions, financial or otherwise. The panel also commented on the need for data to tell a story, with the analysts as the storytellers.

Al Adamsen of the Talent Strategy Institute noted that, the only way that the potential of the data can be realized is through focused data mining efforts. “It can’t be a part-time job,” he said, highlighting the importance of utilizing solutions that capture, aggregate, and analyze big data. He also spoke to the need for analytics to drive workforce planning. “Do I have the right development and recruiting strategies in place? With data, we can take a focused, systematic approach,” he said.

When it comes to using data and a focused approach to optimize business decisions, one of the most critical needs is for healthcare. As a top-three employer expense, growing 5-7% every year, organizations must understand how their employees are using and interacting with their healthcare benefits. To do this, analytics capabilities must move from descriptive to predictive and prescriptive.

This necessary shift in analytics capabilities was also a hot topic area during the panel discussion. Kris Dunn of Kinetix asked the participants why companies have been slow in making this transition. Bertrand Dussert of Oracle noted that while uncertainty is an inherent part of predictive analytics, this uncertainty should not deter an organization from taking advantage. He said, “A world of predictions that are 85-90% reliable is better than no predictions at all.”

In terms of utilizing analytics to drive down costs and increase efficiency, healthcare has lagged behind other areas of the HR organization in terms of actionable analytics. At Castlight, we hear so many employers say that they don’t receive data on their healthcare spend until well after the fact, and the data they do get is not actionable. Even though healthcare is a top business cost, it’s not a top areas of focus — most employers don’t know what is driving their healthcare trend or what they can do about it.

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In today’s data-driven environment, there is an exciting opportunity to bring the type of real-time, predictive analytics to enterprise healthcare that has transformed the rest of HR processes and decision-making, and that’s what we’re focused on at Castlight. By using data analytics to identify strategic insights and transform business, we can drive down the $200 billion in healthcare costs that U.S. companies are wasting each year – which equals a staggering 30 percent of each organization’s healthcare spend — thereby turning this crippling expense into a strategic advantage.