In Robot Futures, I talk about the application of Big Data to the revenue side of every company: massively customized marketing and sales. But the other side of companies’ balance books is expenses, and the number one expense is, of course, employees. In today’s New York Times, Steve Lohr reports on the new field of Work-force Science, which is the inescapable result of applying Big Data to the expense side: how can Human Resources departments reduce expenses using Big Data as their guide?
Work-force Science is intriguing because the benefits of data-fed HR decisions are potentially huge, and because the strategy has, simultaneously, potential benefits for corporations, customers, even employees, as well as a full serving of questionable privacy issues for employees. Lohr writes “Today, every e-mail, instant message, phone call, line of written code and mouse-click leaves a digital signal. These patterns can now be inexpensively collected and mined for insights into how people work and communicate..” Data collection can redefine how HR manages hiring- looking for peculiar patterns of personality and habitual action that correlate statistically to success in a particular work environment- how HR manages employee feedback- using massive behavioral statistics and personal analysis to provide ‘course corrections’ that get employees to be more productive for the company and less likely to quit; and how HR manages layoffs- using analytics to surgically remove just the ‘right’ employees based on every detail of behavior.
Today, many of us receive auto insurance pitches to place a tracker in our car and save on car insurance- in return for a dose of lost privacy regarding where we drive and how we drive there. Tomorrow, we may feel tempted to opt into employer tracking and analysis, along with regular computerized personality profiling and test games (if we even have a choice) in return for- you name it: work perks, vacation days, etc. etc. etc.
So we will be tracked, evaluated and modeled with ever-increasing fidelity not only as consumers but also as employees. And Facebook already enables us to track one-another as friends and family members. Will our children’s children have any sense of a right to privacy over personal behavior, or is that a concept simply on its way to extinction?