23 Apr Has HR analytics arrived in Asia? Here’s what I found
I was at the Wharton People Analytics conference, watching a machine learning expert describe the power of algorithmic hiring.
“Can an algorithm make a better hiring decision than a human?” the speaker asks, his eyes flashing mischievously. “Of course, and we’re getting there. The world of HR analytics is on the verge of another revolution,” he adds.
It got me curious about one thing: Is people analytics as developed in Asia as it is in the US? If not, what opportunities remain untapped?
A full-blown movement
People analytics (sometimes called HR analytics) is the use of analytics to help organizations make better decisions about their workforce. It is the intersection of data science and HR—two previously disconnected fields.
People analytics has grown from a cottage industry in the US to a full-blown movement. Many companies have built their own people analytics divisions, which have discovered various use cases from machine learning, resume screening, to natural language processing in tracking a team’s sentiment.
Asia is, in some ways, ahead and behind the curve. In many parts of the continent, there is a wide availability of data about individuals and a deeper culture of tracking and quantifying success. The college entrance exams in Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and China, for example, reflect cultures focused on objective measures of talent. This creates a level of buy-in for people analytics that doesn’t exist in the West.
Most of Asia also have less strict regulations on privacy and tracking. China, for example, now has social credibility scores. If your score is high, you have better access to loans, are a priority for bureaucratic paperwork, and even get better options on dating websites. This type of tracking would have been culturally rejected or even considered illegal elsewhere.
This multifaceted environment has led me to wonder, what opportunities exist in the Asian market? What is already happening in the people analytics space?
I’ve spent the past few weeks researching about this, speaking with different experts across Asia. I found that there are three main spaces with particular interest and opportunity.
Improving feedback and talent assessment
I spoke with CheeTung Leong, co-founder and CEO at EngageRocket. His Singapore-based survey tech company began when he and his partner, Dorothy Yiu, noticed that the most labor-intensive part of their work at Gallup was the logistics around surveys.
His company helps simplify the feedback process by making surveys easier to do online. But Leong emphasized that significant manpower is necessary to make any HR process like this work.
Competitors in North America and Europe faced similar challenges, so it was difficult for them to enter Asian markets quickly. For EngageRocket, this barrier to entry was an advantage for them at first.
This is an important lesson for anyone in the people analytics space in Asia: the more regional knowledge is needed, the more likely a local player will succeed. One area that also needs significant regional expertise is hiring and recruiting new talent.
In my search for people analytics leaders, I stumbled upon a startup called JobTech, a Singapore-based hiring analytics platform. Interested, I reached out to its founders, Charlotte Lim and Wee Tiong Ang.
Lim and Ang built the company in 2016 during a time when Singapore’s unemployment rate was at a seven-year high. Ang was itching to use his AI background in a practical domain, then he met Lim at a networking event. Both of them began to wonder, how could they help solve the unemployment problem in Singapore?
That question led them to do focus groups around the country, and they discovered that significant pain points existed on both sides of the job market. For employers, tremendous resources were spent on screening and interviewing candidates. Meanwhile, job seekers felt that job sites were like black boxes where they submit dozens of applications and never hear back.
Lim and Ang decided to use their background in analytics to connect people and jobs. Their platform provides job seekers with a selection of jobs across various sources and some insights into whether they’re a good fit. Their technology attempts to reduce administrative effort for employers by sourcing and filtering profiles. Only those that match for both quality and interest surface.
Similar to feedback and talent assessment, there are proven models that exist in parts of the West that don’t in Asia (yet). It is a clear opportunity for new HR tech giants to seize.
Social network analysis and space redesign
Unfortunately, one area that has gone relatively untouched in Asia is the analytics of communication. In the US, a few firms have popped up and become forces in the analytics of office spaces.
Humanyze, for example, uses a combination of email, meeting, and sensor data to analyze who works with who in the office, holes in communication, and communication’s relevance to workspaces. (Disclosure: I worked at Humanyze in 2016 and wrote some parts of my senior thesis using their data.)
In the US, a company called Volometrix developed a similar platform that focused on email communication. Their firm identified who spoke with whom in the office and how that related to employee engagement. Microsoft acquiredthe company and brought it into Office 365.
When speaking with different teams in the space, it’s clear that social network analysis has yet to be capitalized on in Asia. As of now, most companies use gut feelings to see whether employees are communicating too much or too little. The result is office layouts that rely on intuition instead of data.
Can Asia catch up?
Asia sits in a unique position for people analytics. On one hand, data around people’s actions is some of the most developed in the world. Countries like South Korea, China, and the Philippines boast some of the highest rankings for social media and internet use. A culture of objective assessment makes tracking and evaluating individuals more common.
On the other hand, HR analytics remains a relatively unknown entity. When I interviewed HR analytics CEOs, I asked them how many other similar companies they knew in the region. Often, they were able to mention only one or two that they personally knew. The market is still relatively immature. Luckily, interest in the field is growing, which signals a significant market opportunity.
This year, I am attending the Wharton People Analytics conference again. This time, however, I’m hoping that more Asian companies will be represented. It’s about time that HR analytics hit the tech scene in Asia in the way it has arrived in the US. When it happens, we should be ready to join the charge.