Book Review: People Analytics

Author: Ben Waber
People Analytics involves  measuring, collecting and analyzing the data which characterizes  the people’s behavioral patterns.
While the traditional methods of collecting such data has been through direct observations or through surveys, the emerging trend is the use of social sensors like company ID badges, cell phones etc.
Ben Waber, the author of this book is an expert on organizational dynamics and social sensing technologies.
Sociometric Solutions, a company co-founded by Waber  has developed a wearable a social sensing device – the Sociometric® Badge.  Sociometric® Badge has a variety of sensors embedded in it that extract social signals from speech and body movement,  measure the proximity and relative location of users during face to face interactions.
Analysis of such an enormous amount micro-level data measured and collected through a social sensing devices like Sociometric® Badges worn by the employees,  has a huge potential to  enable an organization to understand in a better manner, how their people work and collaborate. This will provide them with actionable insights for improving the effectiveness and productiveness of the work force.
The author substantiates this point by presenting several case studies (some of them drawn from his or his team’s experience) describing the use of  social sensing technologies in several organizations. These technologies unearthed powerful hidden people dynamics and networks within these organizations. Using this newly discovered knowledge, the management of these organizations “tweaked” their policies, procedures and work environment to dramatically improve both business performance and employee fulfillment!
Just to give some examples :

  • Changing the way call center employees spent their breaks increased their performance by 25% while significantly reducing stress
  • Quantifying the failure of marketing and customer service to communicate led to a more cohesive and profitable organization
  • Tweaking the balance of face-to-face and e-mail communication enhanced the value of both
  • Sensor data helped to discover who were the organization’s  real internal experts
  • Identifying employees involved in “creative” behaviors helped promote innovation throughout the  business
  • Sensors and simulations  help optimize organization’s  sick-day policies
  • Measuring informal interactions  improve the chances that a merger, acquisition, or “mega-project” will succeed

While the above results are quite impressive, in my view one of the major impediments in implementing the social sensor based people analytics will be the privacy issue.

Millions of  Facebook Postings and Tweets  indicate that nowadays people are less concerned about keeping their personal lives private. They seem to share news and pictures about almost everything with the whole world – everything right from what they eat for breakfast to how many rats their cats killed ! (Whether every one wants to know about such stuff is a different question !).

But I think when it comes to their being monitored by social sensors in their work places they will be more apprehensive about sharing their behavioral patterns and would perceive these sensors to be a major threat to their privacy.

The author discusses this crucial privacy issue too. He and his team have handled such issues in the studies they carried out by ensuring the following:

  • Data collection was opt-in and done after obtaining informed consent from the individuals.
  • Individuals under study controlled their own data i.e. they could delete the data pertaining to them if they wanted to ,thereby preventing the access to their information
  • Data was shared after aggregating it at team level so that it could not be attributed to an individual

Waber stresses that the organizations need to appropriately position data collection policies in a manner that increases trust and transparency. Also people should not be overly distracted with privacy concerns associated with widespread adoption of sensing technologies if they are deployed ethically.

The book also discusses  the benefits that will be possible in a few years, and what one  can achieve right now through  social sensing technologies.

To summarize this book shows that by leveraging the power of analytics,  new avenues for organizational development  open up for  everyone who has the responsibility for workplace performance.
We need to wait and see how this trend picks up.

On the whole a  very well written and interesting book to read !

Publication Details: Published:2013; Publisher: FT Press ; Hardcover: 240 pages.


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