Data Accuracy, Privacy Key at Ihrim Gathering

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WORKFORCE TECHNOLOGY

The critical role that the privacy, integrity and protection of employee data plays in organizations was the focus of several sessions at the International Association for Human Resource Information Management conference in Washington, D.C., last month.

At a time when HR software vendors tout "strategic applications" such as performance management and workforce analytics, many companies are wrestling with a much more basic challenge: making sure their information is consistent and their figures add up.

The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies is a case in point. Progressive, a major auto insurance provider, struggled mightily before it made its employee data uniform, said Laurie Munoz, HR systems manager at the company. Munoz told a conference session that Progressive made a big investment in PeopIeSoft software in the late 1990s, but the resulting system failed to generate accurate reports. "We got these numbers that were ludicrous, like 475 percent turnover in some areas when we reorganized," Munoz said.

Among the obstacles to arriving at clean data, Munoz said, was a lack of common definitions for such seemingly straightforward terms as turnover percentage and headcount.

Similar issues can plague attempts to create worldwide HR systems, according to participants at another conference session. For example, choosing whether to use the term "family name," "given name" or "last name" in setting up data fields can be tricky. And resolving such matters involves talks with a variety of constituents within an organization, said session facilitator Rob Eidson of Deloitte Consulting. "This is not for the faint of heart," Eidson said. "It's hard, challenging stuff."

Even such basic data as the number of employees can't be taken for granted. …