Old Mutual's Celiwe Ross on why HR must drive the data and analytics agenda

Celiwe was speaking at the recent ClarkHouse Data, Digital and Talent thought leadership event.

Old Mutual Human Capital Director Celiwe Ross believes that human capital has to be at the epicentre of everything organisations are doing in the data and analytics space.  Speaking at the ClarkHouse Data, Digital and Talent thought leadership event last week, she said that the days of HR being viewed merely as a support function were long gone and that companies, particularly those in the financial services sector, which expected to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, would have to make human capital a strategic priority. This means steering away from typical and now outdated conceptions of what HR's role is within an organisation.  

"I should not be doing what I do. I have no background in HR and I wouldn't necessarily say that I have a passion for people as many people in this field typically say.  A lot of people think about talent in that context - that those who go into this profession do so because they really like people. But that's not how I approach my role because HR is where the toughest decisions have to be made. And our ability to leverage the power of technology and data analytics hinges on being able to find the right people for our organisations," said Celiwe, adding that she counted herself fortunate to be an organisation where her strategic insights as the guardian of the people agenda are both valued as they are covered.

At Old Mutual, she the triad of the CFO, the CEO and the Human Capital Director is the linchpin of the organisation. The CEO has to drive strategy and think about were the pockets of growth for the business are, the CFO has to think about that growth is going to be funded and how the company is going to generate the capital needed to thrive economically and, as the human capital director, she has to think about the decisions around people and processes that are going to drive that growth.  

"Everybody knows how to run a talent management cycle. Everybody knows how to implement remuneration and benefits to drive policy. But we are now at a point where we have to transcend beyond the practices and start to think about critical business delivery and answer the questions that the business may not have even considered. This is the reason why human capital has to drive what is happening in the data and analytics space."

The insurance industry is particularly vulnerable

Celiwe says the need for a change in approach with data and people at the centre of it is needed more in the insurance industry, which has suffered significant reputational damage than any other. With Old Mutual being a 174-year-old company, there have fundamental changes to society that have changed the way that business needs to operate. Every actuarial model that has been built, whether it is with regard to disability, HIV/AIDS, mortality rates, retirement rates, has been faulted. Add to that the fact that people are generally more distrusting of insurance companies - how they price, why they charge what they charge, where the hidden fees are, their record of non-payment of claims - and you get a sense for the work that lays ahead for the insurance industry as a whole. 

Said Celiwe: "People generally look at us as an industry that hasn't been truthful and honest. The more that Old Mutual's footprint grows, the more suspicious people become of how we are able to grow in this climate, and they wonder what we are doing with our policyholder funds. We are under immense scrutiny as an industry in the financial services sector, even more so than the banks.  Our ability to remain sustainable and build longevity is going to have to come from a different place than how value was created over the past 174 years."

Leverage analytics to be more forward-looking

Before she was appointed to her role, Celiwe spent a year working with the CEO as the chief of staff, and she saw was that a lot of the things they did were still driven by history. And that is a problem that many organisations face, even those that are innovative and datacentric because data, particularly people data, is very much backwards looking, Yes, organisations have a lot of data, performance data, healthcare data, salary data, etc - Celiwe questions how effective that data is in so far as it enables leaders to make different kinds of decisions. 

"A lot of what you look at in dashboards, particularly from a human capital perspective is that we tend to look back instead of looking forward," says Celiwe. "We talk about absenteeism, which is backwards-looking because nobody is absent tomorrow. We talk about departures and new hires, those are things that have happened in the past. Our inability to look at what is coming or what is potentially coming is something that we need our focus to be when it comes to data and technology."

Therefore, while data is useful for evaluating whether decisions were justified by looking at their impact on performance in various areas, Celiwe believes organisations have to think about finding ways to make data more predictive in order to allow for more proactive rather than reactive decision making, especially when it comes to people matters. To that end, she would much prefer the use analytics that would enable to her to assess how many people were likely to quit their jobs in the future, for example, in order to prevent such events.