Who owns the people data?

people data
Illustration: Studio Fee Overbeeke

In 2014, we wrote (“9 emerging trends for 2015“) that privacy seems to be less of an issue. For 2017, our prediction is that there will be more discussions about privacy and data ownership. As part of their effort to improve people analytics, organisations are capturing more and more data of their employees.

There are numerous new instruments available that can capture people data real-time, and use it to give an indication of the mood in various parts of the organisation. In the discussions about people analytics we sense a growing resistance. Employees are starting to wonder what is in it for them. Who is the owner of the people data? This trend is clearly related to trend number 1 (“Consumerisation”).

People are willing to share data, if the benefits are clear. You don’t mind Netflix to measure what series you are watching, if they use the data to give you good suggestions.

Some examples of smart people data collection

The amount of people data captured is increasing enormously. A recent report published by Deloitte University Press, ‘Tech Trends 2017 – The kinetic enterprise” has an interesting chapter on what they call “Dark Analytics“. The writers expect that the possibilities to analyse and interpret the vast amount of unstructured data will increase dramatically in the coming years.

They also warn that good analysis starts with asking the right questions: “To be clear, the purpose of dark analytics is not to catalog vast volumes of unstructured data. Casting a broader data net without a specific purpose in mind will likely lead to failure. Indeed, dark analytics efforts that are surgically precise in both intent and scope often deliver the greatest value. Like every analytics journey, successful efforts begin with a series of specific questions. What problem are you solving? What would we do differently if we could solve that problem? Finally, what data sources and analytics capabilities will help us answer the first two questions?”. 

Some examples of innovative ways to capture people data.

Tone Analyzer

A service, powered by IBM Watson, that uses linguistic analysis to detect and interpret emotions, social tendencies, and language style cues found in text. (Read also: “Apps to improve communication skills“).
I fed the machine with some of my recent e-mails, and Tone Analyzer delivered the following results:tone analyzer
Anger on the high side, I would say, something to work on!


With individual trackers Humanyze can gather  data about individuals and teams. Using the data, Humanyze can give feedback on how to improve engagement and collaboration, and how work processes can be improved.Humanyze


Volometrix works with the data from the corporate communication systems. One of the outputs is an organisational network analysis (see capture from the Volometrix website below).VoloMetrix


Keencorp provides real-time language analysis using the e-mails of employees as input. Today this is one of the few real-time employee mood measurements solutions. Learn more about employee mood measurement in our recent article: Trends in employee mood measurement.

Lamps tracking people

Several companies, such as Philips,  provide clever lights that are also able to track people. There are applications in supermarkets (how are people moving through the store), and in offices, where the lamps can gather information about where people sit, and whom sits with whom.

This is just a small sample of new solutions that are finding their way to the workplace, to gather data about employees. Hopefully for the benefit of both the organisation and its employees.

An opportunity: “My Personal Data”

Most employees do not work somewhere for life. They move on. What happens to the data that was gathered about the employee? Will it stay with the organisation, or will the employee be able to take his or her personal data file? Our expectation is, that the expectation of employees will move in this direction.

This creates an opportunity for a “My Personal Data” solution. The employee can use the data in the personal file in several ways. Plug it into personal people analytics solutions (e.g. for career advice), or sell it to providers who are keen to analyse and use longitudinal people data.

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