Why ConAgra Foods Decided to Outsource HR Analytics After Doing It In house

big data analytics, outsourcingThis is the second article in a series on how companies are using Big Data to gain critical business insights.

ConAgra Foods, a food maker based in Omaha, Nebraska, started its journey to using predictive analysis in an incremental way. The company, whose brands include Healthy Choice, Banquet, Orville Redenbacher’s, Marie Callender’s and Chef Boyardee, wanted to solve a simple business problem: make access to basic data uniform and easy to access through automation.

Mark Berry, vice president, people insights for ConAgra Foods, says a number of corporate stakeholders needed access to the same information—HR, finance and legal staff from each of those departments had to produce every report manually. “But the reports rarely matched because different people prepared them different ways using different information systems,” Berry recalls.

Over the course of six months, a cross-functional team of HR, IT and finance built a portal-based, self-service solution using business intelligence reporting software already licensed to the company. This solved the problem simply and elegantly. The stakeholders— from HR, finance and legal—were thrilled. Even more important, it was the first taste these executives had of the power of analytics. “Our people insights initiative got a lot of credibility after this project,” Berry continues.

The move to outsourcing

Once the analytics genie was out of the bottle, ConAgra Food’s HR leadership had other people-specific questions they wanted to ask. And they wanted a solution that would be more intuitive and provide users with more readily-identifiable insights and actions. However, the project team realized that a next-generation solution would have to require minimal—if any—IT maintenance, low or no development costs and the thought leadership necessary to stay on top of the move to predictive analysis. “We needed to ensure that in deploying predictive analytics we did not compete for resources deployed to address other critical business issues,” Berry recalls.

Outsourcing was the answer. “We knew that building our own next-generation solution would be difficult to support with the internal IT resources available,” says Berry.

Outsourcing its analytics to Visier solved the business problem. “Now they were responsible for all the development,” he points out. “And their platform could be developed faster.” The Visier solution came pre-built with over 300 answers to key HR questions (for example, what turnover looks like based on role and location), which were designed based on HR best practices and included predictive analytics (for example, top performers at risk of leaving). Also, ConAgra Foods could access visual dashboards and generate interactive slideshows and reports to share insights with business leaders.

Berry said he realized in just 60 days after adopting the Visier solution “we were three-to-five years ahead of where we would be” if they had kept this function in house.

Outsourcing allowed ConAgra Foods to “dollarize” the costs; that’s Berry’s word coined to determine the true cost of the Visier analytics solution.

What’s more, Visier’s solution requires no internal IT support. The outsourced analytics provider set up automated data feeds from ConAgra’s HR (including recruiting, and performance, retention and talent management) and IT departments to Visier daily.” The solution requires no human interaction between Visier and our IT team,” marvels Berry.

Berry says ConAgra Foods—leveraging Visier’s capabilities—had an operational solution in 30 days.

Question ConAgra is asking

Visier has 80 different metrics that allow ConAgra Foods to see relationships between things among its employee base of 36,000 spread across the globe. Other clients of the workforce analytics company include Nissan, Kohl’s and Hyatt.

“Our goal is to help our clients manage their employee populations in the most optimal way for their businesses,” says Visier CEO John Schwarz. (SAP acquired his last business intelligence company, BusinessObjects.)

The analytics solutions provider gives its customers a cloud-based tool that contains a list of pertinent questions the analytics can answer. “We built the model. Once clients sign up, we collect and cleanse the data behind the scenes,” he explains.

Berry adds that—with workforce planning—ConAgra Foods has the potential to save millions of dollars by improving its resource allocation by just one percent. He says Visier’s platform has helped ConAgra Foods answer the following questions:

  • How do we keep our top talent?
  • Are we retaining our top talent? If not, why not?
  • Are we rewarding the right people?
  • How are we managing our people costs?
  • Are we investing in the right people?
  • Are we investing in the right things to maintain the commitment and satisfaction of the employees we have?
  • Are we improving diversity?  If not, why not and what do we need to do to address?
  • To what degree do our compensation systems foster retention, engagement or performance?

For example, Berry says ConAgra Foods discovered it was doing a great job of retaining its top talent. The employee turnover rate in this category was enviably low. But this exemplary trend had a down side: it can potentially increases turnover in the successor-level jobs—if leaders aren’t leaving, how do I as an emerging leader get promoted?  “We could never have seen that without Visier’s workforce analytics,” Berry says.

“Our customers can look at their history and determine the factors that affect it,” says Schwarz. “Then our Workforce Planning solution shows them how the future will look if they change the parameters. They can run “what if” scenarios to help make better decisions about their workforce.”

The key, though, is knowing what questions to ask. “Having access to large data sets is valuable if you approach the data with a clear question in mind,” says Berry. “If you don’t have a definable problem, it’s easy to get analysis paralysis.”

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