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Growing Canadian city benefits from workforce analytics

The introduction of workforce analytics has given the city of Edmonton what it needed: access to data to manage its employees effectively.

Edmonton has always been on the forefront of innovation.

Long a major hub for petrochemical industries, the city is known as the "oil capital of Canada." Banking and technology have also thrived there. And Wayne Gretzky revolutionized hockey while wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey.

Yet until recently, city government was behind the times. The human resources department at Edmonton city hall wanted to use workforce analytics to determine how the city's more than 10,000 employees performed their jobs but lacked the technology to do that type of number crunching.

Spreadsheets and static reports spit out from an ERP system were all that HR staffers could offer the city's many department heads who wanted nuanced details about worker safety, talent acquisition and employee retention. Innovative it was not.

"As the head of human resources would say to us, 'Parse it, paper clip it and bubble gum it together,'" said Kirsten Anderson, the lead for the city's HR reporting and analytics team.

HR knew the benefits of workforce analytics

As with many other HR departments in business and government, Edmonton's HR leaders recognize that HR analytics lets them interpret data in ways that basic spreadsheets can't. Analytics data spots trends and reveals hidden problems that allow an HR staff and the whole organization to boost efficiency and profitability.

Yet some HR departments can't tap the potential of workforce analytics because they use disparate HR systems that produce varying data models that can't provide even a basic view of HR data, let alone a nuanced look, according to Helen Poitevin, a Gartner analyst.

Edmonton's HR department knew what it wanted: a software as a service (SaaS) platform that could integrate with its ERP and recruiting systems and provide analytics that drill down into data as deep as an oil rig explores Alberta soil. But the department first had some convincing to do.

"In the public sector, there are a lot of competing demands on where you're spending taxpayer dollars," Anderson said. That meant her HR team had to convince city leaders that investing in new workforce analytics technology would benefit municipal operations and ultimately make taxpayers happy. It wasn’t a hard sell.

Getting buy-in from department heads was easy

In 2012, to "whet the appetites" of city department heads, the HR reporting and analytics team created a corporate oversight report that reviewed employee recruitment, sick time, vacation liability, overtime, turnover and safety. The department heads loved the report and requested even greater detail.

"They wanted to see it at a lower level. We agreed, but told them we need a tool for that," Anderson said. "Give credit to the branch manager of HR. He was smart and told them, 'We can't provide that level of reporting. It's too labor intensive.' He demonstrated it and convinced them."

Edmonton is a growing city. The most recent census, in 2014, showed the population had increased by 7.39% in two years, to 877,926. The expectation of future growth put even more pressure on city government to be smart and make the most of its 10,000-person workforce, Anderson said. Operations would never improve if HR could provide only spreadsheets that lacked nuanced detail and annual workforce planning reports that lacked depth and were almost out of date as soon as they were printed, she said.

The city reviewed several HR management offerings and chose Visier. The HR team likes how Visier is a SaaS offering that will not only input existing data but allow the city to keep building its data set, Anderson said. "The other big one is Visier is focused on HR analytics. We looked at more generic BI tools. They're strong, but we felt Visier has a lot of the best-in-class features for HR metrics and data."

Analytics integration went smoothly

Late last year, the HR department started integrating Visier with its ERP system from PeopleSoft and soon hopes to start importing data from its Oracle Taleo Cloud Service recruiting system. Senior city leaders received training on Visier in March and other employees will soon follow so that they eventually won't have to wait for HR to whip up a report. Integration has gone smoothly, and it shouldn't take long for everyone to take advantage of the new technology, Anderson said.

The HR reporting and analytics team looks forward to processing a large amount of employee records without having to create a data warehouse. The new system will enable the team to answer questions quickly and see the long-term view of trends so that city government can make the proper workforce decisions.

The city will focus on sick time, vacations, overtime, turnover, recruitment and safety. For example, previously the HR reporting and analytics team had created slideshows on those topics for the fire chief and other department heads, Anderson said, but because the data was in silos, "we didn't have good visibility on, say, the factors of safety incidents. Were they new or old employees who had a safety incident? Was it because they were working long hours? Did they have the proper training?"

"Now we can look at issues and see what's underneath them; we can support them at a whole new level," she said. "Having that data can really help us create new programs so that we're training our employees right and reducing safety incidents."

HR: We're in a better place

Similarly, overtime costs can be significant for Edmonton. City employees can work overtime for emergency needs -- such as fires or floods -- and also to cover vacations.

"In the past, we'd look at overtime for a department like the fire department for a month but we couldn't go down to a lower level," Anderson said. "Now, we're hoping to look even more closely at a department and figure out if it's a unit within a department that incurs the most overtime because of short staffing and determine if we should hire more people."

Anderson added: "We're growing fast. Just look at the building inspector. You have to have a permit to build and the city doesn't want to hold up a permit because the department could be short-staffed. That department can incur OT. So we have to be responsive to the hiring and overtime balance. With HR analytics, we're in a much better place."

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