• Marni Poropat, Director at Accenture. (Supplied)
    Marni Poropat, Director at Accenture. (Supplied)

I’ve recently been working with a defence force in Europe to help create a new experience for its employees. This defence force wants to enhance the working and personal lives of its servicemen and women, whether they’re ordering replacement kits, planning their next career move or booking a well-earned break. The overall goal is to increase retention rates, foster career development and personal growth opportunities.

Making this happen required a bold, unusual step. This defence force freed up its people data from traditional silos in the back-office to let it flow through the workforce. In doing so, it put information and power into the hands of each employee and, most importantly, those who need that information on the front line.

Data at the core

Putting people data at the core is a change that’s every bit as cultural as it is technological. Traditionally, across organisations in all sectors, people are regarded as ‘human capital’, with HR functions using data behind the scenes.

However, data can play a far bigger role acting as the raw material for generating strategic insights and modelling different types of capability for future scenarios. This is why it’s the ultimate secret capability in defence forces’ hands.

It opens opportunities for leaders in the armed forces to use data, in combination with analytics and artificial intelligence, to generate insights that fuel better, faster decisions and support the mission in a seamless, secure way – all while improving the employee experience and inspiring recruits.

This makes data – and the transformational way it’s used to provide insight across organisational capabilities – one of the single most important assets defence forces have in attracting, building and sustaining a people capability fit for generations to come.

Priorities for the data-powered workforce

For leaders, the goal is the creation of a truly data-enabled workforce. The way to do this is by taking peoples’ information and making it available for them to use, empowering them to manage their working lives. It needs to be personalised and as real-time as possible, opening a world of opportunities in defence from new skills and careers to balancing family life.

Some barriers to overcome

Historically, public security agencies have closely guarded and protected their information. This has led to creating a culture where sharing data is regarded as a security risk. The reality is that while some data must remain secret, not all of it needs to be. Armed forces must decide which information can safely be shared with employees and recruits and which cannot. The security capabilities of cloud services – including public cloud – are improving all the time. The major global cloud providers offer platforms where data is ring-fenced within national borders to meet stringent data protection regulations.

Data quality is a concern. I was chatting recently with a senior member of a defence force and raised the idea of sharing more data across the workforce. “I’d love to be able to do that,” he replied. “But our data just isn’t of high enough quality.” Data qual- ity in the people domain is a Catch-22: until you put it out there and make it part of employees’ everyday lives, you’ll never drive the quality high enough for people to trust it to make decisions on. You have to start by making the leap.

Organisational silos. I’ve seen all too many organisations where different functions – Finance, HR, Procurement etc. – view the data they hold as theirs alone and are reluctant to share. A result of these fiefdoms is that employees often have to submit the same information multiple times on different forms, creating a poor experience. The data belongs to the employee and needs to be used for the organisation as a whole. The internal functions need to be prepared to let go of their data for the greater good.

A precious asset

The message is clear: people data is a precious asset and locking it away in the back office is a big opportunity missed. The tools and technologies to unleash the full potential of data in a secure and controlled way are readily available. The infusing of these tools to create intelligent organisational capability is proven to deliver benefits. It is time to use them to help build an inspired, engaged and empowered future workforce.

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