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How HR is Helping to Level Up Data Literacy at HMRC

Ian Wallis, Deputy Director, People, Analytics and Insight for HM Revenue and Customs, talks about his new book and how organizations can use data-driven insights to better serve their HR functions

The success of an organization depends on the people who work in it. But while data analytics is becoming central to many business functions, most companies could be doing more to use data-driven insights to enhance their HR departments.

This week’sBusiness of Data podcast guest, Ian Wallis, Deputy Director, People Analytics and Insight for the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) department, specializes in exactly that. He believes people analytics is a “great, untapped way” to transform organizations and drive better CX through more engaged employees.

“Getting the most out of our staff falls into my domain,” Wallis says. “Anything I can do to improve their experience ultimately leads to a difference for our customers.”

Helping Staff to Harness the Power of Data

Wallis argues that executives don’t typically appreciate that HR is at the heart of a business’ operations. As a result, people analytics is still an underrated discipline in modern business. 

“Looking at HR through the employee lens, there's a very direct relationship between good customer experiences and engaged, well-trained employees who are equipped for their roles,” Wallis says.

To ensure its staff have the skills they need, Wallis helped HMRC to develop a voluntary information literacy program for its 65,000 employees. The program covers topics including why GDPR matters, how to deliver analytics and what data ownership is.

“We’re living in an information literacy era and people need to be comfortable using information in their daily tasks,” he quips. “That’s a philosophy we’re trying to embed.”

Ensuring Continuity and Retaining Data Talent

After more than 30 years working in data analytics, Wallis recently published Data Strategy: From Definition to Execution, a book sharing his experiences in planning, developing and implementing data strategies. In it, Wallace argues that a key issue when working with in-demand skills is ensuring a sense of continuity as employees come and go.

“It becomes important to entrench a level of understanding beyond a few people,” he says. “One of the themes I cover in the book is the importance of building bridges with stakeholders to have a common understanding, and then linking the corporate strategy to the data strategy, so that it's not only enduring but also perfectly aligned.”

Considering his own career, Wallis says one of the best ways to retain and develop talent is by creating opportunities for lateral career moves.

“I’ve built a number of analytics and insight teams from scratch,” he says. “Here at HMRC, there are 14 of us that span everything from master data, data governance and data quality, all the way through to touching on data science.”

“There are great opportunities to move sideways and broaden your career,” he says. “It makes you a well-rounded employee, allowing you to learn how this broad spectrum comes together.”

Key Takeaways

  • Encourage employee growth and career development. Fulfilled employees deliver better customer experiences
  • HR is an underutilized resource. Partnering with HR to roll-out data literacy initiatives can help to drive business transformation efforts
  • Provide opportunities for lateral career movement to retain valuable data and analytics talent