ConAgra Uses Big Data in ‘Battle for Talent’

June 2, 2013, 8:42 PM ET

ConAgra Uses Big Data in ‘Battle for Talent’

Steve Rosenbush

Deputy Editor

ConAgra Foods Inc. ., the packaged foods giant known for brands such as Hunt’s and Chef Boyardee, has found that identifying, hiring and retaining top performing people is an ever-more critical task.

“In this economy, we are in a battle for talent,” says Mark Berry, vice president of people insights for the Omaha-based company, which has a global staff of 36,000.

To plumb the mysteries of who succeeds and why—and how to keep those people employed at ConAgra—the company is about to embark on a massive deployment of new analytic tools. ConAgra is one of several big companies—also including Hyatt Hotels Corp. —that are automating the HR process with software from Visier Inc., a company that just raised $15 million in Series B venture capital from Summit Partners and others. The company was launched by veterans of Business Objects, which SAPAG acquired in 2007.Despite the successful outcome of that earlier effort, the Business Objects team wanted a chance to improve upon itself by creating easier to use software and designing it more as a business problem-solving tool, not a data science tool, Visier chief strategy officer Dave Weisbeck told CIO Journal. “We wanted to turn the process on its head,” he said. “At Business Objects, IT  liked us. They were our customers. But now we are starting the analytic process with the most profound business questions,” and using the cloud-based platform to assemble data to address those questions, he said. The Visier software is also designed to be easier to use, so that it can be deployed more widely throughout an organization, he said.

Human capital management, as the field is known, is entering the corporate mainstream, as tools from companies like Fieldglass Oracle Corp. ’s PeopleSoft or SuccessFactors—also acquired by SAP—make it possible for business people without advanced analytic training to manipulate Big Data, according to Brenon Daly, research director at 451 Research.

The Visier rollout at ConAgra will begin with about 20 people in HR, and expand throughout the company by the end of the year, according to Berry. He said that Visier can be used to analyze a wide range of data, both structured and unstructured forms of information such as documents.  Visier also pulls that information into a single data warehouse for its clients, according to Weisbeck.

As Berry says, the point of these tools isn’t to supplant human judgment, but to support it. “Data alone doesn’t drive the process. Data gives you direction, it helps you look at the rightness or wrongness of your decisions,”  he said. In the era of Big Data, there is still room for intuition in decision-making, too. “Intuition is the result of years of experience, of doing. It is its own database of information.

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About Koon Boon Kee
Bamboo Innovator Institute is set up to establish the thought leadership of resilient value creators around the world. KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia. The Moat Report is developed together with our European partners The Manual of Ideas (www.manualofideas.com), the idea-oriented acclaimed monthly research publication for institutional and private investors. The MRA’s paid-subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities and savvy private individual investors. KB has presented his thought leadership as a keynote speaker in global investing conferences with speakers including famed serious investors Donald Yacktman, Howard Marks, Jean-Marie Eveillard etc. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, macroeconomic and industry trends in Singapore, HK and China. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm since 2002. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Mirae Asset Global Investments, Korea’s largest mutual fund company. He holds a Masters in Finance and degrees in Accountancy and Business Management, summa cum laude, from the Singapore Management University (SMU). He had also taught accounting at the SMU. He had published cutting-edge empirical research in the Special Issue of Istanbul Stock Exchange 25th Year Anniversary of the Boğaziçi Journal, Review of Social and Economic Studies, as well as wrote articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media.

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