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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 bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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