On September 3, 2015, Microsoft announced that it had acquired a company called VoloMetrix. To put it as simply as possible, VoloMetrix specializes in people analytics, where data is gathered within an enterprise to determine how its employees work and how they can work better.
People as data
People analytics is a specialized niche of big data analytics. The data required for proper analysis is gathered from the various activities performed by an enterprises' workforce. The goal is to figure out, in the most systematic way possible, how to improve the overall performance of that workforce.
The technology developed by VoloMetrix will integrate with current Microsoft people analytics tools embedded in enterprise versions of Office 365, such as Delve Organizational Analytics. People analytics is an important part of the overall evaluation of an enterprises' activities, and Microsoft is smart to seek out help from companies with fresh ideas and technology in this space.
This quote from the VoloMetrix press release about the acquisition summarizes the company's philosophy:
"We started VoloMetrix 4.5 years ago with the belief that people are every company's most valuable asset and the mission to transform knowledge worker productivity through data, transparency, and feedback loops. Our goals were to fundamentally change companies' understanding of how their people drive their outcomes and empower every employee to take back their time and have the very best tools to be successful."
Whenever I see terminology like feedback loops, I think about the founder of industrial science, Frederick Winslow Taylor, who often viewed workers as stupid people who had to be controlled with strict rules and specific procedural systems. Granted, he lived in a time noted for assembly lines and uneducated workers, when that attitude was considered somewhat acceptable, but we do not live in that time anymore.
The efficiency of the modern knowledge-based workforce is an entirely different science that requires an entirely different set of measurements.
For example, how do you measure creative processes like brainstorming? You certainly can't put a time limit on developing a new idea. For modern enterprises, efficiency should be confined to systematic processes—like everything else, it's outcomes that must be measured.
VoloMetrix appears to approach people analytics from a modern workforce perspective, so maybe we don't have to worry about the uglier parts of industrial science. Let's hope so.
With all that being said, I think we can all agree that an efficient worker is a productive worker, and any successful enterprise will likely have a bevy of productive workers. However, an efficient worker is not always a happy worker, and if your workforce is not happy, they won't be productive for very long.
Tools that measure the efficiency of a workforce with regard to time management, best practices, and system processes are all well and good, but those tools can't treat the enterprise workforce like robots. By its very nature, developing new ideas and creating innovation is not an efficient process—but, with the right tools, perhaps it's a measurable process.
This is the tough nut Microsoft is trying to crack by acquiring the technology and the expertise of VoloMetrix. Office 365 is in a prime position to collect the data necessary for solid people analytics because of its ubiquitous nature within the enterprise. Adding more sophisticated technology to Office 365 analytical tools just makes good strategic sense. We'll have to wait and see if it also makes good practical sense.
Can organizational analytics really make knowledge workers more efficient? I have an admitted bias, because I don't like being told how to be more efficient. How do you overcome the natural resistance to being told how to work better, especially if it's by an algorithm?
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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.