Posted: 15 Jan. 2021 8 min. read

Predictions 2021: Analytics

New HR roles will take center stage, using people analytics to guide their organizations

We don’t have to remind you that uncertainty has been the biggest theme of 2020. As organizations strive to emerge from this challenging environment, they are constantly seeking information to guide better actions and decisions. And despite the setbacks, their willingness to pursue workforce insights has not waned: Deloitte’s 2020 High-Impact People Analytics study finds 52 percent of surveyed companies plan to invest in tools for people-data collection and analysis within the next 12 months.1 But how can organizations successfully—and ethically—put that data to use?

In 2021, we predict organizations will continue to place a spotlight on people analytics to emerge from the impacts of the global pandemic—and find that traditional HR roles may not be enough. Through human-related insights, organizations will open new HR roles to help overcome the critical challenges they are facing.

Needed: Actionable Insights

Our research shows that only one in four organizations feel their HR functions possess “good or very good” basic data literacy.2 Despite the decade-long call to action on people analytics, only 56 percent of respondents to Deloitte’s 2020 Human Capital Trends survey say their organizations have made moderate or significant progress in people analytics in the past 10 years. People analytics remains at the center of any organization’s most challenging questions, including:

  • How is COVID-19 impacting the workforce—including how and where people work?
  • How can the organization be more transparent on diversity, equity, and inclusion? How can the organization measure its impact?
  • How should humans and machines interact? How can organizations ensure the use of automation does not detract from the human element?
  • How can organizations collect and act on passive data (e.g., emails, instant messages, application usage)?

Organizations will not wait for HR to catch up on these issues—they want actionable insights now, and HR must expand to keep up.

New Roles for Actioning and Managing Insights

HR is struggling to address strategic and ethical challenges beyond traditional people analytics or reporting capabilities. To meet these needs in a time of accelerated demand, several roles will emerge around the following themes: 

  • Data translation and business liaison roles. HR, data scientists, and business leaders are all speaking different languages; HR may be talking about defining future workforce skills, while the analytics team is speaking about R-squared and unstructured data, and business leaders are yelling about margin impacts. The dots need to be connected. There is a demand for roles that can translate strategic business and talent needs into the right data-driven questions—and to combine the answers to those questions with highly technical analytics groups to guide data models. These roles will then be tasked with translating the findings to stakeholders on what the insights are and how to best use them to reach strategic goals.
  • Human data rights roles. Over the last decade, the way in which an organization can create an analytics function has been a core focus. But with the advent of big data, ethical AI, and a rejuvenated focus on social justice, the question becomes not how organizations create the function but whether they should: What are the ethical dilemmas involved in using people data? For example, people-data algorithms have mostly gone unchecked, with little technical advisory involved during the buying decision. Going forward, organizations will need roles to oversee data as a currency in which the individual has ownership and greater discretion on how it is used.
  • Algorithm management roles: It’s troubling to consider the role black-box machine learning plays in deciding the fate of workers, especially when business leaders have little understanding of what these algorithms actually do. Data scientists can develop solutions to organizational needs, but they may not be able to explain how algorithms work in the context of the problems an organization is trying to address, let alone defend why their code is the best solution. To compensate, organizations can use algorithm auditing roles to help demystify how data science approaches work and determine whether they’re leading to the right outcomes.
Looking Ahead

As organizations are commonly resource-constrained, these new roles will most likely either be an expanded responsibility for existing HR analytics staff or become a responsibility of a data governance group. Organizations should weigh their current capabilities (e.g., staff skill sets, bandwidth) against potential risks (e.g., compliance violations, unethical practices) when deciding on adding or expanding new or current roles. To determine potentially new or evolved HR analytics roles for your organization:

  • Understand which workforce insights are making a difference in your business results. If you can’t articulate the specific analytics that matter most to your internal customers, work directly with customers and your data teams to bring focus on the right critical few metrics.
  • Recognize the potential public reaction to your data practices. If you can’t confidently stand behind how your organization collects and uses workforce data, you may want to explore roles to evaluate and guide ethical and human data rights practices.
  • Learn how your human capital machine-learning / AI tools actually work. You may need to prioritize roles that can demystify these practices to ensure compliance and accuracy as well as avoid adverse impacts.

The emergence of these new roles stem from the increase in computing power to collect, analyze, and apply people analytics in business. They also reflect the critical need for doing so to make good decisions while avoiding the potential negative consequences of allowing critical data and technology practices to evolve unchecked. These new roles will contribute to changing the way in which we manage the people side of business forever. 


Beth Ann Finis - Research Manager, Human Capital Metrics

Timothy Davis - Senior Data Scientist

Zachary Toof - Manager, People Analytics Research Leader


1 High-Impact People Analytics study, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2020.

2 “Governing workforce strategies: New questions for better results” from 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends: The social enterprise at work—Paradox as a path forward, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Erica Volini, Jeff Schwartz, Brad Denny, David Mallon, Yves Van Durme, Maren Hauptmann, Ramona Yan, and Shannon Poynton, 2020.

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