Actionable analytics at moments that matter: building a data platform for de Volksbank

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Schuberg Philis
feb 16, 2023 · 6 min lezen Engels
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The people’s bank” is a fitting name for a financial institution that serves over 3 million customers across the Netherlands, employs over 3,000 colleagues, and is on a self-stated nationwide mission “to be the bank with the strongest customer relationship and the largest proven social impact.”

But de Volksbank also upholds these standards by devoting much personal attention to those working there. Employees are treated not merely as company resources, but as multidimensional people meriting opportunities for self-development and career satisfaction.

In a dynamic industry responding to a fast-changing world, prioritizing employee happiness can be challenging. But de Volksbank is rising to that challenge. A key to this is equipping colleagues with human-centric technology and data analytics. That way, they have usable information at the right time. This means they get figures and facts at the moments that matter. After all, organizations now constantly work with data, but the question for many remains: how to translate the data into usable knowledge that transforms into action?

Seeking a future-proof solution

A central human resources department serves the entirety of de Volksbank, including its four subsidiaries: SNS, ASN Bank, RegioBank, and BLG Wonen. Part of the HR department is the People Analytics team. This group of data analysts is responsible for creating all subsidiary KPI and metrics dashboards, actionable data strategies, and reports for supervisors, directors, boards, and regulatory bodies. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, data analytics had picked up pace in HR. However, People Analytics really wanted to empower employees, enabling them to more easily consume, transform, classify, and prepare data for information-gatherers.

The department was ready for an update of its HR module, which had been relying on datasets extracted from big organizational administration software and data flows from separate systems that had to be exported to Excel and manually adjusted. This proved too much work to be sustainable. Although Excel is user-friendly and executed most of the People Analytics analyses every night hitch-free, it isn’t scalable, nor can it be easily transferred and repurposed since it doesn’t work with code. And for the remainder of times that analyses did crash, finding the bug was time-consuming and log files weren’t sufficiently helpful. What’s more, it would sometimes take a few hours to get data reports. The need was clear: a future-proof solution would have to automate the whole process of data analysis, which in turn would enable the data analysts to focus their energy on actionable strategies for operational excellence in HR and beyond.

Conception and execution

Schuberg Philis worked in close collaboration with the People Analytics team to design a platform that could function as the beating heart of the company’s multiple systems. Steered by the team lead and his long-held belief that HR, data, and tech can be mutually supportive, de Volksbank and Schuberg Philis initiated a use case.

Schuberg Philis was entrusted to develop a cloud-native data platform that would be sufficiently adequate to land just the use cases at hand, such as the HR use case. In contrast to the on-premises solution that was being deployed for HR data analysis, the cloud’s potential benefits were obvious: scalability, shareability, reusable code, version control, easier combining of data and data sources, certified audit log files, and the ability to apply machine learning. The intention was to grow the data platform incrementally by enabling AWS services needed to onboard new workloads. In addition, de Volksbank was committed to offering the platform as a self-service to the workload teams.

Schuberg Philis maintained responsibility for the design, build, and run phases. The project began with implementation of the first sets of tools and logic for a use case on absenteeism trends. Because it was important for de Volksbank to maintain independence and flexibility, the Schuberg Philis customer team guided People Analytics to ingest more datasets on their own. Along the way, HR’s requirements and wishes were continually relayed, enriching co-creation from the ground up. The immediate goal was to get the use case live and in production. If People Analytics had a new idea, they pitched it and the customer team produced a new iteration. The overarching goal was to ensure that the whole value chain – from C-level decision-makers all the way to everyday banking customers – would benefit from the data standardization and replicability facilitated by the platform.

Two hours instead of two days

Officially launched in March 2022, the new data platform has eased the HR department’s daily work and thus life. Functioning on a code-based system, the platform permits new analyses to be reproduced with simple adjustments rather than having to start analytics projects from scratch. If a calculation change must be made, it can be done retrospectively on the basis of historical data. Code can be shared with colleagues and imported into their own dashboards or repurposed for other use cases.

HR now feels better prepared to respond to questions, sometimes urgent ones, from decision-makers. Producing reports for regulatory bodies has become simpler and swifter because the platform allows for more automation. Changes to reporting requirements, which nowadays are frequent and complex, can be built in a lot more easily and benchmarked. Having data quality and other controls in place has increased overall efficiency. Speed has improved, too. With the basic framework to ingest and process data as well as self-service and scaling capabilities established, it now takes two hours to get HR metrics instead of one or two days.

The future looks analytical

Today, the HR department can spend more time on meaningful data analyses rather than tedious data transformation and cleansing. The data platform has given colleagues a new sense of purpose and possibility. Equipped with cutting-edge technology, the People Analytics team has been able to realize a vision of data and its positive impact on the employee journey. They see enormous potential for fostering a data-driven mindset that can enrich the company culture at large. To do so, they want to keep imparting the mentality of actionable analytics to colleagues who haven’t yet had the chance to work with data in this way.

Meanwhile, de Volksbank is looking forward to future iterations of the data platform that allow for more integration. This would enable the sharing of sensitive data across domains and departments as well as the sharing of data subsets that can be aggregated and analyzed according to different departments’ own filters. Another aim is to integrate data extracted from the core HR system with other sources that support employee wellbeing and career development. With enhanced inter-system communication, moreover, the data platform will have greater calculation and prediction-making capacities. That information can be fed back into the system to promote even better decision-making.

For their part, People Analytics is prepared to step toward more sophisticated autonomous data analytics. Simultaneously, the team acknowledges that inasmuch as advanced analytics can seem like the holy grail of insights, what ultimately generates value for a company is delivering the right information at the right time. When preparing operational plans for an annual budget, for example, data models must be made available right as the budget is drawn up, not months later. The platform that Schuberg Philis and de Volksbank have co-created is already capable of doing just that, providing data at the moments that matter for the people who matter.