The enormous quantity of data resulting from the digitalisation of today’s business contains a wealth of untapped potential that can be made useful by big data analyses. Despite this potential, studies indicate that human resources divisions of German enterprises appear particularly reluctant to use big data analyses, mostly based on data protection concerns. However, big data analyses in the HR area are not at all incompatible with German data protection law.

Big data analyses are more than just an instrument to control performance and conduct and could benefit HR departments, for example:

  • Prognosis of staff turnover rate: From an analysis of data of employees who left the company, it can be concluded what is a typical situation in life or employment that leads to termination. This facilitates to forecast the future staffing needs. In addition, the reasons for a staff turnover above average in certain areas can be ascertained.
  • Talent management: Individual appraisals and master data can be linked to information on the performance of the divisions, personnel flows and remuneration structures. An analysis allows conclusions regarding the conditions under which high potential employees are able to develop their abilities best. On the basis of these assumptions organisational structures, training programmes and incentive schemes can be optimised.
  • Staff deployment scheduling: Staffing requirements in the trade sector can be determined in a clearly preciser manner by e.g. linking operational data, such as vacation schedules, incoming goods and opening hours, to generally available information on public holidays, traffic and weather than by projecting figures on the basis of empirical values.

How to carry out big data analyses in compliance with the BDSG

It is true that the German Data Protection Act (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz/“BDSG”) restricts the collection, use and processing of personal data. However, the BDSG only applies if the data used are attributed to individual persons. A big data analysis does not necessarily require the use of such data. If the personal reference of former personal data is irrecoverably destroyed (by pseudonymisation or anonymisation), the data are no longer covered by the scope of protection granted by the BDSG at all.

Even if personal reference is indispensible, it is possible to structure big data analyses in compliance with the BDSG. Among other things, companies essentially have to define a permitted purpose and to take justified interests of the employees into appropriate consideration. Depending on the specific task, there are different options: Companies could for example limit the quantity and storage period of the data used, avoid to use sensitive information such as health data and structure the analysis in a transparent manner.