Shell HR gains from structured information quality programme

Oil giant Shell’s human resources function has been on an information quality journey since 2002, integrating historically decentralized businesses into one assured talent pool.

Royal Dutch Shell has a history of integrating decentralized businesses. It was originally a merger of London-based Shell Transport and Trading, founded to sell Russian oil in China, and The Hague-based Royal Dutch Petroleum, founded to exploit Indonesian reserves.

It is this history that lies behind the human resources function’s information quality programme, a nearly decade-long project to bring together Shell People, a global personnel administration system.

This week, Mark Smith, Shell’s HR data management architect will tell an audience at IRM UK's conference, Data Management, Information Quality and Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence, about the Shell HR’s information quality journey, from 2002 to the present. He spoke with about his presentation ahead of the event.

Smith joined Shell 35 years ago straight from school, beginning as a record keeper. He is now HR data management architect,  a role which sits “somewhere between the HR business people and the IT support people. It is a translation role,” he said.

In 2000, Shell began a global project to implement an HR personnel administration system. “Up until that time the company had over 200 HR systems,” Smith said. “We wanted one version of the truth and to create global HR business processes, for example concerning performance and reward. Indeed we had 30-plus policies to reward performance!”

Shell People, which is an SAP system, was rolled out to the first tranche of countries in 2002. The UK and the Netherlands were integrated in 2003, and the US in 2005. By 2008, 104,000 employees were interacting with the system. Today, it has 93,000 records, including of 7,500 expatriates, who are particularly difficult to track, and 400 interfaces. “It is an enormous enterprise with a huge engine.”

Three years into the project, it was clear that a data cleanup was necessary. There were 81,000 data elements cleansed, but nothing was done to address the root causes. Data quality quickly began deteriorating again. That’s when Shell brought in Tom Redmond, a data quality expert.

A Redmond-inspired sample assessment of Shell People data in 2007, covering hires, international transfers, domestic transfers and leavers, disclosed an accuracy rate of 59%, and therefore inaccuracy of 41%. This gave Brent Kedzierski, then "owner" of the Manage HR Data and Information process and a “dynamic leader,” a flag to wave at the global HR executive committee, Smith said. “It raised people's eyebrows.”

Armed with these results Kedzierski got a green light to implement a more systematic data quality programme. The cyclical information quality methodology Shell now follows is: define data, measure it, identify root causes of problems, make improvements.” Employees are accountable for their own personal data and have been given an online portal tool to do that.”

The improved quality of HR data, from 2008 onwards, is opening up new possibilities for analytics work. “We are right now moving from a situation where people wait for [BusinessObjects] reports to be run on their behalf to one where the HR businesspeople are more in control of the analytics they need to run the business, by way of dashboards they can drill into,” Smith said.

As with many journeys, it has been a bumpy road. And, as with many data management projects, it has been more about process than technology. Smith estimates the labour cost to have been about £500,000, which is modest compared with Shell’s 2010 net profit of $20 billion.

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