February 19, 2018 Issue
Q&A with Tom McKeownn, CEO and Steve Parta, Vice President, Global Sales of TrenData providing AI Driven Workforce and HR Predictive Analytics that allows Organizations to best plan for Recruiting, Retaining, and Promoting the Best People to obtain Optimal Business Performance
Chief Executive Officer
Vice President, Global Sales
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – February 19, 2018
CEOCFO: Mr. McKeown, what is the focus for TrenData today?
Mr. McKeown: The focus for TrenData today is to tap into the overwhelming need of organizations, particularly in the HR community, to have a predictive view of the health of their workforce so that they can make the best plans for recruiting, retaining, and promoting the best people to obtain optimal business performance. We do this by taking key metrics, trending them into analytics, and then projecting that trend into the future. This perspective allows organizations to determine if they are heading in the right direction or if they need to make adjustments. And if they do need to make adjustments, we provide advanced modeling to map out different scenarios for improving the organization’s future.
CEOCFO: Is predictive analytics an area that has had much attention recently, or still a little bit new to organizations?
Mr. McKeown: Actually, it has had a lot of attention from analysts, probably going back to 2011 or 2012. They tend to be a little ahead of the customer base. In the beginning, the problem was that clients did not have access to enough data – or any data – to formulate the metrics. Data can be pretty spread out in HR through many systems such as talent, recruiting, HRIS and such. But with the openness of platforms such as ours, using integrated API feeds has made it much easier to pull that data together for advanced and predictive analytics. So at this point I would say we have arrived.
CEOCFO: Would you walk us through a somewhat typical engagement? When might a company turn to you? How do they get started? What can they do and what can you help them do?
Usually a company
comes to us when they are poised for growth, but looking to grow in a smart
manner. The best way to move forward is to learn from the past, and most
companies have significant historical data locked up in their HRIS or
payroll system that they have not been able to understand and use to make
better people decisions. So these organizations come to us and say, “We have
all these years of data and yet we don’t seem to be hiring enough good
people, and need to be keeping more of our better people to hit our business
targets.” Once we have that data, we are able to make use of our solution
and consultation to pinpoint areas of inefficiency that, once fixed, can
have them sailing towards the best result. I also want to stress that we do
offer consulting, but we designed the system to be easily implemented, used,
and understood. Most of our clients fully function without much support from
TrenData personnel, but we can be there if they want us.
CEOCFO: How have you simplified the process? Is it a matter of technology? Is it a matter of understanding the subject matter so you can make the technology work? Where does it come together?
Mr. McKeown: Well, software is designed to automate a process. The question is who is the user. Our solution is designed for the user to be the person who needs the information, not a consultant who then has to explain it. That’s why we designed TrenData on our three pillars of ease. TrenData is easy to implement, easy to use and easy to understand. This allows us to set up an environment where potential clients can trial TrenData for free. They input their data into the system, experience how easy the process is, and begin seeing ROI before paying us a dime. Then, we are able to move forward and get into more of the complexities of what they are pursuing.
Mr. Parta: Just to add to that a little bit: because we are focusing this tool on the HR department, we are able to take and knock out what we would call the low hanging fruit. Just about every HR leader is going to ask some basic questions such as, “What is my turnover?”, “What are my sources of hire?” or “What is the average absence rate for my employees.” We pre-built these metrics based from surveys to HR leaders who know exactly what they want. Also, we do not require a customer to have any sort of technical background to use the system. It has a simple two-step interface and we also provide natural language processing to allow navigation to metrics or to help build new ones.
CEOCFO: How can you add in factors like changes in the economy, changes in the political atmosphere, new technology that may disrupt an industry and things of that nature, or can you?
Mr. McKeown: Basically, we do the projections from historical data, so that gives us an idea. The more data the client has, the more accurate the projections can be. But we also have the ability to incorporate industry benchmarking and events, so a client can incorporate the external environment as well. For the most extensive predictive modeling scenarios, we employee data scientists to come in and interview the clients to incorporate all factors, including macro data such as jobs reports, economic swings, and other less ready, but significant data.
CEOCFO: How do you reach out to potential clients? How would people find you if they are looking? How do you jump out in a search?
Mr. McKeown: Our messaging and content employs key industry words, such as people data, people analytics, HR analytics, workforce analytics that will bring us up in web searches. We also do a lot of mail campaigns. All efforts are designed to drive people to demonstrations and webinars. Essentially, if people see our solution, they get it. The goal from these events is to get prospects into a trial. Once they’re in and start using it with their data, they see how easy it is, and that is when we get them.
CEOCFO: You mentioned growth companies, but are there particular industries or size of companies?
Mr. McKeown: Typically, HR applications tend to be horizontal. However, where people particularly need something like this, as I mentioned earlier, is where there is a lot of employee movement. That doesn’t mean just turnover. There are the growth companies that are doing a lot of hiring, as well as those of decent size that are promoting, re-assigning, or trying to drive employee engagement. For the most part, we look for companies with over 500 employees. Once you get to over, say, 3,000 employees, then their leadership has likely studied analytics and is more targeted as to where they want to go.
CEOCFO: How accurate can you be? In general, how much does the past inform the future and how much more might it do so because of the way you can look at data, either for technology or from human evaluation?
Mr. McKeown: Depending on the quality of the data the insights can be very accurate. For example, one metric we track very closely, as Steve mentioned, is source of hire. It’s one thing to be able to identify which sources are providing the most eventual hires to an organization – any applicant tracking system can do that. But to be able to tie that to performance data and see where your best performing hires are coming from, that is what companies really need.
CEOCFO: How do you know when you are drilling too deep? Is that customized for each company?
Mr. McKeown: Well, you are talking to two guys from Texas. We keep drilling until we hit rock! However as far as the solution, what we tend to find is that companies do not realize the wealth of knowledge they have in their people data. Even with the basic version of TrenData, organizations are amazed at the insights they can draw just by visualizing key metrics and analytics at the top, company-wide level. Then being able to drill down to see if negative or positive occurrences can be isolated by department or location, gets people really excited.
CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach as TrenData has grown and evolved?
Mr. McKeown: We’ve found that in the past, people have been deceived into thinking that an analytics initiative is too costly and time consuming. Thus, they tend to treat it as one of those large ERP initiatives. So we have been more aggressive in pointing out the ease and speed of getting implementations in. This is where our ability to offer a free trial with their data can hammer home the point. Organizations are seeing almost instant value before making a purchase. Then once they’re up with a basic implementation, we can grow and configure the system more to encompass whatever expanded capabilities the client is looking for.
CEOCFO: How difficult or easy is it to show ROI?
Mr. McKeown: If you are going to try to sell something to someone that is not budgeted, you have to be able to show an ROI. Otherwise, you get placed on that beginning or end-of-year priority list, where you wait and hope not to get bumped off. Every aspect of our value proposition revolves around the fact that the system pays for itself – and then some. Using financial inputs, we can tie dollars to any metrics and demonstrate how optimizing your workforce is an economic winner.
CEOCFO: Where does the AI actually come into play?
Mr. McKeown: The AI mostly comes into play in the predictive application of the solution. That is because we are not only able to analyze customer data, but also able to incorporate industry data that allow clients to project more intelligently into the future. Then as you feed more data into the system, it becomes more intelligent in determining which factors affect the overall trends. This feature allows clients to model and make tweaks to improve workforce performance at the right spend. Also, as Steve mentioned, the natural language search allows clients to query the system like a Google search to find the right metrics and analytics. The search feature can either sort through metrics that are already built, or if the data is available, build new ones on the fly.
CEOCFO: What is your global reach?
Mr. McKeown: We have our main headquarters in Texas, as well as offices in Europe and the Middle East. We find it is very advantageous to have both sales and development personnel globally dispersed. Although America is the leading indicator for adoption, most of the larger companies are multinational. This means they will have their own unique set of challenges due to local laws and cultures. This again points to the importance of being able to drill down on metrics and analytics to determine if a data point or trend is corporate-wide or if it just pertains to a certain segment of the company. When you look at something like turnover, you might see a corporate-wide rate of 15%. But when you drill down, the turnover rate might be 30% in Europe and 5% everywhere else. Thus the remedy needs to be more targeted.
CEOCFO: How is business these days?
Mr. McKeown: Business is good! We have got a lot of great activity to start up this year and are going to be doing some expansion in our workforce. The key with most groundbreaking technologies is getting people to see it, and then envision their organization using such a tool. We have weekly open demos that are always largely populated, and have had great success with our monthly webinar series. Once people come to those sessions, they are jumping at the chance to take advantage of the free trial.
CEOCFO: Why this year? Did something change either in the world or in TrenData to have that happen?
Mr. McKeown: In general, analysts have been hyping up people analytics (also dubbed workforce and HR analytics) for years, but it always takes a while for the actual users to catch up. What we have concentrated on at TrenData is to take the difficulty out of trying – and then buying – the solution. TrenData is not like your typical ERP or HRIS-type implementation. Instead, it can go in quickly and inexpensively and thus doesn’t have to go into a prioritization queue that dictates whether it will be a year or two before resources can be made available.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about being recognized by HR Tech Outlook as one of the top ten HR analytics providers?
We were very
happy to have received the award. It was unsolicited, as they found us. As
you can see from their past issues, they are very particular about who they
recognize. Their readers look to them for guidance in choosing solutions and
we anticipate getting a lot of traction from the recognition.
CEOCFO: Why choose TrenData?
Mr. McKeown: TrenData takes the complex subject of analytics, produces a solution with robust capabilities, while still making it extremely cost effective and user-friendly. You don’t need to be an analyst, technologist, or consultant to use and get value from the TrenData solution. We believe we have democratized people analytics for any client that needs it.
“TrenData takes the very complex subject of analytics, produces a solution with robust capabilities, while still making it extremely cost effective and user-friendly.”- Tom McKeownn
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