I don’t profess to know much about baseball. In fact, I’ve never been to a game and would struggle if you asked me to explain the rules…cricket, well that’s a different ball game altogether.

But I did recently watch a baseball-themed film, Moneyball, which got me thinking about how data could be used to assist decision-making processes.

In baseball, before the 1970’s there was an abundance of performance data but it wasn’t until Bill James that it could be used to start identifying effective players. Furthermore, it took another 20 years for these statistics to really begin to be put to winning effect.

This began with the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, whose team had a budget half that of his major competitors and so he pioneered selecting baseball players more intelligently. His competitors meanwhile, pulled teams together based on inaccurate statistics and scouts’ instincts about who had the ‘right look’.

Beane beat the system by using data that identified individuals whose skills and performances had not been recognised by the richer teams. Consequently, the Oakland A’s achieved winning results against these sides, repeatedly finishing near the top of their league. Their exploits were so remarkable that a book entitled Moneyball was written about them, which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Brad Pitt in 2011.

So what can we conclude from this from an HR and talent management perspective?

Well, what this story demonstrates is the impact of insight. It can transform our understanding, help us to mitigate risk and potentially pave the way for success. So, if HR and more specifically talent management professionals are to play a more relevant and strategic role within organisations, I would suggest that they move from being reactive to being proactive and embrace advanced analytics and predictive techniques that support strategic organisational goals.

So, how do you achieve this?

1. Educate yourself about big data.

HR and talent management professionals must learn how big data can become a key factor in driving competitiveness within their companies and they must strive to become proficient practitioners in the use and application of big data.

2. Educate your senior colleagues about big data.

To use big data successfully, both managers and senior business leaders must be encouraged to understand and unlock the real potential of big data. This might involve looking beyond current business models and supporting ‘blue sky’ thinking that challenges the status quo. To this end, HR and talent management professionals must work in partnership with managers and business leaders.

3. Develop creative strategies to recruit and retain big data talent.

Analysts and business leaders who understand big data will be highly sought after. Therefore, talent management professionals need to be aware of this and respond by adopting more innovative strategies to recruit and retain these individuals. They can do this by being creative in their recruiting practices by considering non-traditional backgrounds and experiences to meet what will be a growing demand within companies.

4. Offer solutions to build big data talent in your organisation

HR and talent management professionals may wish to consider introducing company-wide big data education programmes such as online learning seminars and on-the-job training. These initiatives will help companies identify those employees who possess an aptitude for, as well as an interest in, big data analysis.

Finally, big data is a journey and not a destination!

There will be successful milestones and pitfalls as well as opportunities to find alternative paths. Just like in any journey, one may get lost and in big data I would suggest that it is important to keep the end goal and business outcomes in mind and prioritise the width and depth of big data analytics. Lastly, it is important to stress that big data should be used as a decision support tool and not replace human decisions.

Paul is New Business Director for the Energy & Industrial Practice at Write Research and helps organisations make better-informed people decisions based on real-time insight from talent research.