The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

Everything in its Place

Everything in its Place

Jul 14, 2010

I write this in the usual place – the airplane.  I’m in a window seat, so I’m only surrounded on three sides.  The guy in front of me has decided that all the stuff he does not want should not go in front of him, but that “out of sight, out of mind” is a good solution as he shoves the stuff under his seat at my legs.  I was about to start throwing stuff back at him over his head, but thought better of it.  The guy behind be decided the armrest was actually his footrest.  When his shoe was on my arm, he didn’t even have the sense to pull back a bit.  I had to push his foot off the thing.  The guy next to me is a good guy – he just has wide shoulders.  I can’t really blame anyone for that except his parents.  Worst thing yet, someone on this plane is flatulent.  So not only is my space being intruded upon on all three sides, my very airspace is also becoming a bit offensive.  (yes, I am the guy on the plane that will shout “No Farting!!” to everyone)

I was recently talking to someone about how Spain and Mexico uses 2 last names for employees.    I don’t know if you watch tennis, but the only example I can think of is Aranxa Sanchez-Vicario (I think that’s how you spell it).Apparently PeopleSoft only has a 30 character last name field.  I’m not sure why they have not expanded this yet, but honestly, 30 should be enough, especially if you bought the right country packs.  Anyway, I was recently talking to someone about Mexican last names and the thinking was that they would put the mother’s last name in the middle name field, and the father’s last name in the last name field.

Fundamentally, I don’t usually have a problem with workarounds.  But as you know, I’m a data governance guy and I have a huge problem dumping a last name somewhere other than the last name field and taking the middle name field and dropping in a name that is not the middle name.  Not only are there just issues about using fields for the wrong purpose, but there are practical issues around interfaces and analytics.  How do you search if you don’t have a single last name field?  If you have an interface, do you write it with specific instructions to look for Spaniards and Mexicans and re-arrange the names?

There is a point to order and a point to “everything in its place.”  Especially in terms of systems and data governance order is of utmost importance.  You start playing with order, and you wind up with what we call (in technical terms) “crappy data on a massive scale.”  You see, you mess with the wrong workarounds now, and there’s a pretty high probability that you’re going to pay for it later.  Later might be a couple of years.    Before you do the wrong workaround, do the right resource, figure out the implications, and then do it the right way anyway.

5 comments

  1. Bill Kutik /

    Dubs: I’m shocked that you don’t know people in Spain have up to six names and that the first and most common task in making an HR app global is being able to accommodate that. Plus wildly varying international address formats. I still get a kick out of UK addresses running to six lines or more.

    The HR Technology Conference registration system is older and doesn’t have a country data field. So our customer service people have a jolly time coming up with two-letter acronyms — that are not already states — to put in the state field to represent the country! I always mean to ask for a glossary and never do.

    Great fun sorting that out a few days before we open, since I always want to know how many countries we have represented. Always miss a few.

  2. Creating order these days requries taking a step away from the ordinary. You and Bill have reminded me of a couple of examples with similar themes…

    When it comes to names, as you’ll know the convention in Chinese culture is that the family name is “first” and the given name “last”. Just as the first line of my address is – as far as my Chinese relatives are concerned – “UK”. The trouble here comes when we mix up order (in the sense of sequence) with order (in the sense of a structure with meaning beyond sequence).

    The other example – and it really used to irk me – is having to input a US state abbreviation when entering my UK address on a web form. Doesn’t happen so much these days – but is an example of what can happen when trying to create order for the world without first stepping outside what is ordinary in your own context. The result is disorder or skewed meaning, aka a workround.

  3. Naomi Bloom /

    The HR-XML Consortium has done a terrific job of laying out not only the country by country and even ethnic group by ethnic group within country variations on all of the indicative data attributes of person but also how best to model these attributes and attribute groups in order to address a global audience. Any HRM software product that’s intended for use across more than one country MUST have the proper object model under the covers as well as having the proper presentation for all of this. Legacy products don’t handle this well because of their genealogy and 20+ year old designs, but there’s just no excuse for not getting this right in software designed/built since 2000. Frankly, I’m tired of workarounds for bad/outdated data design. Just sayin’

  4. Naomi: Thanks for the call out to HR-XML. I think about them often, but probably still not often enough. As much as I hate to say it, the thinking that organizations like HR-XML, and we as consultants and advisors is still ahead of where the vendor space might be. Granted, they can’t program at the speed of thought, but even the “best” require workarounds.

    I agree – it’s been frustrating for far too long.

  5. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me I can clearly remember using the international variant of PeopleSoft HRMS around 2003/4 and being impressed with the way in which it coped with both names and addresses. I was setting up a pan-European HR Service Centre at the time and the page layouts for personal data handle Spanish (two family names), Portuguese (two family names) and Netherlands (family name prefix such as “van der”) name structures correctly. The only problem came when we uploaded the data into our US-owned Intranet employee directory. So, kudos to PeopleSoft – their international version was a pleasure to use back then!

    Shaun Dunphy

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