Akankasha Dewan talks to Samuel Goh, HR business partner for Southeast Asia and China at Bombardier Transportation (Holdings) Singapore, on his experiences in using data across borders.

People skills still play an integral role when dealing with data. That was the key lesson Samuel Goh, HR business partner for Southeast Asia and China at Bombardier Transportation Singapore, learnt when he was trying to collate data from the company’s factory in China, which is a joint venture between Bombardier and CSR Sifang Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co.

“Bombardier consistently requests data from Bombardier Sifang (Qingdao) Transportation (BST), which is a Sino-Canadian joint venture established in 1988. While there is regular data required which follows a format, we also request some data to be prepared on an ad-hoc basis for specific purposes to be proactive,” he explains.

When Bombardier’s Singapore office was seeking a project director, Goh was assigned the responsibility to find a suitable talent from the factory in China who was mobile and suitably equipped for the role.

“Each talent in the country has a talent profile record, detailing a set of useful information including career interests, language skills, ongoing special assignments, educational background, work history and mobility factors, etc. These factors are very useful when trying to make such decisions.

“Since my job responsibilities include providing HR consulting to our joint venture operations in China, it is important for me to partner with the leadership team to identify, build, and implement organisation development and talent management options.”

Complications of sharing data with an autonomous organisation

But partnering with a leadership team from a different company and region is not without several challenges.

The nature of the relationship between the two companies in question complicates the degree of information to be shared and the ease of accessing it.
“With a formal joint venture entity set up with the Chinese-based company, Bombardier is able to more freely do business in China. The Chinese joint venture company, on the other hand, stands to gain from exposure to Bombardier's technological strengths,” Goh says.

“By virtue of its nature, a joint venture operates as an autonomous body. Therefore, sometimes it is a challenge for corporate Bombardier to leverage on HR analytics and data from this facility.”

He explains data on compensation and benefits, for example, within joint venture companies can be administratively complex.

“HR needs to have information within and also outside the company to benchmark against.”

Understanding and respecting different cultures

“I remember a situation where I requested for some data but made the mistake of not clarifying what I wanted properly. I apologised and asked our Chinese colleagues to re-do their reports. Thankfully, the request was met with no fuss,” Goh recounts.

He credits such cross-boundary co-operation to his foresightedness in developing relations with his Chinese counterparts, which help in building trust and enhancing work processes such as the sharing of data.

“While trying to gather data and information for these purposes, I have found the best way to gain the trust and cooperation of the management and HR team in China is to build good relationships first. This means inviting the colleagues to eat together and also accepting social invitations from the host.”

Making sense of the data

Keeping in mind the value of data and analytics is important if one wishes to overcome such challenges of using data across geographies, especially when “analytics and data are becoming more and more important in today's HR function”.

This means going beyond just mere collection of data, to actively analyse its possible implications.

“It is important for HR practitioners to make use of their analytical abilities when presenting data. They also cannot make simple assumptions without looking at the big picture.

“For example, if there is spike in medical leave in the month of March 2014, HR cannot simply say for sure it is due to the haze. It could be due to too much overtime work during the month, or increased stress during project delivery period.”

Such deep-diving into possible angles for what the current data represents is integral in the data interpretation process.

It is fun to know that there are seldom ready-made answers to HR issues. It is therefore important for me to know when to wear my analytical thinking and creative hats.
“I believe anyone who wants to make meaningful contributions with HR analytics and data would require those hats too.”