What’s Wrong with a Simple HR Database?

Back in the early 90’s, a colleague was highlighting the need to maintain computer records of people in our company. At the time, we had just moved to a stable computer system, and were learning about spreadsheets and other new technologies. 

We ultimately assembled a spreadsheet with all of our employee information. Simple headings listed the employee ID number, date they started, department they worked in, and a few other useful pieces of information. Terrified that “the system” would one day crash and lose everything, every month we would print it out and back it up to a floppy disk (yes a floppy disk!).

Today there are countless software companies promoting their HR information and management systems. They can do wonders with data. Every time I see an ad, it reminds me of that simple old spreadsheet. It wouldn’t work in today’s business. It just couldn’t do what we need to get done.

Consider the changing roles of HR professionals over the past 20 years. You don’t just record absences—you have to study trends and analyse data. You need to allocate resources, measure and monitor compensation, track benefits, and much more. 

spreadsheets suck

Seriously? Seriously?!?! Flickr/Jon Newman

When a VP or Director asks for staff turnover rates in sales for the last 3 years, you need to be able to respond quickly and confidently. The old spreadsheet would’ve helped, but with countless rows and columns, it wouldn’t be fast.

As technology has evolved, so has our ability to manage and manipulate data. In HR, the ability to gather and sort employees for data analysis is crucial. Who’s a good fit for a specific corporate initiative? Whose skills are needed in another department? Who contributes above and beyond their job role?

Before you can figure these things out, you need to actually have the data. Is recruiting data being connected to management data? Is it even available, or did your vital information disappear with that co-op student two years ago?

Companies can now not only track exact working hours and daily attendance, but connect that information to productivity levels, and predict future patterns. Candidates for internal promotions can be monitored and prioritized based on their past skills, teamwork initiatives, goal accomplishments, or internal experience. 

Without this data, companies would be looking at long, drawn-out recruitment exercises, with much greater resource demands. Modern HR systems store and manage your information database for you.

You can never track too much data, but having to collect and navigate through mountains of data can certainly slow you down. Information needs to strike a balance. The HR database needs to hold the information you need, but hide it until it’s useful for you. 

The March 2012 SHRM HR Magazine had a technology article called “Managing and paying off technical debt can keep sludge out of your data tanks and keep your HR systems running smoothly.” It’s time for a database detox.


Cluttered old spreadsheets are outdated. It’s time for an HR system that lets your whole team be more productive, without the sludge. It’s time for TribeHR. Learn more.


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