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Understanding Employees' Answers to Open-Ended Questions:The Need for Efficiency and Flexibility

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Greg Talkington, human resource data analyst for EDS.

BACKGROUND: EDS provides a broad portfolio of business and technology solutions to help its clients worldwide improve their business performance. EDS' core portfolio comprises IT, applications and business process services, as well as IT transformation services. We support the world's leading companies and governments in 60 countries. We have more than 130,000 employees and were ranked 87th on the Fortune 500 list, with 2003 revenues of $21.5 billion.


PROBLEM SOLVED: EDS conducts quarterly and annual employee surveys to collect feedback from employees about their day-to-day experiences in the company. This feedback is combined with other human resource information - such as industry trends, employee turnover statistics and productivity metrics - and then analyzed to discover both weaknesses to improve and strengths to build upon. EDS employee surveys include 30 to 50 scaled items, 10 demographic questions and several open-response questions. The resulting volume of data is substantial. Unstructured data sets of this size are difficult to handle efficiently - manual processing is too time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, employees' text comments often contain insights and perspectives critical to the success of the company; however, the lack of structure inherent in text data makes it difficult to conduct meaningful analyses. Text comments must be coded to enable combined analysis of scaled, categorical and text data.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: PolyAnalyst from MEGAPUTER Intelligence is the primary tool for analysis of EDS employee survey text data. PolyAnalyst's Text Analysis engine processes text records using a combination of linguistic, semantic and statistical text analysis techniques. The categorized text records are then clustered by topic, enabling further analyses by other PolyAnalyst engines. PolyAnalyst Link Analysis (LA) engine helps reveal and visualize relationships between discovered topics and demographic groups. For example, a topic such as "leadership skills" can be studied using survey respondents' region, company division, length of service or job type dimensions. LA quantifies relationships found in data and quickly isolates interesting patterns for further interactive investigation. The visual output of LA is a diagram of linked objects. Analysts use the drill-down and export features of the diagrams to study the structure of the topic/demographic relationships and to output sample records with highlighted patterns of interest for management review. EDS also uses PolyAnalyst as a simple means for creating, importing and managing taxonomies. Subsequently, we conduct automated categorization of text records against these taxonomies. EDS uses pre-developed taxonomies for monitoring ongoing programs such as training and development, employee benefits and company communications.

STRENGTHS: From an employee survey standpoint, the primary strengths of PolyAnalyst 4.6 are its ability to extract valuable knowledge from text in addition to structured data, its speed/efficiency and graphical visualization. Import, initial analysis and preliminary statistics on a survey data set containing approximately 20,000 records can be conducted in less than an hour. Subsequent analyses run quickly and accurately. Visual displays in PolyAnalyst do an excellent job of revealing meaningful relationships and enabling further analyses. Additionally, most diagrams in PolyAnalyst can be exported to other applications such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint.

WEAKNESSES: Many of the infinitely customizable features will be most useful for analysts that understand the concepts behind them.

SELECTION CRITERIA: At the time we selected PolyAnalyst, there were no directly comparable products available. Several companies offered enterprise-level data analysis tools; however, they were designed primarily for large-scale HR systems. The price of PolyAnalyst was very reasonable given the comprehensive functionality of the system.

DELIVERABLES: Results from employee survey analysis at EDS obtained using PolyAnalyst 4.6 are provided to company managers in briefing books. Survey feedback is both quantified and linked with EDS operational structure. This enables managers to assess the magnitude of employee concern or, in some cases, the degree of support for a suggestion, then determine where the topic is most prevalent. The second benefit is the delivery of concise, accurate and easy-to-read information that supports quick decision making.

VENDOR SUPPORT: MEGAPUTER has been very supportive. EDS continues to purchase a year-by-year full support agreement. MEGAPUTER analysis and technical teams have been readily available, especially regarding software updates.

DOCUMENTATION: MEGAPUTER provides current documentation, tutorials and case studies at the MEGAPUTER Web site.

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