Jul 3, 2021

Could Graph Databases Better Model Our Workplace Culture?

Amy Hodler, Director, Graphs A...
4 min
It’s recently been suggested graphs will turn the way we look at jobs on its head. Neo4j’s Amy Hodler examines the claim

“In today’s businesses, people have jobs and job descriptions, but these don’t typically reflect the work that is actually done… More and more of the focus today is on role and project, which leads to the need to look at someone’s real business capabilities, not just their job title, level, or experience… every individual in the company is no longer a node on the hierarchy. We are each nodes in a network, connected to many other people, projects, information, and history.”


So argues respected HR analyst Josh Bersin in his latest annual report on HR technology. His argument comes down to this: HR relies on clear structures to manage reporting processes, authorisations and tasks, and role allocation smoothly across an organisation. As a result, having an overview of complex org charts and a flexible framework to respond to change is indispensable.


Graphs can help by tracking the interconnectedness of people and their skills and how they are deployed, he explains. Underpinning this is his belief that people analytics is the fastest-growing sub-domain of the HR profession—25% of companies are hiring into this role. He highlights graph technology as a promising way to achieve that:


“[Graph databases] are vastly more powerful for modelling how people work in networks, how people search for data and objects, how people communicate and build different types of relationships (peers, team-mates, bosses, subordinates). These products essentially store

this information into a graph of the company, which can evolve over time.”


Graph databases are famously used in the Google search engine and came under the spotlight when The Panama Papers used the technology to expose hidden financial irregularities. The technology is able to efficiently model complex networks of entities and their interrelationships. This explains why they are increasingly being employed to make sense of HR relationships.


250,000 employees in multiple locations and interdisciplinary teams worldwide

Graph databases seem to be useful for many applications, and they are increasingly being employed to make sense of HR relationships.


For example, one of Neo4j’s customers, Daimler, has 250,000 employees in multiple locations and interdisciplinary teams worldwide. That means diarising and scheduling time for project availability can be a challenge. Managers work with team members who may be on leave, temporary workers, and resources from partners and service providers. Daimler built a graph-powered HR platform to provide insight into these personnel structures—a solution that had to adapt to regular changes in personnel in a user-friendly and transparent way.


The graph solution its team has built gives the HR team deeper insight into the structural levels. Users can go deeper into the data structure, gaining new insights into relationships that are not obvious at first glance.


Daimler is far from being the only HR-graph pioneer. US space agency NASA needed to build a skills analysis system to cater to the organisation’s fast-changing occupations and work roles. Using a graph technology approach, managers can traverse skills matrices, while graph data science algorithms can be applied to extract insight about much-needed rocket science project skills and learning and development trends.


NASA project managers can now query complex data about employees, departments, programmes, locations, skills, and career paths in real-time. The insights generated contribute to succession planning and a strategic alignment model for any project to meet targets.


Preventive care using graph technology

Finally, Previa is Sweden’s largest occupational health company which has been able to find new patterns in people’s sick leaves. The company uses these findings to offer preventive care. The database allows employers to generate insights from the data that may increase workplace safety and efficiency or reduce burnout. The company reports that it can now spot patterns for managers to look into, such as repeated absences from a particular office. These patterns might suggest environmental or social issues worth a discreet investigation.


For Josh Bersin, graph database technology could “form the basis for an entirely new industry of HCM technology over the next five to ten years”.


Based on this evidence, I think he’s right.


The author is Director, Analytics and AI Program at Neo4j, the world’s leading graph database company. She is also co-author of Graph Algorithms: Practical Examples in Apache Spark & Neo4j, published by O’Reilly Media


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Aug 1, 2021

Who Will Be the Next Tech Giant to Back Bitcoin?

Simon Chandler, Writer at Cryp...
4 min
Simon Chandler from Cryptovantage discusses Bitcoin in the technology sector and discusses rumours around which tech giant will be next to buy it,

PayPal was the first truly major tech giant to throw its weight behind Bitcoin, unveiling a cryptocurrency buying-and-selling service in October. Next was Tesla, which shocked onlookers in February by announcing the purchase of $1.5 billion in bitcoin, as well as plans to accept the cryptocurrency as payment.

 Since then, things have calmed down as far as Big Tech and Bitcoin are concerned (although a number of banks have rolled out cryptocurrency investment services for their wealthier clients). This raises the question: when will another significant tech firm take the plunge and back bitcoin?

This is a difficult question to answer, if only because the bitcoin market is in something of a funk right now. At the same time, regulators worldwide are looking to restrict crypto in the name of curbing money laundering and other illicit activities. Nonetheless, rumours continue to swirl through the sector that a few other important names in the tech industry may be on the cusp of embracing bitcoin, with Apple being the most notable.

Is Apple Buying Bitcoin?

If you tend to spend any amount of time on Crypto Twitter, you may be aware of rumours to the effect that Apple has recently bought something in the region of $2.5 billion in bitcoin.

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Such rumours were almost certainly a desperate attempt to boost the price of bitcoin. And given that the market didn’t witness a sudden, dramatic rise (but rather a steep loss), it seems pretty clear that Apple didn’t buy a substantial quantity of bitcoin in the past few weeks or so.

That said, there remains a good chance that Apple will enter the cryptocurrency sector at some point, even if it won’t be adventurous enough to buy crypto for itself. Back in May, it placed a job ad for a business development manager for “alternative payments.” 

Such a manager would be tasked with cultivating partnerships with “strategic alternative payment providers,” implying that Apple may be weighing up the possibility of launching its own cryptocurrency-purchasing service (à la PayPal) via Apple Pay.

Needless to say, it would be huge for Bitcoin and cryptocurrency if the Cupertino company were to follow through with this.

Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook?

Rumours have also revolved around possible bitcoin interest from Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, although there’s a little less substance to most of these rumours.

Back in October former Goldman Sachs hedge fund manager Raoul Pal predicted that Microsoft (along with Apple) would buy bitcoin in five years. Unfortunately, a CNN interview with Microsoft’s Brad Smith in February (shortly after Tesla’s bitcoin purchase) revealed that the company had no plans to purchase crypto, although Smith vaguely hinted that it might one day change its collective mind.

More interestingly, Amazon purchased three cryptocurrency-related domain names back in 2017: amazonethereum.com, amazoncryptocurrency.com, amazoncryptocurrencies.com. Nothing has been heard since then, while a job listing from February of this year revealed that the retail giant may be planning to launch its very own digital currency.

Facebook is another tech firm with plans for its own digital currency (Diem, formerly known as Libra). As for whether it’s likely to turn to bitcoin, a few relatively respected figures within the cryptocurrency industry (e.g. Alistair Milne) did spread rumours in April that the social media company would disclose bitcoin holdings on its Q1 financial statement. This didn’t happen, although Mark Zuckerberg did reveal in May that one of his pet goats is called “Bitcoin,” fuelling further speculation as to his and his firm’s interest in the cryptocurrency.

Risks and Rewards of Cryptocurrency

Again, it’s arguable that some or most of the rumours are generated largely to pump crypto prices. But if bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies do continue to appreciate in value and attract more adoption, it will become increasingly harder for large tech companies to ignore them.

But at the moment, it’s likely that most major tech firms will shy away from actually buying bitcoin, if only because it remains highly volatile and unpredictable as an asset. And as we saw with Tesla, buying a massive chunk of the cryptocurrency effectively turns you into a hedge fund overnight, something which can adversely affect your stock price if bitcoin goes down.

 Even so, there’s clearly a considerable amount of money tied up in the cryptocurrency market. And with numbers of holders growing every year, it’s only a matter of time before other big tech firms attempt to siphon off some of this value for themselves.

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