HR and IT – Working together for success

In recent times, most organisations have migrated from largely manual HR functions to new technology, looking to improve HR Service Delivery. This shift has required HR and IT leaders to work in partnerships to unify systems and information that were previously siloed.

But achieving this goal alone hasn’t always guaranteed successful outcomes.

As the transformation to a digital workplace has unfolded over the last ten years or so, successful organisations now understand that bringing people together under a shared vision can be the most significant source of advantage in the market. Taking advantage of digital is not just about implementing underlying technology but also how you use it as a communications channel to reflect the culture and vision of the organisation.

Failure to grasp this opportunity has, for some organisations, led to customers using the channel themselves to highlight insufficient service levels and misalignment of vision and values, resulting in a negative impact on their reputation.

This new world, however, has not only created new touch points for developing an ongoing relationship with customers. The relationship with their employees has similarly been impacted, with expectations for digital delivery of services and a connection with personal values becoming mainstays of talent attraction and retention.

The most forward-thinking HR functions have discovered that their skills and experience on the people side of the business can contribute as much, if not more, to the successful delivery of digital solutions than technology-centric IT departments.

We have found from our client work that there is a growing relationship between HR and IT that needs to be fostered to make the most of the skills in each of the functions. This blog pinpoints areas of overlap while highlighting how the relationship will develop. We also include tips to ensure any client wishing to go along the path of bringing HR and IT closer together does so in a way that benefits the organisation and the employees they are trying to empower.

Our research also shows that there is a widespread opinion that HR and IT are undergoing a transformation attributable to the digital shift. We found substantial evidence and arguments for HR and IT working closely together in areas of shared interest or on specific projects during transformation.

Some of the themes that emerged include:

An Engagement Mandate

Gartner’s research indicates a convergence of the interests of IT and HR, reporting that by 2020 20% of organisations will consider improvements in employee engagement as a performance objective for both HR and IT.

“Today's workforce is becoming more global, mobile, social and flexible. Concurrently, workforce expectations for consumer-grade experiences are rising. Meeting the expectations of this modern workforce requires HR and IT leaders to take a fresh look at HR service delivery technologies and models.”
Gartner 2016 - Modernizing HR Service Delivery for the Digital Workforce Published: 01 June 2016.

Business landscapes have radically changed. Mobile first is the way forward, and most enterprises have adopted some form of bring your own device policy for improving employee productivity. Hence tracking employees, making IT services available on the move, analysing their working conditions, data security, and a whole lot of other scenarios must be examined for creating a fair and a well rewarding work environment.

Forbes analysed employee reviews at  Glassdoor to come up with a list of the best places to work in 2016. A common visible trait is that almost all the companies that occupied the top slots are clear leaders in their space and known for using cutting-edge technology at the workplace. The larger picture would be impossible without intuitive IT-powered HR systems in place. Hence the insightful collaboration of IT in HR would be the best way to improve the functional efficiency of HR teams in their endeavour to provide a work environment that is productive and sustainable at the same time.”

Service Delivery and Service Desk

IT Departments have for a long time now been challenged to deliver defined services to the business in accordance with frameworks such as ITIL. HR has been seen to be needing to catch up with the service approach to introduce their own Service Level Agreements to the business and deliver services through their own Service Desk.

IT and HR both need to deliver a great service to the business, learning from each other’s best practice. And if there is to be any form of restructuring or change of reporting lines, HR leaders who tend to look beyond process and costs savings and into the people issues, can play a critical role in selling the people and organisational benefits of technology investment to the leadership team, to Finance and to the broader workforce.

The Business of HR - the HRIS

HRIS offers further common ground from which a collaborative relationship between HR and IT springs. IT’s strong background in providing stability, security and technical know-how complements HR's traditional skills in people processes and meeting employee needs.  

The sum of the two is creating HR technology environments that drive improvements in global operations. Business as usual support models for HRIS selection and implementation provide evidence of the overlap necessary between HR and IT. 

Although IT and HR are moving in the same direction to be business-focused, rather than siloed in their own departments, IT professionals have sometimes been slower to think strategically, which in turn has had a bearing on HR technology plans. The terms and agendas thought of by HR, and IT have been different traditionally, and they are moving now to be more business-focused. But the issue for IT is its ability to link IT back to business. In HR technology, for example, this could mean HR looking at a strategy for technology and IT looking at compliance and feasibility with back-office systems. IT people are now more business-focused and prepared to work as one with HR.

Change - The area of overlap between IT and HR 

As Rob Fraser, IT Director of Sainsbury's during the turnaround years of 2009 – 2014, told us, ‘The area of overlap [between IT and HR] is Change’.

Over the past several years, the role of the CX has evolved to match the way the client does business... To be successful, cross-functional leadership is a necessity - the amount of overlapping activity across HR, Finance, IT and Operations has increased dramatically.

Change Associates has worked with many organisations who have established central business change teams, with senior business partners aligned to different departments, which would delegate to others to manage the delivery.

A Business Change Manager (effectively a Programme Manager), is responsible for delivering the whole change project, including systems design and people impacts, and would pull together the specialist teams from IT, Organisation Design etc.

Small business as usual changes could be managed within the individual functions but any significant change, where the budget was large enough to go through the corporate governance process, would use a Business Change Manager from this team.

Finding the value in data requires HR and IT alignment

The data generated by transactional systems and business operations is a potential treasure trove – however, without the guidance and alignment of IT and HR leadership, it can be challenging to find the value or create real information that reflects real service improvement by bringing together the technology and people perspectives.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Individuals need to play to their strengths

Any change in structure or reporting lines needs to play to the inherent strengths of the role. Should the IT team be the critical point of contact for users or is their time better invested in delivering solutions? How many tasks can be streamlined into a self-service system, where common service requests have known answers, and how many require the relationship building and emotional intelligence at which HR and customer service professionals excel?

The Cloud’s silver lining

The increased use of Cloud-based systems by corporates has liberated some organisations from their dependency on in-house IT teams as service desks provided by the vendors can offer greater expertise. IT becomes more about managing vendor relationships, connectivity, desktop issues and so on, often requiring a different set of skills. 

Rob Fraser established systems, processes and best practice for the retailer during a turnaround project. Then, recognising the next phase of growth required a different type of leadership, he stepped aside leaving a legacy.

Structure designed to reflect Strategy

Establishing an Organisation Design, with all the supporting analysis required, is beyond the scope of this blog, but could form the basis of future exploration.

From our research and work with clients, varying approaches are possible. Any organisation considering a restructure needs to be clear about what they are trying to achieve through any integration of HR and IT.

The change is not trivial and needs to be set up to deliver against the long-term strategy not just short-term wins. This is a sliding scale with a more constrained objective of service improvement for IT on one side, through service integration through a potential shared service model and potentially eventually to a much broader vision of digital transformation and what structures and skills will be needed to deliver that.

Differing trajectories, mutual end-points.

But whereas the overall aim for the HRD is to grow, nurture and manage an organisation's talent base to enable the best possible business performance, CIOs and IT functions are often focused on sourcing the right mix of technology to facilitate business success.

Despite their different starting points, both HR and IT, with the proper emphasis on integration and communication, can achieve the mutual and enterprise-wide goal of enabling high performance.”

For each to be successful, both HR and IT must start by setting out how they are to serve each other to the mutual benefit of the company.

 

Last updated: 6 Sep 2018