Previous Article Next Article Human Resources and IT may not have always made the friendliest ofbedfellows but in an increasingly technical age the two are drawing evercloser. Thanks to the introduction of the internet, HR professionals are ableto roll out such things as web-enabled HR solutions, global intranet sites andremotely accessible HR pages – descriptions that would have meant nothing tothe profession just 10 short years ago. As technological understanding has grown within HR, so too has the expertiseto mould IT solutions around specific HR requirements. Today HR professionalshave titles such as ‘e-working change manager’ or ‘e-HR director’ and are ableto drive the implementation of solutions that both save and make millions fortheir organisations. At the same time they have carved out an HR/IT hybrid rolethat may have important consequences for the future of strategic HR. James Clarke, head of HR systems at KPMG, is typical of this profile. He hasrecently been involved in implementing a Peoplesoft system that has enabled20,000 data changes to take place every month and generated a mass ofinformation that would otherwise have been impossible to collate. “It is about making easier anything to do with HR and giving employeesownership of data that matters to them such as flexible benefits andinformation on their pay review. We are constantly looking at ways of makingthe solution useable, and web enabling as much of the HR function aspossible.” This requires IT knowledge and an understanding of how HR fundamentals canbest be combined. But other, newer skills are also needed. To successfully generate HR/IT solutions HR professionals have to get togrips with budgets that run into millions. They also have to look at thebusiness through increasingly commercial eyes – many for the first time. “This is all about using business analysis techniques that have beenused for decades in areas such as sales or marketing, and bringing them intothe HR function; to analyse where value gets created and where automation ismost efficiently introduced,” says James Markham, a partner at WatsonWyatt who is responsible for e-HR. “Because of the money involved theprofession is starting to have to put together business cases just like everyother business function and develop a real understanding of how the businessside operates.” In practical terms this means leaving the technical side to IT andconcentrating on supplying input, ideas plus meeting budgetary requirements –in other words becoming a customer, innovator and manager at the same time. In return a head of HR/IT can expect to receive between £30,000 to £40,000per annum plus other benefits such as a company car. This will vary in relationto the level of IT expertise an individual possesses and type of company theywork for. What won’t change is the need to complement IT innovation with a solidgrounding in HR. Without this it is impossible to adapt old technology to meetthe requirements of the company, its employees and even the HR department. “What we are doing is generating IT roles in HR,” says JulieWarren, senior manager of HR channel support and development at LloydsTSB, (seecase study, right). “We are taking HR professionals and developing their knowledge of howIT can be combined with HR to help everyone. This means having a goodunderstanding of HR and using that to become a translator between the businessand technology that supports HR within it.” It also demands that the end user is kept firmly in mind. Steve Lakin, manager for organisational learning at BT, claims that hisHR/IT team saved the company £85m last year simply through listening toemployees’ ideas on how technology should be used. Lakin says: “It was triggered largely by one idea where one person inthe finance unit suggested a new way of handling data traffic. It saved BT aninvestment it would have otherwise made at a later stage. As an offshoot BTintroduced an entire product range. This would have happened at some stage butif it wasn’t for that employee it wouldn’t have happened so quickly.” Breakthrough ideas like this, though, are unusual. HR/IT is primarily aboutmaking small changes to the wider picture and to take full advantage of theseopenings the IT system needs a degree of flexibility. This enables it to adaptto changing needs of the organisation and the way it wants to operate. Thisprocess is heavily reliant on HR’s willingness to listen to staff. “Trying to impose a system on anybody is difficult,” says Lakin. “You have to be willing to find what people like and don’t like aboutthe IT system, then be prepared to drive the changes. Quite simply, we wouldshoot ourselves in the foot if we didn’t.” Case study Julie Warren, senior manager, HR channel support anddevelopment, LloydsTSBJulie Warren has been senior manager of HR channel support anddevelopment at LloydsTSB for the last two years and is responsible for theHR/IT systems that serve 70,000 staff nationwide.Based in Bristol, she has been working in HR for 15 years –previously in a variety of roles including management development,organisational consultancy and project management.Warren’s team works closely within Lloyds- TSB with colleaguesin the IT function to provide support for HR’s core IT systems, processes anddata.”The most important thing is to understand that businesstechnology roles and functions require a whole range of skills,” saysWarren. “First of all you need an understanding of HR. This allows you toscan the work environment for changes that are likely to affect processes anddata and act upon them.” Since Warren has been in the post the company has introducedwhat she describes as a “new generation” IT system. This has changedthe way HR does business within LloydsTSB. Developing HR’s delivery channels isa key part of the HR strategy.Warren says, “Functionally, 18 months ago we were usingpaper. We have moved from that into a telephony-based system where transaction,advice and recruitment requests can all be done via the phone. “As we get even further into the technology we shall berolling out direct access to line managers to enable them to handle a varietyof functions for themselves online.”This system is due to start in summer 2002. Warren and hercolleagues are working closely with the IT team to this effect to developsomething that meets the needs of both the users and the business itself.This requires a whole set of skills that are separate to coreHR attributes – not least the ability to translate business requirements intosomething that can be built by IT experts. Warren has had to develop what shecalls an “IT tongue” to help make this happen.”You need everything from upfront people skills toconsulting, negotiating and analytical skills.” says Warren. You also haveto understand the technology and what it can do to support the business – andHR’s strategic objectives.”Project management is also an important facet, particularly,where technology-driven initiatives are complex and which create culturalchallenges.Warren says,” Education of the business is key when youare introducing anything new. One of the challenges is understanding the effectIT can have on a business and how it can take time for people to get used tochanges.”Despite this Warren still sees that HR and IT have a verybright working future ahead of them. “Subject to culturalconsiderations,” she says. “There are no real limits on what we cannow do online.” Comments are closed. HR specialisms: HR/IT hybridsOn 16 Apr 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.