HR and IT: joining forces

HR
and IT are more closely linked than you think. Sue Weekes speaks to two
practitioners who are breaking down the barriers.

A
great deal of column inches are generated on the subject of HR and IT forging
better links. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest this is actually
happening naturally.

"The
younger HR professionals are already more IT aware by definition, and are
therefore more receptive to technology as a supporting tool to their
decisions," suggests Peter Cullum, managing director of Intellect Business
Consultants, supplier of the Workforce HR information system.

Kelly
Ville and Antony Weeks are HR information systems officers with Bristol City
Council (BCC), one of the country’s largest local authorities and a major user
of Workforce HR and personnel management systems. Led by Gill Wilmott, team
leader in HR Information Systems (HRIS) at BCC, they were instrumental in the
recent integration of the education department’s personnel administration into
the Workforce system.

Both
are examples of the new breed of hybrid HR/IT professional but, interestingly,
come from different sides of the same coin. As the following Q&A with
Personneltoday.com reveals, Ville is living proof that HR people can become
IT-proficient, while Weeks demonstrates that those with a predominantly IT
background are now vital to HR.

What
are your backgrounds?

Kelly
Ville (KV):
I worked in an HR environment before working for Bristol City
Council, but always had a strong interest in IT so decided to pursue a career
in an IT environment.

Antony
Weeks (AW):
I joined Bristol City Council in 2001 as a training
administrator. I’d started designing and building websites prior to this and
taught myself HTML, CSS and basic JavaScript technologies using Windows
Notepad. My background is IT-orientated. In September 2003 I joined Gill
Wilmott’s HRIS team to concentrate on effective usage of information systems
within the HR environment.

Do
you have IT qualifications?

KV:
I graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in IT. My
course was database-orientated and consisted of modules such as advanced,
distributed and object-oriented databases. I used my knowledge of these modules
in the final year project, which involved the research and implementation of a web-based
HR information system.

AW:
This year, I completed three Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) courses, which
led to Master CIW Designer accreditation. I’ll complete the Master CIW
Administrator and Master CIW Website Manager courses in the near future.

Did
the recent integration project represent useful learning experiences for you?

KV:
It has been a fantastic learning curve for both myself and the Workforce users.
I’ve enhanced my technical writing skills producing the training manuals, which
are aimed at users at varying levels of IT understanding. My confidence of
training users in a classroom environment has also increased. This has helped
me build a good rapport with Workforce users, while enabling me to identify
their needs and requirements from an operational perspective.

The
aim of the recently completed project was for Bristol City Council to have
consistent and effective data processing across all departments. It has not
only helped the system users, but has made my job a lot easier as it has
minimised user input errors – and with more than 450 Workforce users, this has
made data clean-up exercises a lot less painful.

AW:
They have been challenging and extremely valuable to me on a personal and
business level. On an IT level, the projects have highlighted various issues
within our own information, communication and technology (ICT) division,
software suppliers and HR procedures, which have required numerous discussions
to resolve effectively.

They
have highlighted a previous gap between the HR and ICT departments within the
council, which I like to think the HRIS team has helped to bridge. On a HR
level, I believe the projects have aided BCC in the streamlining and effective
working of both the current information system, Workforce and the recruitment
process in general.

What
advice would you give to HR people who want to become more IT savvy?

KV:
I would encourage HR personnel to become more IT literate, as technology is advancing
all the time, providing useful HR solutions. I frequently enrol on short
courses to keep myself up-to-date and would advise them to look to their local
colleges or on the web for ideas to expand their knowledge.

AW:
I would recommend identifying the areas that they wish to explore, speaking to
their IT and information systems teams for advice and guidance and seeking a
recognised course to achieve their goals. Database skills and,
ever-increasingly, web-based skills, are becoming more and more important in
the everyday workplace. Without either of these, I would not have been part of
the City Council’s current HRIS projects.

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