HR specialisms: HR/IT hybrids

Human Resources and IT may not have always made the friendliest of
bedfellows but in an increasingly technical age the two are drawing ever
closer. Thanks to the introduction of the internet, HR professionals are able
to roll out such things as web-enabled HR solutions, global intranet sites and
remotely accessible HR pages – descriptions that would have meant nothing to
the profession just 10 short years ago.

As technological understanding has grown within HR, so too has the expertise
to mould IT solutions around specific HR requirements. Today HR professionals
have titles such as ‘e-working change manager’ or ‘e-HR director’ and are able
to drive the implementation of solutions that both save and make millions for
their organisations. At the same time they have carved out an HR/IT hybrid role
that may have important consequences for the future of strategic HR.

James Clarke, head of HR systems at KPMG, is typical of this profile. He has
recently been involved in implementing a Peoplesoft system that has enabled
20,000 data changes to take place every month and generated a mass of
information that would otherwise have been impossible to collate.

"It is about making easier anything to do with HR and giving employees
ownership of data that matters to them such as flexible benefits and
information on their pay review. We are constantly looking at ways of making
the solution useable, and web enabling as much of the HR function as

This requires IT knowledge and an understanding of how HR fundamentals can
best be combined. But other, newer skills are also needed.

To successfully generate HR/IT solutions HR professionals have to get to
grips with budgets that run into millions. They also have to look at the
business through increasingly commercial eyes – many for the first time.

"This is all about using business analysis techniques that have been
used for decades in areas such as sales or marketing, and bringing them into
the HR function; to analyse where value gets created and where automation is
most efficiently introduced," says James Markham, a partner at Watson
Wyatt who is responsible for e-HR. "Because of the money involved the
profession is starting to have to put together business cases just like every
other business function and develop a real understanding of how the business
side operates."

In practical terms this means leaving the technical side to IT and
concentrating 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 £40,000
per annum plus other benefits such as a company car. This will vary in relation
to the level of IT expertise an individual possesses and type of company they
work for.

What won’t change is the need to complement IT innovation with a solid
grounding in HR. Without this it is impossible to adapt old technology to meet
the requirements of the company, its employees and even the HR department.

"What we are doing is generating IT roles in HR," says Julie
Warren, senior manager of HR channel support and development at LloydsTSB, (see
case study, right).

"We are taking HR professionals and developing their knowledge of how
IT can be combined with HR to help everyone. This means having a good
understanding of HR and using that to become a translator between the business
and 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 his
HR/IT team saved the company £85m last year simply through listening to
employees’ ideas on how technology should be used.

Lakin says: "It was triggered largely by one idea where one person in
the finance unit suggested a new way of handling data traffic. It saved BT an
investment it would have otherwise made at a later stage. As an offshoot BT
introduced an entire product range. This would have happened at some stage but
if it wasn’t for that employee it wouldn’t have happened so quickly."

Breakthrough ideas like this, though, are unusual. HR/IT is primarily about
making small changes to the wider picture and to take full advantage of these
openings the IT system needs a degree of flexibility. This enables it to adapt
to changing needs of the organisation and the way it wants to operate. This
process 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 about
the IT system, then be prepared to drive the changes. Quite simply, we would
shoot ourselves in the foot if we didn’t."

Case study
Julie Warren, senior manager, HR channel support anddevelopment, LloydsTSB

Julie Warren has been senior manager of HR channel support and
development at LloydsTSB for the last two years and is responsible for the
HR/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 colleagues
in the IT function to provide support for HR’s core IT systems, processes and

"The most important thing is to understand that business
technology roles and functions require a whole range of skills," says
Warren. "First of all you need an understanding of HR. This allows you to
scan the work environment for changes that are likely to affect processes and
data and act upon them."

Since Warren has been in the post the company has introduced
what she describes as a "new generation" IT system. This has changed
the way HR does business within LloydsTSB. Developing HR’s delivery channels is
a key part of the HR strategy.

Warren says, "Functionally, 18 months ago we were using
paper. 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 be
rolling out direct access to line managers to enable them to handle a variety
of functions for themselves online."

This system is due to start in summer 2002. Warren and her
colleagues are working closely with the IT team to this effect to develop
something that meets the needs of both the users and the business itself.

This requires a whole set of skills that are separate to core
HR attributes – not least the ability to translate business requirements into
something that can be built by IT experts. Warren has had to develop what she
calls an "IT tongue" to help make this happen.

"You need everything from upfront people skills to
consulting, negotiating and analytical skills." says Warren. You also have
to understand the technology and what it can do to support the business – and
HR’s strategic objectives."

Project management is also an important facet, particularly,
where technology-driven initiatives are complex and which create cultural

Warren says," Education of the business is key when you
are introducing anything new. One of the challenges is understanding the effect
IT can have on a business and how it can take time for people to get used to

Despite this Warren still sees that HR and IT have a very
bright working future ahead of them. "Subject to cultural
considerations," she says. "There are no real limits on what we can
now do online."

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