As it strives to earn its strategic label, HR is being supplied with new analytical tools. But in order to assert itself in this business intelligence role, the profession needs to learn to use the software to its advantage. Keith Rodgers reports
It is not often that a rank outsider emerges to take control of a major slice of the IT industry but software firm Siebel Systems has done just that. Building from its roots in sales automation software, the company has come to dominate the fast-growing customer relationship management field, forcing software giants such as Oracle, SAP and Peoplesoft into a battle for second place. Siebel spotted a growth opportunity, grabbed it and, through adroit marketing, won a dominant position.
Siebel's story is particularly relevant to human resources because this year, for the first time, it has turned its attention to the field of human capital management. Although its current offerings are relatively rudimentary, especially when compared to the deep functionality offered by more established enterprise software suppliers, its vision is clear - within three years it believes HCM will be as big an application area as the customer relations management sector it services.
While rivals and analysts alike have cast doubt on Siebel's ability to play catch-up in the HR sector without making acquisitions, its strategy underpins a growing trend in both the IT industry and business at large.
Historically, software providers have tended to compartmentalise their applications - building modules that focus on functional areas such as finance, HR, manufacturing and logistics. While developers such as SAP - which dominated these back-office areas in the 1990s - built enterprise-wide suites that allowed easier integration between the modules, the functional mindset reflected the management thinking of most companies. Organisations were structured around largely self-contained departments, and software implementations reflected that status quo.
Today, however, these boundaries are being blurred. Customer management, for example, was typically seen as a "front-office" activity, spanning sales, marketing and customer services. Now it is clear that finance plays a key role (particularly in measuring customer profitability) as does supply chain management - the processes that deliver the goods promised to customers by sales and marketing.<