HR and IT seek common ground

Thought Leadership Summit brings together leaders to share strategies.

Human relations types and IT pros wouldn't seem to have much in common. It's your extroverted, people person who wants to make sure everybody at the company is happy vs. your introverted engineer who wants to make sure every node in the network is up.

Stereotypes aside, HR and IT do have quite a bit in common. Both are horizontal organizations that touch every part of a company and therefore have a unique view. Both are looking to use that knowledge to help businesses be more successful.

At a recent executive roundtable, leaders from both departments looked for ways they could collaborate to raise their own profiles within their organizations as well as to help make their companies more competitive. The Thought Leadership Summit on Digital Strategies is a series of executive roundtables co-founded by the Center for Digital Strategies at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business in Hanover, N.H., and by Cisco . Moderated by Network World President and Editorial Director John Gallant, this session focused on Gaining Competitive Advantage through Human Resource Management.

"IT and HR are really kindred spirits," said Bob Carniaux, senior vice president of HR at Hasbro in Pawtucket, R.I. "We're each other's customers, as well as collaborators within the organization. We find ourselves both fighting for a seat at the table in terms of corporate priorities, both struggling to figure out what it means to manage our respective functions on a global basis."

Hollie Castro, vice president of human resource excellence at Cisco, added that the HR/IT relationship at her company is strong but could be even stronger. "Where I'd like to see it improve is our ability to drive business strategy in conjunction with finance. We view it as the triumvirate, the three legs of the stool. We're the three functions in our corporation that have the ability to see all the way across."

Share and share alike

Some companies have taken collaboration to another level - actually sharing employees. "I have an HR manager who is really on my staff," said Jerry Hale, CIO for Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, Tenn. "The HR manager goes back to the rest of HR and is an advocate for IT to help us achieve our mission and help us stay aligned with where corporate HR wants to go."

Conversely, HR's Castro added that at Cisco she has "one of [the IT department's] best and brightest that reports on my staff now, and that's been a key tenet of how we've built the teams."

Outsourcing decisions

HR and IT are faced with tough decisions when it comes to outsourcing. Both share the basic philosophy that it's OK to outsource some non-core functions but it's not a good idea to outsource functions that are core to the company.

"We've tried to either e-enable or outsource administrative-type roles," said Edna Kinner, director of talent management at Eastman Chemical. "We made a decision two years ago that doing retirement counseling, for example, was not core."

She added that decisions on what is core and what isn't change over time.

But the trend toward outsourcing is clear. Kinner pointed out that the benefits department at Eastman Chemical has gone from 25 to 13 employees in the last three years.

Hasbro has what Carniaux calls a "strange hybrid of insource and outsource." The company outsources open enrollment benefits but not benefits administration. "We struggle with the issues of high-touch vs. high-tech in terms of what we outsource and what we don't."

"We've been very selective on areas we outsource," added Jody Horner, vice president of HR at Cargill. "We've tried to build our internal capabilities in most cases - we probably have a bias not to outsource."

Sue Cook, vice president of HR for Eaton, a manufacturing company in Cleveland, summed up the argument against outsourcing: "I don't ever want an Eaton manager to call a third party to get advice on firing somebody. It's a decision you get to as a result of your values. How do you give that to somebody outside of the company?"

Looking ahead

Participants pointed out that HR and IT face the threat of becoming marginalized. "All of us ask those questions. Are we strategic? Are we perceived as strategic? But the opportunity is there for both the HR leader and the IT leader to step up and take that change-management role," Eastman CIO Hale said.

Carniaux put it this way: "Where HR and IT will probably exert the most influence over the next three to five years is how we work together in terms of making our organization more flexible and adaptable, how fluid we can make our resources be to go to the place where the need is the greatest within the organization. The original organizational models that we all grew up with are going to have to change.''

Eaton's Cook wrapped up the discussion on a confident note: "It's just a time of a lot of opportunity and you can be the boundary-less change leader in your organization if you choose to do that."

Collaboration in action

HR and IT departments at major companies have worked together to achieve successful results:
HR and IT leaders at Sysco, a food services company, created a portal that allows managers to share best practices across divisions, and also put together a new job application tracking system that reduced the cost per hire by 75%.
Projects at Hasbro include a global, multi-language employee survey and a global communications platform. “We can virtually zap content around the globe so that everybody gets the same message at the same time. Technology has really become not an afterthought, but part of the strategy whenever an important corporate announcement has to get out,” said Bob Carniaux, senior vice president of HR at the toymaker.
IBM created an internal résumé indexing project that lets managers instantly identify which of 150,000 employees have rare combinations of expertise.
Cargill developed a reverse - auction system for the company’s benefit providers that showed “real bottom-line improvements,” CIO Rita Heise says.
Eastman Chemical is working on ways to mine, aggregate and leverage HR-related data, such as medical cost information and workforce planning data.

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