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This Time, It’s Strategic

Technology has streamlined the human-resources department. Can it be pushed to do more?

At Premera, a greater use of IT has enabled the company to reduce its total HR head count, and Magusin expects that trend to continue. The staffers that remain are working more closely with business units, concentrating on such issues as training and development. “To be regarded as more strategic,” says Magusin, “we have to be able to present metrics that have a strong ROI, such as increased tenure and data on employee mobility within the workforce, which shows that we’re developing our people rather than having to go outside for new talent.”

Perfect Together

Because IT can do double duty — capturing and crunching the data that provides those metrics while also providing the technological foundation for E-learning and training systems — a strong partnership between HR and IT would seem sensible. Add the fact that several surveys show that CEOs rank human capital as a top priority (see “Uncertain Benefits: The 2005 CFO Human-Capital Survey“), and the marriage of HR and IT would seem almost mandatory. Yet to date, a number of factors have conspired to keep the relationship rocky. HR departments resent the fact that they are often treated as an afterthought, with decisions about which ERP system to buy, for example, often driven by finance or operations.

Similarly, according to Ed Jensen, a partner in Accenture’s Human Performance Practice, HR often believes it gets little support for any of its initiatives from IT. CIOs are sometimes irked by the tendency of HR departments to prefer software offered by smaller, best-of-breed companies rather than the ERP vendor to which the company has made a major commitment. And HR has not always been able to make a solid business case for its projects, says Jensen.

However, as HR departments retool themselves for an HCM world, they do seem to be getting it. At WellPoint Inc., an Indianapolis-based health-care provider, vice president of HR Chuck Moore says the company decided to leverage its existing investment in an ERP product in part because of the software’s inherent capabilities, but also to save money. “I worry about the cost of supporting too many products, so we try to keep the number of vendors we use to a minimum.”

At insurance provider Zurich North America, Ted Orszak, vice president of human resources, says the HR department has sometimes delayed offering certain capabilities as it waited for the company’s ERP vendor to catch up. Despite that handicap, he says Zurich’s HR department is sticking to a business model designed to make HR more strategic. Part of that effort requires an enhanced HR portal see “(Any Storm in a Portal?“) that “lets us help managers manage,” says Orszak.

Working with the finance department, Zurich’s HR staff has tried to discover what kinds of information managers need. Now a series of online reports that capture head count, turnover, and other employment-trend data will be offered in a self-service model, closely linked to budget information and other data provided by finance. Such projects also require IT involvement to help establish the report platform (once that is in place, additional reports can be rolled out directly by HR or finance). “We explained our strategy to them, which was something they weren’t used to hearing from HR,” says Orszak. “They were accustomed to us taking a fragmented approach, but now we can offer a road map.”

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