The Evolution of the Corporate IT vs. HR Technology Relationship

The long and often turbulent relationship between Corporate IT and HR (both the strategy and technology domains) has been characterized as “starving” – with HR unable to secure technology and capital for system purchases, deployments, or upgrades – or, more generously, as a “bridge” in which HR IT functions collaborate with decision-makers to translate HR requirements into IT solutions. 

In the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a litany of new terms in the workplace – hybrid, desk-less, work-from-home. It may also forever change the relationship between corporate IT and HR IT in response to new ways of working, greater transparency of decision-making, and a desire to be more agile, as a recent article on CIO.com found (see “Sources,” below). 

At IHRIM, we thought it interesting to ask today’s HR technology practitioners how they view the partnership today with corporate IT – from building strategic plans to determining budgets and resolving conflicts – and how they expect that relationship to evolve. You might be a little surprised by what they had to say!

What Factors Influence the Relationship Between Corporate IT and HR IT?

Steve Secora, Senior Manager, Kronos Applications: From my perspective, two major factors influence the relationship between HRIT and corporate IT. The first is corporate structure; some organizations have HR IT nested within corporate IT, making for a tight relationship. Others have HR IT sitting directly within the human resources function which can make for a more adversarial relationship with HR believing that, because they are funding the HR IT function, they can do what they want. The second is people – as go the leaders, so goes the function. If the leaders have an adversarial relationship, the functions themselves will have adversarial relationships. However, if they can create a strong partnership, you will see much stronger capabilities to effectively deliver HR systems.

Dave Curtis, Director, HRIS, University of Maryland Medical System: In my experience, the relationship between HR IT (or, HRIS) and the corporate IT function is based on factors including organizational structure, the organizational culture, and business philosophy toward HR.

HR has undergone revolutionary change over the past 25 years, shifting from “paper-pushing personnel” departments to strategic management functions. In organizations with long histories of HR technology transformation, you’ll find former HR practitioners who were assigned to a new technology project, converted to HR IT, and subsequently professionalized the role.

Yet, there is little consistency in how HR IT aligns with the corporate structure. I have seen organizations move HR IT out of HR and into IT, only to build a new HR IT team several years later and place it underneath HR! In fact, the CHRO and the CIO may often be at odds about where HR IT roles should live.

To Steve’s point, ownership and authority are critical points of contention. There is often a concern, on the HR side, that giving over HR IT to corporate will reduce HR’s control of the systems, setup, and flexibility and will force HR to fall within the “rules” of all the other IT systems. Although HR is often viewed as being the “rule makers” they are also not fond of having to follow rules themselves!

Sean Junor, Director, Payroll Services, People Analytics and Systems, Canfor:

Corporate and HR IT were thrust into the company spotlight over the past two years during the global pandemic and this has accelerated and strengthened a necessary partnership. Why? Employees have little patience – rightfully so – for clunky and half-baked technology. They want business tools that simplify, automate, and support their work. This has resulted in greater use of mobile or multiplatform solutions, a push towards employee and managerial self-service, and a desire for consumer-grade user experiences at work. Additionally, the hybrid/remote work shift has allowed organizations to rethink policies towards office configurations and devices; with renewed pressure on work-life balance, HR and IT need to respond differently.

How Do You Set Your HR Technology Strategy? To What Extent Is It Aligned With Corporate IT plans?

Sean: It is hard to see how an HR technology strategy can be successful without awareness and support from IT. Companies that have enterprise conversations and include multiple stakeholders are bound to achieve better project results and sustained user adoption. HR software decisions are best made with not just HR and IT, but with Finance having visibility.

Steve: In my experience, HR technology strategy is derived from both the HR and corporate IT strategies. Once a strategy is in place, technology options are evaluated against their ability to achieve the strategic objectives (such as digital transformation, mobile, paperless, or statutory compliance). A software solution should never be included in the strategy – technology is a tool, not a strategy.

Dave: While historically the HR technology strategy has been HR-driven, as the use of applications have morphed from back office to employee- and applicant-facing, HR is more reliant on deeper technical expertise for deployments, resulting in IT having a more crucial role in the HR technology realm. I see this only increasing as HR technology evolves into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems involving finance, supply chain, and operations.

In Your Experience, How Much Control Does HR Have Over Its Technology Investment Decisions?

Dave: Spend is impacted by shifting philosophies for technology strategy. In my career, I’ve watched the “power and control” shift from HR to IT. For example, at the Medical System, we’ve significantly shifted to corporate IT strategic plans overshadowing those of HR specifically for HR technology. The corporate IT strategy is to migrate to cloud-based platforms using third-party hosting and technical resources, preferably with a single vendor approach for all corporate technology. If a vendor offers technology that serves the needs of the broader organization, we in HR are – to a reasonable extent – required to use that vendor. If HR wishes to use a unique vendor, we must produce a detailed business case and rationale to justify the reasoning.

Fundamentally, if HR technology is wrapped into an ERP system, it can result in a loss of HR-specific control in technology spending. If there are HR-only applications, the control remains with HR.

If Corporate IT and HR IT Pursue Different Philosophies (Such as Cloud vs. On-Premise Applications), How Are Those Differences Resolved?

Steve: There cannot be different approaches. There must be collaboration on what technology HR itself invests in and in what technology the rest of the business (including corporate IT) invests. Corporate IT is typically the gatekeepers of the enterprise architecture and should guide the different lines of business (including HR) toward technology solutions that both meet the business needs, while simultaneously fitting into the enterprise architecture. Anything that HR decides to do has to fit into that architecture. If it does not, the two sides need to go back and work through requirements and software evaluation to collaboratively find the technology solution that best works for the two groups.

Dave: HR professionals seem to be less trusting of technology (a part of being HR, I suppose) and IT typically would like to remain on the leading edge of technology. This is a clear reason for having HR IT professionals in HR, as philosophical differences should be addressed by HR IT, working with HR leaders to help them understand the shift in technology. The relationship between HR and IT absolutely relies on that liaison.

Is the Way in Which Corporate IT and HR IT Collaborate Changing in Your Organization?

Dave: Yes. Two years ago, HR adopted the same technology for all ERP. To support the ERP, corporate IT built a support team for all lines of business except HR (we already had a 16-person team dedicated to technology). While corporate IT would prefer that the HR IT team move under their structure, my team’s strengths – HR subject matter expertise, organizational history, and business knowledge – means that we offer much greater value to HR than we would as an IT-centric group. Since we do not work under IT, we must work closely to align our practices with theirs and exert influence on how their practices can benefit HR.

Steve: The most important corporate and HR technology collaboration centers on application security. With an increase in the frequency and potential severity of global threats against business applications, security needs to be airtight. Corporate IT is taking a stronger role in application security to ensure compliance with corporate governance.

What’s the Future: More Independent HR IT or More Integration With Corporate IT?

Sean: The future is a deeper partnership for HR and IT. Most applications rely on employee (people) and organizational data and the ability to provide a seamless user experience means sustained and simple access, limited middleware, or custom integrations. This is only possible when a panoramic view of data movement is considered and both parties are required for that conversation.

Steve: HRIT will be moved out of the HR department and into the corporate IT function. You rarely, if ever, see bespoke IT functions within the lines of business (finance, sales, procurement) because the organization has long understood the value of those functions and has funded IT for them. Executives now recognize the value of the HR function and are beginning to fund it appropriately, which means that HR IT doesn’t need any longer to be hidden inside HR.

Dave: The days of an independent HR technology group in HR are ending. The shift in technology delivery and support models will prompt organizations to better integrate HR and corporate IT. However, the role of HR technology professionals is changing, and we face questions of alignment (do we identify more with corporate IT or with HR?) and ownership (does people analytics, for example, belong in HR or IT?). The exciting, inevitable shift in the HR technology landscape is forcing HR IT leaders to address important questions about our future roles.

Finally, a Personal Question: What Gives You the Most Satisfaction About Working in HR?

Steve: It doesn’t matter to me whether I work in HR or in IT. What gives me satisfaction is delivering technology to the business that improves the employment experience – for everybody within the process chain, from administrator to end-user to data analyst.

Dave: For years, my “tag line” has been “effective efficiency through simplicity” – finding the simplest solution to complex problems that build effective and efficient processes. Similarly, my passion and pride for HR technology are making a difference through our work even if, with our best efforts, nobody knows about what it took to deliver that project! I love to hear – “well, that was easy!”

Sean: HR technology is a fascinating space. It is the intersection between transactional and strategic HR. Every project or initiative is underpinned by multiple stakeholder business processes and intimately tied to the employee experience. Leading and supporting change in the space allows you to learn your business, forge relationships and leave a lasting, positive impact on employees. A good day’s work when done correctly.

Mick Collins

Mick Collins is a Global Vice President at SAP SuccessFactors, leading Go-To-Market programs for the Business Technology Platform (BTP), Qualtrics, and People Analytics solutions. In this capacity, he oversees pre-sales strategy and execution, with specific responsibilities including go-to-market messaging, commercialization strategy, sales enablement, prospect & customer engagement, alliance management, and product thought leadership. With 12+ years of experience in analytics & planning, Mick has delivered hundreds of presentations and workshops to public- and private-sector organizations on how to build their capabilities for data-driven decision-making in HR. Mick has a master’s degree in political science from Virginia Tech and a BA (Hons) in Economics & Politics from the University of Leeds, England.

Steve Secora

Steven Secora, senior manager, Kronos Applications. He has worked in the HR technology industry for 25 years, growing from an HRIS analyst to HRIS director and holding all positions in between. His most recent position has been working for PepsiCo as the senior manager of Kronos DevSecOps, where he led a team supporting over 100,000 users on the UKG Kronos Workforce Central platform on the Kronos Private Cloud. Steve can be reached at ssecora@gmail.com.

Sean Junor

Sean Junor, director, payroll services, people analytics and systems, at Canadian Forest Products. Over the past 15 years, Sean’s responsibilities within human resources have evolved and expanded to include, human capital technology deployment, people services, payroll, strategic workforce planning, succession planning, talent acquisition and workforce analytics. In 2015, he was named to the Canadian Human Resources Directors’ Hot List because of his leadership around human resource transformation. Sean can be reached at sean.junor@canfor.com.

Dave Curtis

Dave Curtis, director, HRIS, at University of Maryland Medical System Human Resource Services. He has been an HR professional since 1999, starting his HR career as a front desk clerk at Sparrow Health System in Lansing, Michigan. Dave worked his way into an HRIS position at Sparrow and, in 2011, made a move to Baltimore, Maryland, to begin his adventures at the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). At UMMS, he has helped transform the HR service delivery and technology philosophy while advancing from senior HRIS analyst to the director of HRIS for the health system. He can be reached CurtisDave@outlook.com.

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