By The best CIOs know that IT is not just a technical discipline; it is the infrastructure upon which workers collaborate, operate and produce.
From outsourcing and offshoring to employee mobility and social networking platforms, IT is at the heart of the modern employee experience within the office.
And so it should come as no surprise that the traditional lines between IT and HR are rapidly blurring. For its part, HR is not just a people business.
HR Directors (HRDs) have increasingly been making use of technology to motivate, engage and manage employees across the organisation.
And for years, IT leaders have used e-Learning modules and employee development plans to enhance technology adoption and utilisation.
Differing trajectories, mutual end-points
But whereas the overall aim for the HRD is to grow, nurture and manage an organisation’s talent base to enable the best possible business performance, CIOs are often focused on sourcing the right mix of technology to enable business success.
Despite their different starting points, both HR and IT place a great deal of importance on communication and integration to achieve the mutual and enterprise-wide goal of enabling high performance.
When it comes to servicing the rest of the business, IT is often regarded as being more mature in its approach to delivering diverse services and managing expectations.
Business-partnering in IT has stood the test of time, and many IT functions now collaborate easily with counterparts to link the function with the business to create very structured, well-understood and established operating models.
But for HR (especially where the focus of delivery has traditionally been more externally focused on matters such as recruitment or industrial relations), business-partnering is a newer concept. In many organisations, HR is still working to establish clear service level agreements across the business.
For each to be successful, both HR and IT must set out how they are to serve each other to the mutual benefit of the company.
This is often challenged by a tendency towards siloed agendas that can quickly become a barrier to success.
For example, while the HRD may be searching for exactly the right technology to meet a particular need (for example the latest e-learning and development tools), the CIO is more often focussed on interoperability and cost containment considerations.
Failing to link with each other effectively can lead to inefficiencies, such as HR producing workforce reports manually and not applying available, time-efficient technology, or IT creating unfriendly, overly complex systems for employee use.
So while HR tends to look to software as a service that can suit their unique challenges and goals, IT often prefers a somewhat less bespoke approach.
Developing effective partnerships
The enhancement of workforce performance through technology is an issue that is rapidly moving up the board agenda.
But, the successful integration of strategies across HR and IT isn’t easy, and will largely depend on developing effective partnerships between the HRD and CIO through the formation of a mutually beneficial strategic alliance.
As in most relationships, building a strong level of understanding and compromise between CIOs and their counterparts in HR is key.
They must both recognise the other’s strategic imperatives and align their approaches where possible: the CIO must understand the HRD’s need to deliver the people agenda.
HRDs must be realistic about the technological priorities of the business, as set by the CIO.
The modern triumvirate
However, in order to truly maximise business performance through these two functions, both will need to engage with the CFO in this process.
This triangular model can enable performance transformation through people and technology, genuinely improving numbers and key metrics, to match stakeholder ambition.
Clearly, HR and IT are dramatically different functions, each with particular needs, goals and objectives.
CIOs will find that renewed levels of collaboration with HR both inside and outside of the boardroom enhance their ability to interoperate throughout the organisation and meet the needs of business users.
Mark Williamson, Head of People and Change, KPMG Advisory