The Human Element

The Human Element

It is no accident that when venture capitalists consider backing a start-up, they look very closely at the quality of the people involved. They have learned that even the best techno-logy won't reach its potential without the right people behind it. They know that hiring the best people is absolutely vital.

Likewise, CIOs need to pay close attention to the people in their organisations.

But do they?

If you look at the top IS challenges, as tracked by IDC Australia, it appears that people issues came in last this year at number 10, under the heading "staff motivation and morale". I'm not suggesting that maintaining and developing people should be the number one priority, but surely it should be in the top five?"People are our greatest asset" is one of the most popular modern assertions, right up there with "Your cheque is in the mail" and "You'll pay less tax with a GST". But unlike the others, it is quite true, and the shortage of skilled IT people will soon force CIOs to take this declaration seriously. When they do, they should consider enlisting the help of their organisation's human resources (HR) department.

Traditionally, HR has been responsible for such essential but boring functions as payroll, remuneration, grading and levels, awards and regulations. It has been an unexciting and little-regarded department. But as companies fight to retain experienced IT staff, strive to identify their most productive performers, and ensure they have the requisite IT skills at the time they need them, the HR department could well become a very useful ally.

HR professionals are well organised, keenly motivated, and increasingly knowledgeable about IT. If you had the chance to visit the highly successful HR Information Management and Systems Conference that was held late last month in Sydney by the Australian Human Resources Institute, you would have no doubt of this.

Institute president Vivienne Read said in an interview in ComputerWorld (August 15) that HR executives are now being asked to gauge and track the intangible assets and so-called "intellectual capital" of organisations. In many cases, this consists of the skills and knowledge of their workers.

I believe that a good HR department can be an invaluable ally of IT. Encourage them to understand your goals and challenges, and exactly how IT underpins the business. Get more involved with them in hiring staff. Help them realise which IT technologies or skills command high market premiums, and why. Given the shortage of skilled IT people in certain key technologies it's essential to stay current with the going levels of compensation in the industry. HR can help you track these, on a quarterly basis if need be, so that you are not taken by surprise by your best people walking out the door over a few thousand dollars.

HR can also help CIOs prepare a road map of the skills that they will need over, say, the next four or five years. With HR's help, you may even be inspired to develop something like Microsoft's SPUD (Skills Planning and Development) system, which categorises and details the IT competencies of employees.

And there are many collateral benefits to maintaining a dialogue with HR. It is, for instance, an excellent place to plug into to learn useful information about what is going on elsewhere within the organisation.

I believe HR can also help you design a good program for hiring and developing IT trainees, the next generation of IT professionals. The lack of any systematic approach to taking on trainees is a national disgrace. (I am surprised that the Goldsworthy Report did not devote more space to this.) We absolutely need to encourage organisations to take on new graduates and invest the time and money needed to turn them into mature IT professionals.

As we move into the next century, the management of an organisation's "intellectual capital" will be crucial. There's no better place to start than with the people reporting to you.

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