Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: “Managers aspire to be strategic, but they are required to fulfil their duties as a functional expert.”
If you think this applies to the role of the CIO, held back by the purely technical needs of the operation that impede the opportunities for strategic management, you’d be right. But you might be surprised to learn that this judgement was not written for IT management, but for human resources (HR).
In a recent research paper titled HR on the Line, author Dr Paul Gollan, associate professor of the Department of Marketing and Management at Macquarie University, says that line managers within both large and small organisations see the HR function as good at meeting operational goals, but 60 per cent believe that HR limits their ability to meet business goals.
Historically the relationship between CIOs and HR has never been close
“Some organisations still perceive the HR function to be lower in the management hierarchy, and due to lack of clear financial outcomes, it is often not taken seriously.”
Read more about IT leaders in CIO Australia’s Careers category.
Substitute IT for HR, and “routine technology operations” for “paper shuffling”, and you probably have a scenario that sounds horribly familiar.
Marketing, operations and even finance are seen in many organisations as those departments that are at the cutting edge of organisational strategy and forward vision — the rest are there to keep the wheels turning.
But if HR and IT share a similar reputation, how well do they get on with each other? Do they work in partnership, and can they help each other step up through the ‘management hierarchy’?
Most organisations at least espouse the mantra of ‘people are our greatest asset’. And in an environment where there might be a skills shortage, especially in IT, you would think these two departments would work very much hand-in-hand to ensure they keep the best they have (and the intellectual property they hold) and attract the best that might be available.
Many large IT departments have their own HR function, with staff holding an HR background rather than IT. Others, however, have to rely on the skills and understanding of a department distinct from their own operations, with priorities that may be as much about developing a strategic role for themselves as it is doing the same for other departments.
Joe Perricone, IT manager for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, says he is “in contact with our HR management team ‘virtually’ daily for all matters, such as breaches of conduct, management decisions and impact to team performance, and most importantly maintaining the integrity of human resources and IS systems”. He adds that “the HR team ensures any changes and business needs are in consultation with IT.
“It simply makes our job easier when support is needed.”
A positive relationship, then.
But, according to Robert Yue, vice-president of recruitment management software supplier SuccessFactors Australia, “Historically the relationship between CIOs and HR has never been close. Both departments had different objectives and were responsible for running different areas of the business.”
Harking back to Gollan’s assessment, Yue says “HR for many organisations was not typically a strategic player at the boardroom of the business. It has often been known as the department responsible for the back office of the company such as handling administrative tasks such as payroll and healthcare benefits.”
He adds, however, that thanks to advancements in technology, HR is becoming empowered to play a pivotal role in business execution, allowing it to see the “death of the three-ring binder”.
Sign up to receive CIO newletters via email.
Perricone agrees, and takes it further: “HR’s reliance on IT is of upmost importance and highest priority. For example, pays need to be on-time, every time and correctly.” Whether dishing out the brown envelopes can be seen as strategic, it is certainly an important part of business execution. Unpaid employees are, by tradition, not a happy lot, so anything IT can do to ensure this process runs smoothly is bound to be appreciated by all. Then again, if IT fails to deliver, everybody in the company knows who’s to blame.
Peter Acheson, CEO of recruitment firm PeopleBank Australia, says this awareness goes right to the top. “CEOs say: I have a real interest in the CIO because IT is the one thing I can get fired over.”
One need only look at recent events concerning IT issues which have led to some senior executives losing their positions to see how importantly management regard IT — as a department that keeps the wheels turning.
There’s a pressing need from the top levels, therefore, for HR to understand the needs of IT, and help it achieve the best performance possible.
But does it understand what those needs are?
Read Part 2: [[artnid:397697|Planning for the future.
Follow CIO Australia on Twitter: @CIO_Australia
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.