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Many companies are waking up to the outsized role technology plays in the employee experience and in productivity. IT services company BMC Software Inc. has developed a novel leadership role to address this reality.
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BMC's chief experience officer, Monika Fahlbusch, leads human resources, as well as information services and technology. Her oversight of this marriage of HR and IT means that one of Fahlbusch's direct charges is the company's CIO, Scott Crowder. But Fahlbusch and Crowder say their work relationship is less about hierarchy and more about partnering to recruit the best employees for the company, and then give them the same superior digital experience BMC customers enjoy.
"We're not a branded name, like Google or Salesforce," Fahlbusch said. "So Scott and I look at it as, 'How do we vie for great talent and how do retain it?' Well, we have to work for our employees. Everything needs to have the employees at the center, and we then hold the employees accountable and review how technology is driving their productivity."
In the past few years, Fahlbusch and Crowder have teamed up to consolidate BMC's 32 data centers and labs to four data centers, freeing up capital to invest in employee-friendly cloud services and applications. They also created an open workspace to spur collaboration.
Behind Fahlbusch and Crowder's renovations is a shared philosophy that BMC employees should have the same support BMC guarantees its customers, Crowder said. This approach works only when IT and HR are assimilated.
BMC might be ahead of the curve with its across-the-board integration of HR and IT, but more human resource leaders are starting to work closely with CIOs because they recognize the importance of understanding technology to find and manage talent and to streamline HR management responsibilities, such as payroll.
HR and IT: Strengthening collaboration
"HR relies ever more heavily on technology to get its work done," said Andrew Horne, IT practice leader at CEB/now Gartner. "As technology becomes more important to HR, many CHROs [chief human resources officers] are spending more of their own budgets to obtain the technology directly."
With HR taking the reins of its own technology, CIOs, in turn, have to change the way they interact with human resources, Horne said. CIOs should not only continue to provide IT services, but should also act as technology "evangelists, consultants, coaches and brokers." Such a relationship includes advising HR on how to negotiate with cloud vendors, he said, or coaching HR on how to use analytics.
Ridvan Hajrullahu, CTO at OceanTech, a company that specializes in IT asset disposal and data center decommissioning, believes he has the evangelist-coach-broker role down pat. He said he's a strong ally of HR out of necessity.
"Technology always changes and advances, but, at end of the day, it always comes down to the people behind the technology," Hajrullahu said. "You will always have the option to call in a third party to implement the technology you like, but it takes quality employees to see the big picture" of what technology can do for the company.
OceanTech is a small company, with fewer than 50 employees. Hajrullahu started in 2008, when there were only eight employees, and he's taken on several leadership roles as the company has grown. He has taken a hand in helping HR because he believes all company executives should have a stake in talent management. In job interviews, for example, Hajrullahu not only tries to ascertain the technological skills of prospective employees, but he also attempts to get a feel for how candidates will handle working at a small business.
"One thing that I really look for is personal drive," Hajrullahu said. "Does the person have the drive and the right work ethic to thrive in this environment? How passionate are they when they talk about previous projects that they've worked on? How passionate are they when they talk about something that they consider themselves experts on?"
In addition to assessing a prospective employee's technology skills and passion, Hajrullahu is also changing how OceanTech manages employees and scopes their responsibilities. His team recently implemented an ERP system that tracks employee productivity and monitors company-wide changes that might affect production, such as a new warehouse procedure. The system helps HR and department managers set realistic productivity expectations so they can incentivize and reward workers accordingly, he said.
Cristian Rennella is another advocate of strengthening bonds between HR and IT. A co-founder and CIO of ElMejorTrato.com -- an online service that compares car insurance, mortgage and travel prices -- Rennella recalled how, nine years ago, his IT and HR departments were in different company buildings.
Now under the same roof in the company's Argentina headquarters, HR and IT brainstorm weekly to evaluate new projects and improve processes so they can find top-notch programmers before the competition, Rennella said. One such initiative has HR staff overseeing programming exercises for job candidates. Because of IT's help, HR is capable of running this technical test, improving the efficiency of the hiring process.
IT also needs an ally in human resources
"IT is going through its own talent transformation," Gartner's Horne said. "IT employees' skills, competencies and behaviors need to change for IT to be effective in the digital era."
CIOs haven't had much luck in getting HR to recognize IT's challenges, particularly in finding scarce labor skills or defining new roles, such as IT product manager, Horne said. For IT to evolve and succeed, Horne said CIOs need help from HR to develop workforce strategies, define new positions, locate and recruit new sources of talent, and create development programs to help existing staff build new skills.
That's not the case for Bruce Codagnone, CIO for the city of Nashua, N.H. Codagnone said he relies on HR to find IT talent. Once he describes the skills he wants in a position, HR readily puts together a job description and posts the opening. He said HR employees have his back because he has theirs. With technology driving many facets of government, only a collective approach ensures HR and all other departments have the tools they need at a price the city budget allows.
"They ask how they can do things better," Codagnone said of HR, "and I'll also research how other communities function and suggest ideas. I belong to organizations with other CIOs and learn about technologies from them, too."
Networking and preparation are key to delivering the systems city departments need, he said.
"The one thing you can count on with technology is change," Codagnone said. "It's never perfect. These systems all need to talk to each other, so you have to make sure new technology fits."
The city's legacy infrastructure means there's plenty of fitting to do. When Codagnone arrived at Nashua City Hall five years ago, HR still accepted paper resumes, along with emailed electronic ones. Coordinating with HR, his staff implemented an online application system -- AppliTrack, now known as Frontline Recruitment -- that lets HR and department heads review applications at any time and leave notes on candidates.
Granted, it's the kind of system that private companies have had in place for years, but big technology purchases happen infrequently in the public sector. Codagnone said he worked side-by-side with HR to ensure AppliTrack meets city hall's needs for many years to come.
Changing the mindset of IT and HR
Many HR leaders focus on upholding company policies and, thus, by nature, aren't "innovative, disruptive thinkers," BMC's Fahlbusch said. But she said they need to get in tune with how technology shapes employees' personal habits and their work. By partnering with IT, HR executives will better understand which tools will improve processes and workflow and create an ideal employee experience.
IT, on the other hand, also has to evolve, Fahlbusch said.
"Employees are messy; and with IT, it's all about process and control," she said.
To recruit the best workforce, companies need IT to provide employees with technology that is as easy and intuitive as the technology they use in their personal lives, like mobile access.
"This sounds easy, but it's not always being done," Fahlbusch said.
Small companies also need HR and IT to work hand in glove, said OceanTech's Hajrullahu, if they want to advance in a tech-driven business world. For example, CIOs and CTOs can sit in on job interviews, as he does, and help HR employees who have limited technological knowledge spot ideal candidates they might otherwise have missed if they had followed their own hiring criteria.
"You can see how hard it is for HR to make the candidate answer technical questions, and it's hard for them to understand the candidate's knowledge," he said. "Sometimes, HR's questions are dry. And, if you're involved in technology, you try to answer in binary, and that's not relatable."
Gartner's Horne couldn't agree more with Hajrullahu's contention that people shape the success and failure of technology.
"Our research suggests that getting factors such as talent right means that a digital investment is 15 times more likely to be successful than if all the focus is on getting the technology right," Horne said. "At many companies, the first step is simply to raise awareness that, unless technology change is accompanied by talent change, investments in digital will fail."