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I was wondering how can I get into CIO’s mind and find out what CIO thinks about HR department. I called some of my CIO friends over dinner and asked them what they think about HR department. Since it was an informal discussion, I did not get the usual response of “HR has become a strategic function and key to the success of the organization.”
General perception in CIO circles is HR is a provider of resources, that also it is not able to do properly i.e. getting right resources at the right time that too at the right cost. Discussion became more interesting when I asked what HR does well. It started with a light statement that HR (at times) does a good job in firing people.

I had done some research before arranging the dinner to find out priorities of CIOs for 2012 and found that HR is nowhere seen in the top 5 priorities of CIOs. I brought up the point in the meeting and almost everyone agreed that their current priorities are to bring agility, align with business, reduce cost, to harness big data and harness new mobility devices with an objective of improving return on investment on Information Technology.

Interestingly, one common theme between HR and IT is that calculating Return on Investment is not easy and perception plays a big role. People happen to be the customers of both the departments. Both the departments work behind the scenes most of the times and any glitches in their functioning is more likely to be highlighted.

I was not surprised by the comments of CIO friends about HR as they were reviewing HR as a service provider not as their customer. It took me some time to mold the discussion to a point where each one of them started thinking how they can enable HR and how that may impact Return on Investment of organization, IT and HR.

Core of HR is to improve Return on Human Resources investment. The investment is not just hiring. It also includes investment in development and engagement of people. Human Resources are bit different to deal with. Each one has distinct set of qualities, capabilities, needs and nuisances. Human resources unlike other resources have a multiplier effect which has a wide range from minus 3 to plus 3. One resource can deliver equivalent of 3 resources and has capability of bringing down productivity of 2 full time equivalents.

Technology is not only enabler for Human Resources Department for transactions or analytics. Technology has become an enabler for various interventions which Human Resources department carries out to develop and engage people. Collaboration and communication are critical pieces of the puzzle which require technology backbone as well as progressive thinking.

There is no doubt that work is the only motivator. No employee comes with a purpose of chatting on social media networks. Chatting was initially considered bad word but slowly corporates adapted and started using chatting solutions for official meetings. Collaboration tools became popular, however most of the collaboration tools have not been able to match the standards set by free chat tools available in the market. Where ever competitive tools are available license costs make it unattractive. Most important aspect is that collaboration tools have to be part of the organization’s way of life. If organization fails to set expectation with people and people are not inducted properly, it is very difficult for CIO to justify return on investment on such tools.

Organizations have been conservative and restrictive to promote social media tools and platforms within the organization. People still accept such restrictions considering productivity issues, customer satisfaction, impact on quality, distractions etc. What people do not accept is the user interfaces of the internal systems if they are not at par with user interfaces available outside the office environment.

Consider one person using an excellent interface of social media network which is available on mobile phone whereas finds a dull and boring screens of internal applications like intranet and employee self-service for day to day usage, that too are not available on mobile. The pride of working on a computer, carrying laptop or checking mails on your phone are no more privileges which organizations provide to employees. All the productivity enhancement tools like laptops and email enabled mobile phones have become much cheaper. Even Social media networks are available on basic mobile handsets.

External environment has become more dynamic and progressing very fast. It has become extremely important for CIOs and HR Department to improve quality of internal IT environment by upgrading user interfaces and improve internal technology infrastructure for communication.

However the work of CIO and Human Resources will not stop at just improving interfaces. Availability of information and speed of change of environment changes the behavior and sets new expectations. Booking a railway ticket or submitting income tax form or getting a passport done has become transparent to a large extent. People compare the organizations with the government, which is considered to be a laggard in most of such areas. Interfaces for booking air tickets and comparison web sites have impacted businesses of travel organizations big time.

Change in external environment is guided by organized investment. There are organizations that are competing with each other and treating common man as a customer. Challenge is not to match but to catch up to what is being provided to the common man and what more the common man is going to get tomorrow. Web has come out of computer, it has spread itself to mobile phones, with satellite and IP television, and it is further going to strengthen its reach and will raise expectations of society.

You must be thinking, why HR department has to participate in the process. If it is about changing interfaces, technology people are smart enough to fulfill the requirement. The essence is in changing the mindset and looking at various processes in a fundamentally different manner. Hence involvement of CIO as well as HR is very important.

Let me elaborate, if you bring HR and CIO together and ask them their plans about development of people. They will talk about online performance management system and e-Learning solutions. Frankly speaking, the kind of e-Learning solutions which exist as of now do not resonate well with the current demographics. It is not only technology; it is structure and mindset as well. In most of the organizations, learning has always been centralized and run by individuals in training department, knowing the fact that 70% learning is on the job learning. There are two very prominent tools for knowledge management, which have been existing for more than 5 years and continuously improving. Google and You tube.

Comprehensive view is that 80% of the organizations failed to create Google magic due to lack of rigor and absence of knowledge management culture. You tube never took off as an e-Learning platform or knowledge management hub due to lack of infrastructure within the organization, conservative mindset and centralized controlled method of learning. Some organizations gave up and said that we will use google and you tube rather than creating our own knowledge management frameworks. Most of these failures are not technology failures, these are change management failures.

Change Management is one area where HR and CIO come together and collaborate very well as CIOs fully understand that success of their technology investments is very much dependent on adoption of those investments by the internal users.

As HR function matures, most of the counseling jobs including performance management will be passed on to managers. Developments and enhancements in employee self-service and manager self-service will further reduce the administrative workload of HR. Cheaper options are not available yet but companies competing for platform space will force ERP vendors to improve interfaces and solutions. Activities like recruitment, training, coaching, and compensation are already available as outsourcing options. Surveys are available for free on many social media sites.

Coming to the core of HR Department, competency and skill sets of people have been secrets of HR under multiple security layers. Some social media sites have emerged with competency models and skill set updates which are updated by people and better quality of data is available on such social media websites. I did hear about a social media site attempting psychometric analysis of people and helping them as well as organizations who want to have a peek into it. This is a combination of user friendly technology and progressive mind set. Also it has a perfect business sense. Based on the trend, I expect that more and more core jobs of HR will get automated with the systematic investment in social media.

HR is likely to become a single person department with Chief People Officer (CPO) deciding the strategic direction and finalizing enabling contracts. This is very similar to what happened with CIO in the last decade. by Harjeet Khanduja publishes HR relevant topics in layman language and redefines conventional concepts in current context without making HR too technical or complicated.


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