How HR connects with IT
At the beginning of this school year, school IT, HR and other administrators in Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska threw on the switch for a new enterprise resource planning platform.
The implementation came after more than two years of intense prep, building and production, yet there were still glitches when the system went live, including payroll discrepancies for some of the district’s nearly 7,800 employees, says Eric Weber, associate superintendent for human resources.
“I’d characterize our implementation as fantastic—it went way better than we anticipated—but there have still been little things on the backside that needed to be tweaked,” says Weber. “As long as you have the right people communicating and at the table, hopefully you make the right decisions.”
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Part of the project’s success was that from the start of Lincoln’s ERP implementation, the district’s leaders of the human resources, business affairs and IT departments all have been involved to help avoid pitfalls.
“When you see ERPs go wrong, a lot of times it’s a result of communication breakdowns and errors,” says Weber. “We wanted to have this triad, this three-legged stool of leadership, and also people who are actually doing the work, to help eliminate those errors that can happen when only one part of the organization is responsible for an ERP.”
That proactive approach—which other school districts have found as well— continues to benefit all parties involved.
Every department in every district is going through some sort of digital transformation, says Lenny Schad, District Administration’s chief information and innovation officer, and former CIO of Houston ISD. Consequently, establishing interdepartmental relationships continues to be a critical challenge.
“Digital transformations are forcing groups to work together much sooner and much deeper than they have before,” says Schad.
The IT needs of HR department are changing dramatically, not just with enterprise technology but also in areas such as in recruitment and interviewing. “The infusion of technology is becoming really important into those processes, so having a good relationship between HR and IT leadership facilitates that,” says Schad.
In Lincoln Public Schools’s ERP implementation, communication between the HR, business and IT departments was a point of emphasis. In addition to sharing digital information via Google Drive, weekly standup meetings allowed the project team to report updates, discuss issues and brainstorm solutions.
“We also worked together to brand and market the ERP system so that everyone had a skin in the game in terms of ownership,” says Weber.
The success of the ERP implementation has strengthened the working relationship of the departments. The district CIO now regularly participates in the HR leadership meetings.
“We don’t consider purchasing or doing of a demo of any additional systems without having the CIO and IT at the table,” says Weber. “Having them on board from the start means we don’t have to scramble on the backside to try and make software work. It saves time and money for everyone.”
Maryville City School District in Tennessee is a small district (5,200 students) with a very lean central office staff. Hiring takes place at individual schools, and the HR and IT personnel have an informal working relationship, says Rick Wilson, director of human resources and support services.
“‘Relaxed professional’ is the term we like to use here,” says Wilson.
For example, the district recently switched to a new ERP system to handle HR needs. IT was fully involved with the integration and implementation, and although there were no regularly set meetings, the two departments got together as needed, with any issues posted to a shared drive and addressed by the appropriate staff members.
Since the implementation, however, IT representatives have a presence at monthly leadership meetings to offer ongoing guidance and help vet new software and platforms.
“We’re always looking to improve our internal efficiency, and IT is a big player in that in how they can help us do that,” says Wilson. For example, when HR changed over to electronic records, IT was critical in researching software and proposing a product that would work with existing systems—avoiding costly issues down the line. Other IT solutions have lightened the workload and reduced the need for adding extra staff.
“By working efficiently, we can take the money that would go to extra employees and put it back into the schools to benefit the kids, and that’s what we’re here for,” says Wilson.
Taking the first step
In HR, the hiring process has changed dramatically over the past few years. The infusion of technology has become integral to those processes, so having a good relationship between HR and IT leadership is critical, says Schad.
For example, leaders need to consider how social media is being leveraged to promote job openings, or if videoconferencing is being used for interviews. Consider which web pages are being used for recruiting, says Schad. “The whole cultural operational switch has technology at the forefront.”
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An active working partnership with HR can also benefit IT in terms of having someone who is keeping abreast of the skills, responsibilities and certifications that are expected of new hires, especially given the dynamic nature of IT. And, of course, having HR involved from the start with any sort of personnel issues or incidents is critical to a positive resolution, says Schad.
Ultimately, rather than wait for these relationships to evolve, CIOs should be proactive, says Schad.
“If I don’t have the relationship, I would go sit down with the HR leader and say, ‘As an IT department, we’re a service group, and in order for me to provide what your department needs, I need to understand your goals, objectives and areas where you’re struggling,’” says Schad.
“And it really starts from that perspective: ‘I’m here to help, and the way that I can do that is to learn, and attend some of your meetings, so that we can work together and make sure we’re aligned in whatever we’re doing together.’ That’s the single most important thing a CIO can do.”
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