Who should control HR Service Delivery Tools? HR, or IT?

In my first job in the early 1980’s, I served as a Professional Association’s point of contact to their State and Local Chapter Presidents within the U.S.  This was before email, so all written correspondence was on paper, delivered by the Postal Service.

I wrote dozens of letters each month.  But I didn’t type them myself, because the company had a Word Processing Department ("WP" for short).  I wrote the letter by hand on lined paper, attached a cover sheet with instructions, and sent my request to WP.

Before there was a computer on every desk

The WP employees had two distinct skills. They were very accurate high-speed typists.  But most important, they knew how to operate the document management software, running on the company’s mainframe computer.  Like a lot of mainframe software, it wasn’t user-friendly, and using it required special skills.

When WP completed my letter, they’d send me a fresh copy on company letterhead through interoffice mail.  I’d often think of a minor change to improve the letter after receiving the “finished” copy.  I’d mark up the copy and attach a new coversheet. Then I'd send it back down to WP where the changes would be made.

By today's standards, this was a very convoluted process.  It would have been so much easier if I could make the changes myself.  But business took longer, because we had to rely on WP.

The standard turnaround time on a letter was 2 to 3 days.  And there were a lot of revisions that should have been made that weren’t, because of the time and process involved.

One small step for technology, and one big step for productivity

That all changed once every employee had a Personal Computer on their desk.  If you wanted to send a letter to a colleague or customer, you’d open Microsoft Word, create the letter and print it.

The total turnaround time when you could do it yourself?  10 to 15 minutes, depending on how far away the printer was from your cubicle.  And changes were easy to make.  Thus, the quality and quantity of communication improved.

When business stakeholders have greater control over the technology that drives their business, the quantity and quality of the results generated by those systems improve.  But when the business owners must rely on vendors or IT to make changes, the improvements are fewer in number.  And they take longer.  And therefore, the systems may deliver less value.

Why Business Stakeholders should be able to “Own their Own Systems.”

Advances in technology that make systems easier to configure allow business stakeholders to “own their own systems” and be less reliant on IT.  Why shouldn’t the stakeholders who best understand the business need be able to configure their systems to address that need?   Wouldn’t this be better for the business?

Is HR too dependent on IT?
Unfortunately, many, or most HR departments rely on the person-in-the-middle with technical skills to make changes to their HR Service Delivery systems.  For example, if HR identifies an opportunity to automate a unique Leave process for a particular country, they have to submit their request to IT, because the necessary configurations require technical skills (e.g. writing software code or script).

The downside to having to rely on IT for these types of changes is that HR is unable to control the use of the tools they need to get work done.  Changes take longer to put in place (just like they did when you’d have to have the Word Processing Department type your letters).  And some changes that you would make if you could do it yourself, never get put into place because of the extra time and resources required by “outsourcing” it to IT.

A better situation for HR, IT and the Business in general

When HR can more fully control its own systems – relying less on IT to implement process changes – improvements can be made in less time.  Which means faster ROI.  When we have the tools to quickly and easily do things ourselves, without being dependent on the person-in-the-middle, we’re more likely to make more improvements.

HR benefits by having more control over their tools, and their business capabilities.

IT benefits, because, well, they usually have enough work to do anyway.

The company benefits, because HR – and their systems – can respond faster to business requirements.