3 min read

Calling Out The Human Side Of IT

More companies are adding human-resource experts to their I.T. departments to understand the particular needs and wants of I.T. professionals
When spice maker McCormick & Co. began deploying SAP's enterprise-resource-planning system about five years ago, the strategic importance of the company's IT organization became obvious. "With SAP literally drawn into the way the company works, IT became less of a bolt-on organization and more of a how-business-gets-done unit," says Fred Demers, human-resources director for IT.

As enterprise systems become the platforms on which companies function, McCormick and others recognize the importance of managing IT professionals' careers carefully. One approach many companies are adopting is to add HR specialists to their IT groups. Meta Group, an IT advisory firm, says more than a quarter of its clients have HR professionals assigned to IT because IT jobs are too complex for an HR generalist to handle.

Most HR generalists don't know the IT jargon, says Maria Schafer, a Meta Group senior program director. And IT professionals are a different breed than other employees: They get paid more and work longer hours. An HR-IT specialist understands that. "IT is unique, and technology and knowledge requirements change faster than other business functions," says Chris Tipton, director of HR management in General Motors Corp.'s global IT organization.

At chipmaker Agere Systems Inc., HR manager Doug Fornwalt works for the VP of HR, but his office is next door to CIO Chuck Sperazza's. Fornwalt attends Sperazza's senior staff meetings. His intimate knowledge of the IT organization proved critical when Agere needed to assign IT and non-IT personnel to an 18-month, $20 million project to upgrade the company's Oracle 11i system. "If I had to work with someone who didn't understand IT issues and procedures, I'd spend half my time getting people to understand what's going on," Sperazza says. "With Doug living and breathing IT, I didn't have that concern."

Having an HR professional with comprehensive knowledge of IT can save money as well. A year ago, McCormick employed about 45 IT contractors. "We were still paying inflated '90's rates," Demers says. Demers assessed whether the company would need the work the contractors performed in two years. He identified 18 positions that would still be needed and offered those contractors full-time positions, saving McCormick hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Besides aligning the business-technology staff better with company goals, HR specialists working directly in IT groups develop programs to help tech professionals manage their careers. At hotelier Marriott Corp., George Hall, senior VP of information resources for HR, oversees a career-management system known as IR Career Journey. The system helps IT employees pursue either management or technical paths. An intranet-based guide that details skills required for advancement and how to get the training to develop those skills is available.

UPMC's HR manager bridges the IT and HR gap, CIO Dan Drawbaugh says. Photo by Jim Judkis

UPMC's HR manager bridges the IT and HR gap, CIO Drawbaugh says.

Photo by Jim Judkis
"We're in a highly competitive marketplace," Hall says. "As the industry changes, Marriott relies on technology, and we must make sure our associates can change as well." Marriott IT employees like what Hall does; 80% of the IT pros surveyed annually say they're satisfied with their careers.

With HR officers embedded in IT groups, CIOs find they have someone to champion their goals. Rhonda Larimore, manager of HR in the IS division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, serves as a bridge between IT, HR, and the entire enterprise. "Having Rhonda report to the senior VP of HR and to the CIO encourages a collaboration between the two areas that would be difficult to match in most health-care organizations," says CIO Dan Drawbaugh. "It doesn't really matter who she reports to."