ORC Sightlines

December 2002

Strategic and Operational Challenges to Building Global HR Information Systems

Technical advances and web-based systems have made global HR information management a possibility in large multinational companies, but as HRIT systems expand their reach, some thorny strategic and tactical issues arise. Global systems must be designed in alignment with corporate goals but, at the same time, accommodate the unique local HR needs driven by legal, cultural, and linguistic differences. Global development and governance issues further complicate implementation efforts, as do restrictions in some regions, especially the European Union, on the transmission of data across national boundaries.

These matters were a subject of intense discussion at the September joint meeting of ORC’s Innovative Technology in HR (ITHR) and HR Information Technology (HRIT) networks at which company representatives shared their experiences and lessons learned. Participants explored issues of data privacy, language enablement, offshore development, and global service delivery. Robin Lissak of PwC spoke on global systems development, building on the research and work reflected in his book, A Thousand Tribes.

The challenge of implementing manager and employee self-service through HRIT systems also sparked vigorous discussion. This strategy can generate real cost savings and true process improvement, but many managers are reluctant to take on what they see as the HR function’s job, and many employees are still not comfortable with or able to access HR systems. Those companies that have been most successful in overcoming these obstacles have taken an OD approach, treating self-service as an organizational change issue that requires preparing managers and transferring ownership to them upfront.

Members at the meeting confirmed that use of outsourcing as a cost-effective alternative is growing in both the HR and IT functions. There have been mixed results, and some companies have decided to take back outsourced applications when costs turned out to be higher than expected, but the net number of companies outsourcing continues to rise.

These and other strategic and operational HRIT issues will be discussed further at upcoming meetings of the two networks.

EH&S Moves from Programmatic to Strategic Approach

Global trends toward corporate accountability will increasingly affect the way companies do business, and nowhere will the impact be greater than in environmental, health and safety (EH&S) management. At a recent meeting, ORC’s EH&S Business Issues Forum discussed the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a collaboration of industry, government, and NGO representatives that has established guidelines for corporate reporting on economic, social, and environmental performance. There are still relatively few corporations that have made the commitment to conform to the criteria developed through the GRI or similar initiatives. Those that are undertaking structured transparency initiatives view them as a way of turning the pressure for public disclosure into a competitive advantage because, by reporting the data voluntarily, they can demonstrate their commitment to good corporate citizenship.

Discussions like these are vivid demonstrations of the new, strategic role being played by EH&S leaders in progressive companies. Another area of interest to ORC’s Business Issues Forum members is improving the total health and productivity of employees, including non-occupational as well as occupational injuries and illnesses. Strategies are aimed both at reducing the impact of work on health and managing the effects health can have on work. Human Resources, EH&S, and Medical functions play key roles in development and implementation of total health and productivity strategies.

For more information, please contact Frank White, frank.white@orcww.com, 202-293-2980.

Overcoming Barriers to Advancement of Women and Minorities

An issue that continues to challenge leading employers is how to fulfill the promise of equal access to senior level jobs for women and minorities. At the 40th anniversary Workforce Opportunity Network meeting held a few weeks ago, two frequently used strategies for achieving this goal—mentoring and work/life programs—came under close examination.

Key factors for successful mentoring programs include

To date, metrics for mentoring programs focus on perceptions of the participants. As the programs mature, some members suggested, it may be useful for companies to track the progress of proteges compared with that of other managers in the organization.

The efficacy of work/life programs as a tool for advancing gender equity in the workplace has been stymied by the perception that these benefits are for women only and the fear that taking advantage of them will derail one’s career. Diversity professionals cite as root causes the societal division of family responsibilities and the male-dominated culture in most corporations. Some have come to believe that real gender equity and work/life balance can come only through legislative and regulatory action. A number of major companies have joined a nonpartisan employer consortium to advocate for such changes in public policy.

Related Links
Sightlines Archive