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Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) Essay

Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS): An Unrealised Potential* David Grant** Work and Organisational Studies The Institute Building (H03) The University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia Email [email protected] Tel: +61 (0)2 9351 7871 Fax: +61 (0)2 9351 5283

Kristine Dery
Work and Organisational Studies The Institute Building (H03) The University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia Email [email protected] Tel: +61 (0)2 9036 6410

Richard Hall
Work and Organisational Studies The Institute Building (H03) The University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia Email [email protected] Tel: +61 (0)2 9351 5621

Nick Wailes
Work and Organisational Studies The Institute Building (H03) The University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia Email [email protected] Tel: +61 (0)2 9351 7870

Sharna Wiblen
Work and Organisational Studies The Institute Building (H03) The University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia Email [email protected] Tel: +61 (0)2 9036 7603

Abstract: Over the last decade there has been a considerable increase in the number of organisations gathering, storing and analysing information regarding their human resources through the use of Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) software or other types of software which include HRIS functionality (Ball, 2001; Barron, Chhabra, Hanscome, & Henson, 2004; Hussain, Wallace, & Cornelius, 2007; Ngai & Wat, 2006). The growing adoption of HRIS by organisations combined with the increasing sophistication of this software, presents the Human Resource function with the opportunity to enhance its contribution to organisation strategy. In this study we examine the ways in which HRIS might be used in order to achieve this. Our analysis
of four Australian case study organisations finds that the claimed potential of HRIS to contribute to business strategy is contingent on its overcoming one or more of three key challenges. * This research is funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (LPLP0882247) in collaboration with the Australian Senior Human Resources Roundtable (ASHRR). ** Corresponding Author.

Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS): An Unrealised Potential The last decade has seen a significant increase in the number of organisations gathering, storing and analysing human resources data using Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) (Ball, 2001; Barron et al., 2004; Hussain et al., 2007; Ngai et al., 2006). In this paper we show that the study of the impact of HRIS is of direct significance to the ongoing debate about the extent to which Human Resources (HR) can play a strategic role in the organisation (Becker, Huselid, & Ulrich, 2001; Hewitt Associates, 2007; Huselid, 1995; Lawler & Mohrman, 2003; Sheehan, Holland, & De Cieri, 2006). Specifically, we examine the argument that through its capacity to deliver accurate and timely metrics, HRIS has the potential to assist the HR function in developing business strategy and thus enhancing organisation performance (Barney & Wright, 1998; Broderick & Boudreau, 1992; Gueutal, 2003; Lawler, Levenson, & Boudreau, 2004; Lengnick-Hall & Moritz, 2003). Our initial findings from the first phase of interviews with four organisations based in Australia, suggest that the potential of HRIS to deliver the strategic competencies promised remains largely unrealised and that instead HRIS is used to increase administrative efficiency and/or obtain compliance support. Specifically, we find that the implementation and use of HRIS is being hindered by three main challenges: maintaining organisational attention, addressing the complexities associated with people management, and managing user acceptance of the change associated with the system. The paper comprises four main sections. In the first section we review the literature on HRIS paying particular attention to previous studies which recognise challenges associated with the selection and implementation of HRIS as well as the importance of social constructionism as a theoretical lens to analyse this topic. In the second section we discuss our case study methodology and profile our four case study organisations. In the third section we discuss
our results by identifying and discussing the three challenges which we identify as important to the study of HRIS and HR. The final section summarises the findings and provides recommendations for management.

Literature Review and Theory The current generation of HRIS automate and devolve routine administrative and compliance functions traditionally performed by corporate HR departments and can facilitate the outsourcing of HR (Barron et al., 2004). In doing so, HRIS not only make it possible for organisations to significantly reduce the costs associated with HR delivery, but also to reassess the need for retaining internal HR capabilities. However, HRIS also provide HR professionals with opportunities to enhance their contribution to the strategic direction of the firm. First, by automating and devolving many routine HR tasks to line management, HRIS provide HR professionals with the time needed to direct their attention towards more business critical and strategic level tasks, such as leadership development and talent management (Lawler et al., 2003). Second HRIS provides an opportunity for HR to play a more strategic role, through their ability to generate real time reports on HR issues, including workforce planning and skills profiles, which can be used to support strategic decision making (Hendrickson, 2003; Lawler et al., 2004; Lengnick-Hall et al., 2003). The existing literature on HRIS suggests that they have different impacts on HR across organisations, but provides little explanation for this variation. Early surveys suggested that HRIS were used predominantly to automate routine tasks and “to replace filing cabinets” (Martinsons, 1994). Ball (2001) reported similar results for small and medium sized enterprises in the UK and concluded that HR had missed the strategic opportunity provided by HRIS. More recent research shows greater use of HRIS in support of strategic decision making by HR (Hussain et al., 2007). However, the extent to which HRIS is used in a strategic fashion differs across organisations, with the vast majority of organisations continuing to use HRIS simply to replace manual processing and to reduce costs (Bee & Bee, 2002; Brown, 2002). Recent debates about technology and organisation have highlighted the importance of social context and sought to develop frameworks which acknowledge both the material and social character of technologies including HRIS (Dery, Hall, & Wailes, 2006). Accordingly,
theories which can be considered as ‘social constructivist’ can play an important role in the study of

technology as they explicitly recognise that technologies, such as HRIS, can not be evaluated and analysed without having an explicit understanding of the context of individuals and groups which consequently comprehend, interpret, use and engage with the technology (Grint & Woolgar, 1997; Orlikowski & Barley, 2001; Williams & Edge, 1996). Social constructionist views offer insights into the implementation and use of HRIS in a number of ways. In this study we draw on the social construction of technology and technologiesin-practice literature. The social construction of technology (SCOT) approach challenges the idea that technologies and technological artefacts have a pre-given and fixed meaning and in its place argues that the process, design and selection of technologies are open and can be subjected to contestation (Pinch & Bijker, 1984). Thus a technology is seen to be characterised by ‘interpretative flexibility’ and various ‘relevant social groups’ who articulate and promote particular interpretations of it. This meaning, over time tends to become accepted and the interpretation of the technology stabilised (Dery et al., 2006). In similar tradition to SCOT approaches, the technologies-in-practice approach endeavours to recognise the inability to separate the technology from surrounding social relations. Orlikowski (2000) conceives of technologies-in-practice as the structure that is enacted by users of a technology as they use the technology in recurrent ways. The important implications of this idea for the purposes of this research is the realisation that it is only when individuals use the HRIS that the associated social practices will frame and determine the value that they attribute to it. Hence the process of using a technology involves users interacting with ‘facilities’ (such as the properties of the technology artefact), ‘norms’ (such as the protocols of using the technology), and ‘interpretative schemes’ (such as the skills, knowledge and the assumptions about the technology as might be positioned by the user) (Dery et al., 2006). Both of these approaches are important and useful as they recognise that when considering relationships and experiences with technology, it is essential that social factors and previous experiences be considered. Therefore the opinions of respondents can only be understood in

context of individuals and groups comprehending, interpreting, using and engaging with the technologies (Dery et al., 2006). The study discussed in this paper was initiated after a preliminary survey of the use of HRIS in 138 Australian Listed companies (Grant, Dery, Hall, & Wailes, 2007). The survey found that although 50% (n=69) of the participant organisations were found to have an HRIS, the extent to which they were being used in a strategic manner varied and for the most part the claimed potential of the information systems was not being realised. For example, while 91% of organisations with an HRIS used the systems in order to process and record leave, only 34% used them in relation to staff planning. In order to gain further insights into these results, the present study explores the impact of HRIS on the HR function in detail over a three year period at four large Australian organisations using a multiple case study approach (Yin, 2003). Specifically, the project examines whether HRIS enhances the strategic contribution of HR by exploring the ways in which HR professionals might make more effective use of these systems. The project is informed by four research questions: 1. Is there evidence to suggest that HR is using opportunities provided by the HRIS to enhance its contribution to firm strategic direction? 2. Do HRIS’s which are a module of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have different impacts on the HR function than standalone HRIS’s? 3. How do different organisational characteristics affect the ability of HR to use the opportunities provided by HRIS to act as strategic partners? 4. What strategies can HR professionals adopt to ensure that the use of HRIS in their organisations supports the strategic contribution of HR? Methodology and Background The four case study organisations each volunteered to participate in this study which is funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant. Each organisation is a member of the Australian Senior Human Resources Round-table (ASHRR) the main industry partner in the project. Each of the case studies has either a standalone HRIS (e.g. CHRIS) or an enterprise

resource planning (ERP) system module of HRIS (e.g. SAP) in place and all are in the process of either replacing or upgrading their existing system.
Each company views the HRIS replacement or upgrade as a commitment to further extending the strategic contribution of the system. This provides us with a unique opportunity to gather rich empirical data related to our key research questions. The nature of the research questions required that the plans and activities of each case study be studied through the gathering of an array of data (table 1). This enabled the researchers to develop greater levels of understanding about the management of HRIS in each organisation and across organisations (Yin, 2003). Table 1: Data gathering across the case studies Case Study TechOrg # Interviews 4 Additional Data Organisational information available in the public domain, press articles Annual reports, Previous organisational presentations. OHS staff brochures and posters, Annual reports and promotional material Press clippings, web sites, office observations Observation of System in Use No observation of the system due to interviewee time constraints





Observation of HRIS in use within HR area; observation of OHS system in use Observation of HRIS in use with differing users. No observation of the system in use due to the sensitivity of data



Over a 16 month period initiated early 2008, interview data was combined with other empirical evidence gathered through access to secondary sources and during site visits. The interview data comprised semi-structured interviews conducted with executives across a range of roles in the organisations
including: HR, IT, and Operations. Each interview was between one to two hours, and was conducted by two investigators, recorded and transcribed. Interviewees were selected on the basis of their involvement in the decision to implement or upgrade the HRIS at their organisation, or their high levels of use of the HRIS. In addition, and where possible, the researchers observed the HRIS at each organisation in use, so as to understand how the system was searched, reports were run, and the availability of data.

The Case Studies Each of the four case studies discussed in this paper have been allocated an assumed name. Details concerning size of the organization, its current HRIS system and whether this was being renewed or upgraded and the reasons for the renewal or upgrade are summarized in table 2. TechOrg is a private organisation involved in the Information, Communications and Technology industry. Over the last three years, TechOrg has undertaken to upgrade its SAP HRIS module as part of its overall ERP upgrade and system development. BuildOrg is a large construction company which is also privately owned. Their workforce comprises both permanent and contracted employees. The

organisation was previously operating a HRIS that was considered as outdated and sought to upgrade their existing system to primarily manage past and current employees. ManuOrg manufactures building products and metals and has a food processing division. The current HRIS was implemented 21 years ago with an increasingly modified CHRIS system that is currently in the process of being replaced with SAP. Lastly, GovtOrg is a public organisation responsible for security management. The organisation first implemented a proprietary HRIS in 1998 and had undertaken an upgrade in 2000 before initiating the current move to SAP in 2008. Table 2: Summary of Case Studies Case # Current system employees TechOrg 350 SAP


Up to 1400 (varies)

Tailored Preceda 9.1 by CHRIS, Mercury for payroll. CHRIS



Upgrading / replacing Replace with lighter version of SAP with more local functionality Upgrade to CHRIS Preceda 11 Mercury to remain SAP

Reason(s) for change Change in ownership of organisation and requirement to severe links with previous owner and associated legacy systems. Increased requirement to meet compliance standards and to minimize risk of litigation.



Proprietary system


HR director retiring with knowledge of the proprietary system. Need for a system consistent with the rest of the IT platform. Desire for IT rather than HR to manage HRIS. Moving to SAP so as to integrate with the organisation’s SAP ERP system and other govt. departments

Results The initial research findings support the results of studies by those such as Towers Perrin (2008) and Bussler and Davis (2001). Despite all four case studies stating that the implementation or upgrade of their HRIS has been undertaken with the aim of utilising functions that are of a strategic nature thereby enhancing the strategic contribution of the HR function (Beatty, 2001; LengnickHall et al., 2003; Ulrich, 1997; Walker, 2001), the data suggests that progress towards making these changes is being hindered by a range of technological, managerial and organisational challenges. While some of these challenges could be attributed to the management of new technologies in general, our findings demonstrate that
several are in fact specific to HR and reflect the complex nature of the management of people, the role of HR in the organisation, the allocation of resources to the HRIS, and technological issues related to the management of HR practice. It was never the intention of the project to select organisations that were undergoing major organisational change, rather we sought to gain access to organisations that were endeavouring to implement or upgrade their HRIS. The associated organisational changes which are discussed in this paper added to the complexity of the stories and experiences that these organisations have been able to share. The data across all the cases indicated the following three challenges for the organisations and each of these is discussed in the following section using cross-case analysis (Yin, 2003; Youndt, Snell, Dean, & Lepak, 1996). The challenges were: • An inconsistency in the importance attributed to HRIS resulting in difficulties in sustaining management commitment to the project and in obtaining the resources necessary to fully develop the new or upgraded HRIS. • A tendency to underestimate the complexity of the HRIS and its impact on the behaviour and processes of the organisation. • The barriers to user acceptance of the HRIS and the consequent underestimation of the importance of change management.

Inconsistent Salience Attributed to the Organisation’s HRIS Project The case study organisations have variously experienced significant changes in structure, size, ownership and government (summarised table 3). This has resulted in a shift of senior management attention away from development of the HRIS to more immediately pressing organisational issues. One consequence of this is the allocation of insufficient resources to the HRIS and, in some cases, the increased delegation of responsibilities to vendors and consultants. Table 3: Changes in Case Studies Case Study Organisational Change Process TechOrg Acquired by local company and required to adopt more localised processes BuildOrg Large growth in infrastructure projects

Implication for the Business Reassessment and realignment of business processes Requirement to manage large contracted workforce. Significant increase in compliance requirements Need to align systems across range of standalone businesses

Implication for the HRIS Enforced selection of more localised platform which aims to address more direct organisational needs Upgrade required for existing Preceda system



Knowledge Management and establishment of sustainability practices Change of government resulting in increased demands and complexity of role. Desire for efficiencies in work practices.

Migration to SAP and restructuring of the management of the HRIS away from HR and under IT Increased requirements Move to SAP platform to for reporting and comply with other standardised IT government departments

TechOrg, a company based in the ICT sector, is a company that has constantly faced issues in maintaining the momentum and commitment of expanding their existing SAP system. Such challenges regarding salience have continued for the past three years as financial and engineering management systems upgrades have engulfed continual attempts to progress and complete the desired upgrade. The project, run and owned by the Human Resource department, is internally recognised as having low organisational priority: However the core will always be financial management systems and the things that allow our engineers and our program managers to run the calls, take the customer complaints, send them to the technician. We will certainly come a distant third to that… So if we come third

then we will do something, but we don’t know whether we’re coming third yet do we? (Director of People and Culture, TechOrg). The desire for the HRIS upgrade was later impeded in 2008 because the organisation was acquired by a domestic company and consequently all existing business processes needed to be changed to ensure separation from the previous owners. As a result “…the project (now) has been stopped pretty much …” (Director of People and
Culture, TechOrg). The experiences of this organisation demonstrates that despite the best of intentions of HR, such projects as this, which are deemed as HR centric, can lose momentum as a result of factors beyond its control. BuildOrg started to investigate HRIS more than 10 years ago. The introduction of a new senior manager with existing ERP and HRIS knowledge combined with the perceived need to replace an outdated system instigated the desire to upgrade their original Mercury system, based on Lotus Notes. During these initial stages, several HRIS were considered, however, the project was abandoned when the costs associated with any new HRIS were deemed prohibitive. The project and operational requirements of the organisation were re-examined in 2005 and the organisation again considered implementing a new payroll system, but IT did not find any of the systems that they viewed appropriate for the organisational needs. The lack of executive support also played a significant role during this time. “So we sort of parked it at that stage. Because the other thing was, I think in an organisational sense with a new CEO, that wasn’t really a priority for us.” (General Manager HR, Safety and Corporate Relations). Finally in 2007 the latest attempt gained traction with senior management and the approval was given for an upgrade. Nevertheless the current progress on this project for BuildOrg has been met with caution. Because there’s been an awful lot of water under the bridge to get to this point. We’ve had – this is the third go at actually having a crack at getting Preceda as the HR system and getting the organisational structure in. Now there was one completely failed attempt. One almost got there but then failed and now this is the (final) go at it. (Applications Services Manager, IT).

ManuOrg introduced its first HRIS in the 1970’s. Since then the organisation has undertaken a number of upgrades driven largely by organisational change which has required an expansion of the existing systems. Progressive changes and add-ons to the legacy system, has created for ManuOrg a HRIS that is complex and inconsistent. Although the HRIS has been accorded salience and sufficient resources over the past 30 years, the HR manager acknowledged that the rationale for change and selection of the replacement HRIS has tended to emphasise financial, rather than strategic human resource issues. The retirement of the HR Director, who has been central to developing the
current HRIS, together with the need to standardise IT systems across all the operating companies has resulted in a call for migration to SAP and the re-positioning of HRIS management under the IT department. GovtOrg has been using PeopleSoft as the vendor for their HRIS since 1998, with an upgrade which introduced web based self service in 2000. With the aims of establishing a ‘single source of truth’, creating uniformity, gaining efficiencies and enabling data transfer and integration with other government organisations, GovtOrg has decided to replace PeopleSoft with SAP. Despite resounding confidence in the HRIS project, GovtOrg still believes that the project can be delayed by other organisational activities which are deemed more essential to the business and its performance. Probably the only issue is that will be a timing issue, as we – and we’re still debating with our plan – get a live date for SAPs views in October. So although it looks, at this point in time, like it may be delayed. If it gets delayed, it’ll actually push back into about March next year, because we’ve got some other peak periods in respect to processing and so forth. (National Manager of Infrastructure). The experiences of the four case study organisations suggests that their HRIS projects tend to face a number of challenges in the allocation of resources and the securing of ongoing support from senior management. Often finance, marketing and other operational functions are being given greater priority. In sum, based on the empirical research to date, it could be argued that all of the organisations, and specifically the HR function within them, have faced challenges regarding their ability to maintain momentum towards the selection and implementation of an upgraded HRIS.

The Complexity of HRIS Underestimated The complexity of HRIS and its associated functionality appears to have been underestimated at the four case studies (Hannon, Jelf, & Brandes, 1996) and can be attributed to both technological and managerial factors. The challenge for HR management is how to manage the tension between the need to adapt practice to meet the needs of the HRIS versus customizing the technology to fit existing practices and the unpredictability involved in the management of people. Associated with this challenge is the decision of where to locate the management of the HRIS i.e. within Information Technology or as an HR technology group within HR.
Our case organisations have varied responses to this dilemma, but all suggest that management of the system has significant implications for knowledge transfer between IT and HR and thus the ability to realise value from the HRIS . Previous studies have reiterated the claims made by HRIS vendors that there are two compelling benefits arising from the implementation or upgrading of HRIS (Hendrickson, 2003; Kavanagh, Gueutal, & Tannenbaum, 1990; Kovach & Cathcart, 1999). One is an increase in efficiencies through reduced costs and increased data accuracy, and the other is the improvements in the speed at which information can be produced. Such improvements in business processes have not yet been fully realised in our case study organisations as the implementation and functionality of the HRIS has proven to be more complex than anticipated. ManuOrg has maintained a number of legacy add-ons and proprietary upgrades to their CHRIS system. The current project is attempting to simplify and standardise systems into a standard IT platform that can be more easily supported but is finding it difficult to align the needs associated with its range of operating companies within one HRIS. The organisation realises that with its selection of a new and alternative HRIS vendor (SAP), there will be considerable compatibility issues with data migration. Accordingly, the transactional and menial activities for HR will increase prior to implementation, as existing data and codes are modified, and therefore the time required for data migration is expected to be significant. The complexity associated with the new system has compelled the organisation to implement it in a ‘big bang’ manner. “There are too

many interdependent processes and that we really have to make the entire change of payroll for Australia and New Zealand at the one time” (Manager HR and Payroll Services). The complexity of the new system will also affect the value that the organisation can extract from the HRIS in the short term. Although the organisation has the explicit desire to establish a single source of truth via its new HRIS, it is recognised that such goals and aspirations will take second place, at least in the short-term, to the more urgent need to address issues surrounding change management and acceptance. The project based nature of the work that BuildOrg undertakes adds complications to the selection, use and implementation of any ‘vanilla’
HRIS. As the organisational structure is based more on projects and individuals rather than positions (typical of most organisations), particular reporting functionalities associated with HRIS may be deemed less germane or even superfluous for the organisation. In addition, similar to ManuOrg, this organisation is faced with the difficulty of trying to establish one central system which can be considered as a single source of truth from legacy systems which currently do not interface well. This has resulted in significant challenges around the compatibility and integration of data. BuildOrg has also experienced challenges with some of the functionality within the new system, particularly in relation to online leave applications. The issue of leave has proven to be problematic throughout the upgrade process, to the extent that the organisation has decided not to utilize this function initially, “which is probably why we’ve decided to not go forward with the (leave submissions) online; that’s a little bit in the too hard basket at the moment as to how it’s going to work” (Corporate HR Advisor). Furthermore, a number of other functionalities of the HRIS have needed to be adjusted in order to meet the organisational requirements before the system goes live: “You need a lot of tweaking at that point and we won’t be spot-on when we get it there; it’ll be close. That tweaking will take a while; it’ll take months and months” (Payroll Manager). This is a process that has consumed unexpected additional time and resources.

Similar levels of complexity are associated with the implementation of a new system at TechOrg. This complexity can however be attributed to the changes in ownership that the organisation has experienced over the past 2 years. The new system and its implementation has experienced additional technical difficulties which have largely been driven by established business processes that could manage differences in European and Australian legislation. Being a publicly owned organisation presents its own range of issues for GovtOrg regarding the use and implementation of a HRIS. Comprising a highly structured workforce, GovtOrg faces challenges with the management of rosters, schedules and allowances. In contrast to ManuOrg and TechOrg, GovtOrg needs an HRIS capable of processing, administering and managing a variety of employee rosters and allowances. More specifically,
for this particular organisation, the activities of workforce planning, the management of staff hours, associated policy issues and ensuring that its operations are conducted in accordance with the relevant collective agreements, results in additional complexity and has led to demands for additional functionality from the HRIS. Furthermore, the National Manager of Infrastructure recognised that existing contractual arrangements with their HRIS vendor has exposed the organisation to possible “…potential risks that may lead to delays.” Such potential risks and possible delays are believed to stem from concerns that the vendor may be unable to address the added demands for additional functionality that GovtOrg has put forward under present contractual arrangements. These contractual concerns along with workforce planning issues, have added to the complexity of the selection, implementation and use of GovtOrg’s HRIS. Barriers to Acceptance of New or Upgraded HRIS and the Importance of Change Management The third challenge which has hindered the ability of our case study organisations to realise the potential of their HRIS arises from barriers associated with the acceptance of the new or upgraded HRIS among key end-users of the system and the importance attached to managing the change processes associated with its implementation and introduction. Further, obtaining organisational ‘buy-in’ regarding the strategic contribution of the HRIS has, in some cases, been hindered by

scepticism, a lack of understanding, insufficient management commitment, and fears that existing modes of work will be changed and result in, for example, job loss or altered leave entitlements and shift arrangements (Kavanagh et al., 1990; Kinnie & Arthurs, 1996; Tansley & Watson, 2000). The lack of organisation and management buy-in has also been a significant challenge for ManuOrg. Despite the HRIS project acquiring renewed salience and again being placed on the organisation’s strategic agenda, the Manager of HR and Payroll Services recognised that the system and its importance for the organisation was yet to be acknowledged and wholly accepted: “I’m not sure that it’s got the necessary buy-in from the business leaders that we’re going to need to have.” This problem was reinforced later in the same interview: “…from talking with the business heads, concept-wise, no one is saying this is a load of rubbish, but I don’t think they’ve quite got their
heads into the space and are saying, ‘Yes, we’re 100% behind that…” To try and counter this lack of buy-in, the HR department is working on an ongoing basis to promote the HRIS promise. ManuOrg, acknowledges that the upgrade of the existing system, that has been in place for 21 years will generate significant change for the way that information is managed. As the Manager of HR and Payroll Services observed: The biggest issue I believe is going to be the change management… Most [ManuOrg] employees are going to notice that and more than notice. They’re going to see a significant change in the way that they supply information, get information, gain approvals. It’s a big challenge for us at the moment to try and get people in the business into this online environment. Some people really love it, other people really hate it. There’s like that sort of – and there’s nothing really in between at the moment – lack of understanding of the change needed but also an explicit concern for the need to manage change. Discussions about this challenge and concerns about the required change management process have been extensive and the wider acceptance of the system and its changes are seen to differ between those that are associated with the project, versus existing employees who are comfortable with the organisations current policy and procedures, or alternatively fearful of technology. For me it works well, but I’m very adaptable to change. So being able to move to a system where we can have everything in the one place I think is going to be a much better thing for us. (HR Manager of Corporate and Shared Services).

The challenges for GovtOrg in managing change are centred on the need to re-focus expectations. With the explicit desire to establish a single source of truth, the organisation has commissioned the HRIS project The ability for the organisation to achieve this relies on the ability to manage expectations: But we’ve also got to manage the expectation that this is not the silver bullet to everything. This is simply a system. A system, in and of itself, doesn’t actually resolve issues or processes or anything else. (National Director of People and Place) This same manager further believed this process and challenge would greatly impact the overall acceptance of the system and thus was focussed on the implementation process. “If this process experiences issues and additional complications, or just ‘goes wrong’ [then] you can almost smell the end of SAP or its user acceptance
within customers.” Without an effective implementation process the ability of the organisation to gain potential strategic potential from their HRIS would be significantly compromised. Barriers to acceptance, ownership and maintenance have plagued BuildOrg’s past, current and planned HRIS. The resources allocated to the maintenance of the HRIS system have waned throughout the life of the existing system and overall ownership of the system has largely been transferred back and forth from IT, HR and Payroll: “We’ve had a lot of problems actually trying to get people to take ownership of the systems and maintain them” which has resulted in the existing system and the information that it generates being inaccurate and outdated. Past experiences of systems with limited use, combined with an appreciation of the needs of the current workforce has ensured that the organisation has delayed the implementation of the new updated system in an attempt to ensure that all problems and barriers have been addressed before the system goes live. According to the Corporate Human Resources Manager, training and education is essential and needs to be timely: It’s about educating and marketing, I think at the induction piece, the new joiners they get some sort of training on how to use it and then when we roll out self service and I was talking to [Manager X] about this the other day and said anything we do it has to have a

really good marketing push so that people take notice and then quickly follow it up with the training. This organisation and its current project manager also realises that the training needs to be hands on in order to generate an acceptance and use of the system and avoid the work-arounds that have compromised the effectiveness of the system in the past. Acceptance of the HRIS has also presented problems for TechOrg however user resistance has not been as significant as evidenced in the other cases. Employees largely work in distributed teams located in client organisations for the duration of their projects. They are working in a hightech environment and thus are comfortable with a more virtual relationship with the organisation and use the HRIS to manage their information and for most of their HR requirements. Despite the HR department struggling to ensure that the new HRIS project retains salience in the organisation, the lack of organisational buy-in tends to surround specific functions rather than the system as a whole. The
Director of People and Performance spoke of limited success with functionality associated with time sheeting and the need to incorporate additional flexibility to meet the increasingly complex customer requirements which have implications for their employees in different work sites. Change is a constant in this organisation so together with the technical requirements of the job, this seems to create a more accepting environment for new systems. However, despite this environment, recent changes around pay cycles generated significant resistance that was unanticipated by management signalling that changes to the HRIS that directly impact employees such as pay may require significant more attention to change management than TechCo has traditionally been used to. Discussion and Conclusions Initial findings from our four case studies suggest that although new or upgraded HRIS systems are being used to automate and devolve routine administrative and compliance functions traditionally performed by the HR function, the potential for this technology to be used in ways that contribute to the strategic direction of the organisation is not being realised. More specifically, our results suggest that the opportunity to enhance HR’s role as strategic partner as a result of the use of HRIS is being

hindered by three main challenges. The first challenge relates to the ability to maintain the levels of senior management commitment and resources needed to implement and manage new or upgraded HRIS. The second concerns managing the complexity of the HRIS and its associated functionality. The third challenge stems from barriers associated with the acceptance of HRIS among key managers and employees along with the importance attached to managing the change processes associated with the implementation and introduction of the new or upgraded systems. These challenges demonstrate that the material, functional characteristics of technologies such as HRIS are complex and make them difficult to introduce and operate. At the same time, and in line with a social constructionist approach to the study of technology each of the challenges illustrates that how and when a technology is used is also determined by the agency of its users and the social context within which it is adopted (Orlikowski et al., 2001). In sum, only through an appreciation of both the material and the social can a more informed
understanding of the problems that surround HRIS implementation and operation be obtained. In this respect, our findings are in contrast to the more technological deterministic view of earlier studies of HRIS that suggest that it is simply the technology itself which has implications for the changing role of HR. It can be seen then that the social context of HRIS plays an important role in shaping user perceptions and behaviour (Orlikowski, 2000). From a technologies-in-practice perspective (Dery et al, 2006) user interactions with the ‘facilities’, ‘norms’, and ‘interpretative schemes’ associated with HRIS are affected not only by its technological complexity, but also by problems concerning the management of, and commitment to, its implementation. These socio-contextual factors are compounded by the fact that each case study organisation has experienced significant change, for example in ownership and structure. Underlying the three challenges is the issue of how various social groups, or key actors involved in the implementation and use of HRIS bring to bear their own interests and thus interpretations of the system and what it does. As a result of this process, the design, selection and use of HRIS are shown in this study to be subject to contestation as a range of meanings are

attached to the technology that either undermine or highlight its perceived value and significance and which impact on the extent to which it is to be used in a strategic or more administrative fashion. Significantly, the study suggests that interpretations which run counter to HRIS being used in ways that realise its strategic potential are currently winning the day. Overcoming these interpretations of HRIS and replacing them with one that leads to its being used to inform business strategy requires organisations to identify and systematically address the three challenges we have identified. Until this takes place, the potential of HRIS to enhance the strategic role of the HR function is likely to remain unrealised.

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