Commentary: HR departments have lost their strategic focus — and it’s time to get it back. Through the years, HR has implemented various technologies with the hopes of solving some of HR’s biggest challenges such as improving how employees access and receive benefits and streamlining administrative processes. However, the implementation of this strategy is flawed: It results in multiple vendors providing best-of-breed solutions that are not integrated with each other, which gives rise to numerous budgeting, deployment and management costs and challenges.

This multi-vendor approach (and resulting pain points) has diverted HR executives’ time and resources toward process and technology, relegating them from a strategic to an administrative position. In fact, HR spends 75% of its time on recordkeeping, auditing, and developing and managing HR services and programs — with the small remainder of time devoted to strategic business partnership activities.

In many cases, IT has created more problems than it has solved. But lessons learned and innovation can finally realize the goals of streamlining processes, reducing costs, and increasing employee engagement. Additionally, technology can finally drive HR efficiency, freeing HR teams to become more strategic and help meet business goals — if approached properly.

Also see: Benefits managers challenged by increasingly automated future

As the first part of a two-part story on how to tackle the issue of managing multiple IT vendors while increasing the value of HR, here are two of five recommendations on how to accomplish these goals.

1. Stop, think and listen. Conduct research, talk to experts and learn what you don’t know. Break down silos and reach out to finance, sales, and engineering. Determine each business unit’s metrics and then establish the values that you can implement to achieve their goals. Speak with HR consultants who can update you on the newest trends, regulations and innovations that can help you with your goals. Lastly, conduct employee surveys to gain an understanding of their concerns and motivations. And keep an open mind — it may be time to implode existing systems and build from the ground up.

2. Evaluate relationships — internally and externally. A well-run business consists of solid communications across the organization. As an extension of your team, external vendors should also be communicating with you and supporting the business goals. Specifically, HR should evaluate the following relationships:

CFO

What are your CFO’s goals and does he/she understand how HR can help achieve them? A merger of financial and HR minds is a rare occurrence that should in fact occur much more frequently than it does. For example, a major grocery chain’s CFO may have a business goal of increasing deli sales. How can HR help? Happy and healthy employees are productive and engaged employees so HR can reduce worker claims, employee fatigue and days off, and ensure the best deli team is manning the counter engaging customers.

Vendors

How responsive and helpful are your vendors? Which ones are truly engaging employees? HR needs to dictate needs to vendors, not vice versa. The days of vendors quoting $80K to transfer a file are over. Some companies are creating vendor summits, asking their various service providers (engagement platforms, benefits providers, health coaches, biometrics companies, etc.) to provide results and integrate their data into one hub. The results are critical in determining which vendor should be crowned as the hub, with engagement being the deciding factor. How useful is an app if no one is actually using it? Also, demand your vendors   implement open application programming interfaces for easier and more affordable integration, and be sure to build that request into contracts with new vendors.

IT

The gap between HR and IT has a long and inglorious history, which is why HR teams have typically tried to take on the tech role. But in the vein of building relationships and breaking down silos, HR should communicate with IT, not asking for help but alerting the team to changes you and your vendors are making. Try to grease the IT wheels, because you will need them in the end, if only for last-minute security implementations, HIPAA-certifications and more. Just be sure to give them plenty of time when requesting their help and communicate that you are requiring as little of their time as possible.

Stay tuned for the next three recommendations on making HR (and technology) strategic again.

Josh Stevens is CEO of Keas, an employee health and wellness company.

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