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The CIO, CFO and CHRO - Partnering for Business Success

By David Swanson, Global Lead SAP Runs SAP HR, SAP


David Swanson, Global Lead SAP Runs SAP HR, SAP

Today’s companies are looking to address two of the biggest factors impeding success in their organizations, complexity and employee engagement. Everywhere we turn there are rules, processes, and check points that choke information flow and keep decisions from being quick and impactful. This unintended complexity is a hidden drain on organizational productivity and a direct drag to the financial bottom line.

“By working together and engaging with the people who actually will use the systems early in the project can lead to more desirable, feasible and viable solutions”

Couple this with the fact substantiated by many studies, that as many as 75 percent of our employees are not engaged, and we have a serious threat to the sustainability of the enterprise.

IT, Finance and HR are often the main contributors to complexity in the organization. We say we want to empower our leaders to make quick decisions but in reality easy access to information to support smart business decisions is in short supply. Under the umbrella of compliance and protection we create processes that have multiple levels of approvals and cumbersome work flows, many times only available off line, inaccessible to an increasing mobile workforce.

“In addition the reality is that many heads of IT, Finance and HR are being asked to do more with less. Budgets are shrinking but the expectations of these organizations are growing. This conundrum leads to more and more services being pushed to employees and managers in an ever increasing self-service transition without building user friendly experiences. Not surprisingly this trend leads to decreasing engagement scores for employees in these groups who are forced to use antiquated processes or slow systems.

In my experience, organizations where IT, Finance and HR work in collaboration are the ones who are at the forefront of innovation, customer first thinking, and overall financial success. Unfortunately that is not always the case.

Early in my HR career I was working for a large hardware component manufacturer and we were looking to update our HCM system, I think we called it the HRIS system at the time. Most of us in HR wanted the top HCM product at the time. The company had just purchased the entire suite of a large ERP company and we were faced with a decision. Go with what the company had chosen or go with a different solution which at the time was a much better HR product.

I vividly remember the CFO and CIO telling us “You are welcome to use whatever system you want, but if you don’t choose the system the rest of the company has selected (HR by the way was not involved in the selection) and you choose an alternate system, you will pay for it yourself.” Given we had no real budget for capital expenditures you can only imagine the system we installed. The result was a sub-standard solution that was in many ways not much better that what was in place prior. I later found that in talking with colleagues outside our organization, this was often the case. IT or the executive team would select an ERP system and that was what HR was left with. No collaboration really existed.

Fast forward too early to mid-2000’s as cloud was just coming in play, HR often saw this as their chance to install the system they wanted. They would only include IT at the last minute saying “oh by the way we just bought a subscription to this cloud solution can you figure out how to connect it to the rest of our IT solutions?”

Neither of these scenarios ever led to successful implementations in my experience.

Today the landscape is very different. The most successful implementations I see are where IT, Finance and HR work closely together on system requirements and make informed and intelligent decisions around tradeoffs and compromises using the view of the end user as the guide, not the leaders of these functions.

What do I mean by the view of the end user? Traditional systems implementations would involve steering committees, groups of experts and outside consultants who would consult and advise on the most efficient implementation strategy. The people who would actually end up using the system were rarely consulted other than to be shown how the new system works.

The result was implementations that took much longer to complete and were over budget. These solutions tended to recreate inefficient processes, just did so in a slightly faster way. The people who actually used the systems, finance specialists, call center agents, benefits processors, or HR business partners found the new systems cumbersome, less efficient, and in the end much less desirable.

What have successful organizations done differently during implementation that resulted in a more successful outcome? Using the concepts of Design Thinking, a process developed on the Stanford University campus at what has become known as the “d school”, successful implementations are focused on the end user, the people who will actually use the system daily.

Design Thinking uses three concepts of viable (is there a business reality?), feasible (it is technologically sustainable?) and desirability (do people want to use it do they promote it?). Using small group discussion with end user teams, design thinking results in milestones and implementation plans that are much more likely to succeed. These teams are multi-disciplinary in nature with people from IT, finance and HR but also with employees, managers and customers who might use the system.

Often these teams come up with solutions that executive and consultants would never have come up with on their own.

The result is a plan that addresses true business needs and is designed to improve and simplify the user experience. Implementation is often faster and at a lower overall cost than traditional projects.

Without the close collaboration of the leaders in each of the functions there is an imbalance and ultimately the need to rework or work around solutions that could have been solved if the three functions worked together up front.

I have the opportunity to talk to a number of customers and prospects regarding successful implementations and do so frequently with our CIO and CFO as the three of us together can address the value of a collaborative effort. We have seen firsthand how working together and by engaging with the people who actually will use the systems early in the project can lead to more desirable, feasible and viable solutions. In addition they can reduce complexity and increase employee engagement.

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