Michael Traskey remembers the dark ages of HR automation. Of course, that was just two years ago. Back then, every time the director of organizational development at McCormick & Company, Inc. wanted to fill a management position internally, he had to wait for days as faxes and voice-mail messages sloshed back and forth to HR offices in California, Canada and the UK. Personnel managers in the field pored over files and employees' qualifications before forwarding lists to Traskey, who then waded through them to find the right candidate. In the end, it was a highly inexact science. "We couldn't always locate the best candidate as quickly as we would have liked," Traskey recalls. "It was slow and frustrating."
No more. Today, managers at the 104-year-old, $1.5 billion (sales) spice company can tap into a central data base of everyone in the 7,700-employee organization, including their education, training, language skills and preferences. "We wanted to automate the internal resume process and have a system do the searches for us," Traskey explains. "If we needed a person with manufacturing experience, an MBA and a willingness to relocate to Morocco, we didn't want to have to spend weeks trying to find him." McCormick's sophisticated new computer system can spit out a list of qualified candidates in minutes rather than days. Perhaps more importantly, it's now possible for managers virtually anywhere in McCormick's far-flung empire to do the search. That relieves the company's central HR staff of the burden of doing every search while also giving managers away from the corporate center greater control over their operation's destiny.
Traskey isn't the only HR executive diving headfirst into the information revolution. All across America, companies large and small are finding new and innovative ways to use computers to collect, store, process, analyze and share information. That allows HR departments to tear down many of the barriers between themselves and the rest of the company--a key step in becoming equal partners in corporate affairs.
The new breed of system often uses desktop personal computers (PCs) linked together into so-called client/server networks to process information in far more efficient ways. At the core, or hub, of each network is a computer dedicated to two tasks: controlling the traffic on the network and storing data in a sophisticated relational data base. This central computer, called the server, may be anything from a mainframe to a powerful PC. Meanwhile, desktop computers, called the clients, are used by individuals to accomplish tasks ranging from data entry to sophisticated analysis.
This technology is breaking down organizational barriers, getting work off HR managers' desks, and allowing those closer to the action to handle tasks and make decisions. The result? HR no longer is perceived as an entity that merely loads paperwork and bureaucracy onto the backs of other departments. It's now viewed as a business partner that adds value and solves problems. "It is transforming human resources from a transaction-oriented entity into a department that can provide valuable insights into the workings and capabilities of the organization," says William E. Berry, chairman of the Consulting Team, Inc. of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Indeed, the current generation of hardware and software is empowering workers in new ways. Sitting at a desk, an HR professional can do sophisticated spreadsheet modeling or succession planning--with a vast corporate data base at his or her fingertips. Software can automate record keeping by allowing employees to update appropriate portions of their own files at terminals or kiosks, yet it also protects overtone's privacy and corporate confidentiality. New programs can track hiring, firing and promotion patterns and provide details about how managers deal with women and minorities; offer sophisticated modeling for downsizing or reengineering efforts; even handle changes in business rules and government requirements, so that an HR department can change employment criteria without reprogramming or aid from information services (IS). …