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HR in the cloud turned coders into analysts at National Instruments

When National Instruments migrated its HR on-premises systems to the cloud, there was some fear about how it might impact the technical staff. The change was a positive one.

Four years ago, National Instruments moved from an on-premises system and began managing HR in the cloud. Enough time has passed to know how this worked out for the HRIS employees. In short, here's the outcome: Running HR in the cloud didn't result in a reduction of HRIS staff.

After the move to Oracle HCM Cloud, HR information system jobs changed, but these new roles grew in importance, with the analyst and technical staff gaining a larger role in the HR organization.

For sure, running HR in the cloud meant that the need for coders to work on the on-premises HR systems was ending. There was some fear and unknowns among staff about the change, said Wendy Cottrell, director of global HRIS at National Instruments (NI), a maker of automated test equipment and other engineering systems based in Austin, Texas.

The HRIS organization at NI employs business analysts and programmer analysts. For business analysts, running the on-premises systems meant "the majority of their time was spent keeping the lights on," Cottrell said. The on-premises systems kept the programmer analysts working as coders.

But since this move to automate HR in the cloud, the programmer analysts no longer need to code. Instead, they have a hybrid role, which includes business analyst and handling custom integration and technical work associated with the cloud, Cottrell said. This has led to a major shift in the HRIS operation. This group, which is part of the HR department and partners with IT, now plays an important role. It was previously seen as a back-office operation.

HRIS work became strategic

A shift to HR in the cloud "empowers your people to be more consultants, analysts, partners and to be more part of the strategy than ever before," Cottrell said.

"You are truly acting as a consultant," she said. "I don't think IT in the past was a consulting organization to help drive business strategy."

This lack of change in staffing levels at NI may not be unusual, at least for large corporations with more than $1 billion in revenue, according to The Hackett Group, a management consulting firm. NI reported $1.29 billion in revenue last year.

Your HR technology team has to have a seat at the table because nobody's going to understand what you can do to help [employees] more than you.
Wendy CottrellDirector of global HRIS, National Instruments

Hackett, in a recent survey of more than 160 large firms, said firms are expecting a 1% decline in HR staff this year. There was an actual decline of 0.1% last year.

The relatively flat growth in HR organizations may be connected to improved automation, according to Hackett.

"I think a lot of organizations are taking advantage across the board … in transaction processing, reporting and predictive analytics, to drive better, more efficient delivery of services," said Harry Osle, global HR practice leader at The Hackett Group.

In smaller organizations, however, the number of HR staff may be on the rise. According to data from the Society for Human Resource Management, the average number of HR professionals per 100 employees is 2.6. In 2007, that figure was 1.63. The average organization size surveyed by the association is 804 full-time employees.

Recruiting platform with CRM-type features

Among the things that NI is working on is moving to Oracle's new recruiting platform.

Recruiting is changing. "You can't go recruit seniors anymore. You need to start recruiting sophomores, even maybe freshmen," Cottrell said. The new systems will have CRM-type tools, much like sales departments now have, to help with recruiting and keeping in touch with prospects.

Whatever changes happen in HR, the HRIS organization will play a strategic role in making it happen. The department is now doing more analytics, which is raising the visibility of the HR organization.

People outside of HR are paying more attention now to data such as employee engagement, "because they're viewing the happiness and success of the employees with the success of the company," she said.

Integral to all of this is the HRIS team.

"Your HR technology team has to have a seat at the table because nobody's going to understand what you can do to help [employees] more than you," Cottrell said.

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