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HRIS department an essential bridge between HR, IT

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Emerson Electric's VP of HRIS explains why it's important to have a team that can translate HR needs into the black and white of IT -- and guide HR in how to spell it all out.

Given that most companies have separate HR and IT departments, some people might question the point of having an HRIS department.

At Emerson Electric, it's about providing expertise that is based on a deep understanding of the business and IT sides of HR, said Jim Rhodes, vice president of human resources information systems (HRIS) at the manufacturer based in Ferguson, Mo. The HRIS department must understand HR's needs and translate them into the orderly, black-and-white instructions of computers, Rhodes said. For its part, HR must be prepared to walk HRIS through its processes in enough detail to paint a complete picture.

Rhodes' somewhat unusual background as both an HR and IT person helps him translate between the two, he said.

"At the end of the day, when we walk away, we have to know their business better than they know their business," he said. "We have to understand their business very deeply to make it execute flawlessly for them."

Rhodes discussed the changing role of the HRIS department and its relationship to HR and IT in this podcast at the Oracle OpenWorld 2019 conference. For nearly 12 years, he has held VP-level HR positions at Emerson, which recently moved HR operations to Oracle HCM Cloud.

A look inside the HRIS department

The HRIS team serves as an IT department within HR, Rhodes said. Positions such as HRIS administrator or analyst maintain their traditional focus on gathering requirements for and maintaining HR systems.

Jim Rhodes, VP of HRIS, Emerson ElectricJim Rhodes

"That role really hasn't changed at all," Rhodes said. "We're still managing the system [and] we're managing the governance around the system."

However, the work of the corporate IT members who are embedded in the HRIS department has shifted to software integration and report development as applications become easier to use and configurable by HR, Rhodes said.

Moving on-premises HR applications to the cloud has brought another change to the HRIS department.

"The [database administrators] inside the organization have moved away from the company into the cloud providers," Rhodes said. "I don't need -- in the HCM space anymore -- DBAs or infrastructure guys. Oracle provides that service."

In terms of the HR-IT relationship, it helps that he works on the same floor as the chief human resources officer and other VPs of HR, Rhodes said.

"If I wasn't part of the HR organization and I was part of IT, I would be sitting somewhere else far removed from it, and then we would be more reacting to the change [instead of] getting ahead of it and managing it proactively," he said.

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