data centre

It could soon be time for the CIO to step out of the server room and get more involved in running HR, according to MIT business expert Jeanne RossPhoto: Tim Ferguson/

On the face of it, the HR and IT departments couldn’t be more different – one looks after people, the other machines.

But as technology becomes ever more integral to running an effective workforce, the time is ripe for parts of the IT and HR departments to merge, according to Jeanne Ross, director and principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Information Systems Research.

“Technology and human capability are so closely tied together that you don’t want them very far apart in your organisational chart. One possibility is that HR and IT are going to merge – those are two units that should seriously consider being linked,” Ross told

IT has the potential to allow companies to better measure and improve staff effectiveness, Ross said, with software providing tools for compensation management, performance management, recruiting, retention, settling in new employees, talent analysis and training.

Yet many organisations are making limited use of technologies aimed at employee development, leaving the door open for the IT department to take charge of their implementation.

“If HR doesn’t step up [to this challenge], we will find that the great IT leaders are going to say, ‘Man, we’ve got to do more around the effective use of technology and staff development’,” she said.

“The great leader will emerge as someone who understands this very tight relationship between using technology and information well, and making people more effective.”

The possibility of the IT department stepping into HR’s shoes is also born out of what Ross sees as the failure of HR staff to move beyond hiring, firing and staff promotion, and deliver on their brief of improving staff performance.

“It’s not so much what HR is currently doing for firms, it’s what HR ought to do but isn’t doing,” she said.

“Responsibility for making people effective in a lot of companies has been…


Jeanne Ross

Dr Jeanne Ross expects HR and IT to merge as technology becomes more and more integral to managing the workforcePhoto: MIT

…thrust upon individual managers, who are never equipped to do it well.”

Ross expects that as companies shift responsibility for staff development from individual managers to centrally managed business units, such as shared services centres, it could be the CIO who takes charge.

“I think organisations will take that role more seriously and, in some cases, the CIO may be the person who sees it more clearly and rises to the occasion.”

Major companies, such as consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, have already demonstrated the value of putting the CIO in charge of centrally managed HR and other corporate services, she said.

“A lot of companies with these big global-process and shared-services organisations are often headed by the CIO, such as places like Procter & Gamble.”

Putting IT and corporate services in one place, and under one manager, can help companies to align business and technology transformation projects and provide staff with a central point of contact for all their support needs.

The IT department is also well placed to oversee the administrative functions that are the bulk of many HR departments’ workloads, Ross added.

“In so many organisations HR is administrative stuff and IT could take that on.”