Transformative Technologies Impacting the HR Landscape

Omar Reid, Director of Human Resources, City of Houston

Omar Reid, Director of Human Resources, City of Houston

Effort is nice, results count,” that mantra was the bedrock of my 26 year career at a Fortune 100 company and I continue to use it to this day. Under my leadership, I had oversight for more than 4,500 employees and we operated with a common purpose, efficiently holding each other accountable and setting clear expectations. I worked in a data-driven environment where data was at the core of every business decision; however, our processes did not detract from employee engagement due to the synergistic nature of our distinct corporate culture. Our environment was a breeding ground for innovation and process improvement; if one succeeded, we all succeeded, but if one failed, we all failed, and failure was never an option. Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to manage a beta test site that enhanced my perspective of technology and its ability to change business outcomes and drive results. During that time, I managed the execution and implementation of new technology. These invaluable lessons remain with me and are a primary source of my leadership principles.

Since March 1, 2010, I have served as the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) for the fourth largest city in the United States. I’ve always known that people come first and with good leadership, processes fall into place; but technology coupled with innovation are key factors for a successful Human Resources (HR) department. That is what makes HR a strategic business partner and gives us a seat at the table. I understand the complexities and opportunities associated with implementing technology in the public sector. In my world, these challenges are most often associated with legacy systems, inadequate funding and resistance to change. Despite efforts to modernize our information technology and human resource management systems, I faced an “uphillbattle” with obsolete technology, unsupported applications, redundant or non-existent processes, and change management (especially within the leadership space).

We are the second largest employer in the city and with that comes a huge level of responsibility and accountability. Tax-payers expect us to be good stewards of their tax dollars and we must use them wisely. I reflect on my first day, when I walked into the department, employees were still using typewriters and carbon paper forms to complete processes; we were very paper intensive. The department’s transactional focus made us spectators trapped in a technology time-warp within a world that was outpacing us by leaps and bounds. With a workforce of over 22,000 employees (66,000 counting our retirees) I had no shortage of obstacles to overcome. Addressing technological deficiencies and increasing innovation became a cornerstone for progress.

For years, my fellow CHRO’s and I have watched the evolution of newer, faster, and better technologies being deployed in our profession. Most come with promises to make us more effective and efficient in providing value to our organizations. Some exceed expectations while others fade into the sunset. In 2011, we created a vision statement to fulfill our promise “to be universally recognized for Human Resources excellence and as a premier employer,” and technology has been a foundational part of that journey.

How have we used technology to lower cost, improve results and deliver better outcomes? By partnering with employees, vendors and internal IT. We have made revolutionary strides in the level of service we provide to our internal and external stakeholders as well as our citizens. With the advent of social media, we’ve been working to keep pace with the latest tools and technologies to revolutionize our recruiting methods. A part of that is leveraging social media to connect with and widen our pool of diverse and highly skilled candidates. In 2013, we hired our first social media recruiter to build relationships with current and potential talent. In the Safety and Risk Management space, we have realized a 7 percent reduction in the city’s safety incidents through a “zero incidents” safety culture.

For many years, we ran our health benefits administration on a third-party platform. In late 2013, we made a strategic decision to transition away from that platform and into our Enterprise Resource Planning application. We now utilize more functionality and have realized a cost savings of $650,000. In April 2015, we received Saba’s Talent Management Excellence award, which recognizes customers who have developed a flexible and relevant talent management program that engages and delivers on business strategy. The City of Houston is the first in its class to have a cloud-based talent management platform, centered on Learning and Performance. Our Talent Management Suite includes Collaboration, Succession Planning, Meeting, Analytics, Assessment and so much more. We also received’s prestigious Leadership 500 Excellence Award that salutes the world’s top leadership practitioners and highlights their roles in developing their people, recognized for distinction in internal programs. These are only a few distinctions we have received and a few ways in which we have leveraged technology. As we continue to transform the way we do business, we are ensuring we have the right talent, technology, and learning and development tools in place.

The role of HR has evolved to become more technology-based and data driven. Human Resources optimization is deeply related to integration and synergy. Human Resources leaders and practitioners now have choices that weren’t previously available to them–let’s leverage it. From predictive analytics to software as a service (SaaS), new tools are in abundance. For Human Resources to be strategically relevant we must not only embrace new technology, but we must lead its integration and adoption into our culture.