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What is HR? HRIZONS CEO Jim Newman On The Challenges of Bringing HR Into the 21st Century

HRIZONS President and CEO Jim Newman
HRIZONS President and CEO Jim Newman

When we think about standard business practice being disrupted by new technological solutions, we tend to forget that companies are made of people. Even in this new era of innovation, how companies treat their people has remained surprisingly static.

On the one hand, people are a company’s greatest resource, and yet we don’t tend to apply the same logic to talent acquisition and management that has arguably transformed every other aspect of how a company behaves.

Instead, even the savviest start-ups continue to rely on the exact same hiring process employed by their granddads, with the coin of the HR realm remaining who you know. In this way, companies continue to content themselves with the lowest hanging available fruit, rummaging through their friend base. In addition, post-hire HR practices haven’t evolved as quickly as they should have either.

HRIZONS, founded in 2006 by Winnipeg native Jim Newman, has been among those helping to bring hiring practices and talent management into the 21st century.

After partnering early with SuccessFactors, which was in turn acquired by SAP, HRIZONS was awarded this year’s New Cloud Value-Added Reseller of the Year. Its Canadian division has an office in Calgary, while the company keeps its headquarters in Minneapolis.

CEO and president Jim Newman sat down with Cantech Letter at the Sapphire Now conference in Orlando recently to talk the challenges of Human Capital Management, how Canada’s business ecosystem remains a bit of a laggard market, and overcoming resistance to change in the workplace.

What are the challenges for HRIZONS in providing HR solutions?

The HR part of the market has been dealing with legacy software for a long time. And cloud technology has truly opened the door for HR to transform itself, which in turn helps the organization transform itself. So in a nutshell, what we do is bring cloud HCM solutions to the market and help our clients build a roadmap and implement and adopt the technology, so they have an HR infrastructure in the cloud that can help them be more strategic with their people and have more visibility into what’s going on within their organization from a people perspective, and then pull information out of that system over time to make better decisions on what they need to do to align themselves with the business strategy. HR is really all about aligning the people strategy, if they’re doing it right, to the business strategy, and then having the HR operations and the technology infrastructure to actually manage all that and empower the managers to manage their people properly. All these cloud tools that we sell and implement are just that. It’s an integrated technology suite, which is something that didn’t exist that long ago. Many companies are still living with outdated, non-user friendly HR systems and manual processes.

From the HR department’s perspective, in terms of a learning curve, is it really that seamless and easy?

No, it’s never easy. (Laughter.)

That’s the thing. In any office environment over the past 10 years, any time a new system comes in for any reason, there’s resistance, there’s friction. What are the challenges there?

Change management is a huge thing to overcome. We have to be relatively well-versed and equipped to handle that in order to be effective with any type of technology implementation because of natural human resistance to change, to get them through the learning and adoption curve so that they become proficient with the technology. That’s always there. That’s a given. The other thing is an organization’s readiness. It’s the shiny new thing. HR wants it because it’s shiny and looks cool, but you have to be honest with yourself as an organization. Are your users ready for what that technology can do? So a lot of times, we’re guiding our clients towards coming up with an effective strategy and a roadmap that makes sense for their organization, based on their level of maturity, their culture and their understanding of what an integrated set of HR programs embedded in technology really is. They don’t always know. They have some understanding, but it’s very cursory. So that’s a very big part of what we do, impart our knowledge and experience to our clients. And the rest is making sure they get value out of their investment so that they want to make further investments. And we help them achieve that vision.

We find a lot of legacy organizations, whether it be health care or public sector or whatever, one of their biggest challenges is that they’re so embedded with what they currently have for infrastructure. To rethink that and go through all that change is very hard.

What kind of verticals are you concentrating on?

The interesting thing about this is, because it’s an HR play, every organization has people and HR needs. So first and foremost in Canada, it’s a line of business play. But within that, certainly there are industry focuses that we can go after to improve the solutions that we bring to market, because we can infuse our own IP and experience into how we configure the product, and the content that we bring to the table. In Canada right now, we don’t have a definitive focus on any one industry, but we have a lot of depth in regulated industries, with all the work we’ve done in the U.S. So we tend to gravitate towards those types of clients. But we don’t discriminate. We’ll sell to any company that’s interested in moving their HR systems to the cloud.

So you’re looking at highly regulated industries, like health care and the financial sector.

Yes, we have quite a few financial services clients. Because health care is public in Canada, and because of the way they’re structured, with decentralized control and decision making, they don’t have a lot of shared services or a centralized HR technology strategy from what we’ve seen to date. So it’s more challenging to adopt these technologies, unless you’re going to do them for a subset of that health care organization. A big part of investing in cloud, just like any technology, is having a vision for your organization and where you want to take your HR technology strategy. We find a lot of legacy organizations, whether it be health care, public sector or whatever, one of their biggest challenges is that they’re so embedded with what they currently have for infrastructure. To rethink that and get organizational commitment is very hard.

What’s the nature, or the background, of your partnership with SAP?

We were one of the first SuccessFactors partners that existed. Then SuccessFactors got acquired by SAP. Because of the acquisition, we developed a relationship with SAP. It was a small company getting gobbled up by a big company, and now we’re learning how to navigate and partner in the SAP world. It’s very different. They have a lot more infrastructure, they’re more mature, their partner enablement is much stronger and more strategic. But it’s been a big shift.

And you’ve just won this 2015 SAP Pinnacle Award for Cloud Value-Added Reseller of the Year?

Thank you. Yes, we’re very honoured to be recognized. I think the reason we won the award is because of our vision and because of the investment we’ve made in becoming a reseller, and not just selling services and consulting. We’re very much embedded with this product, because we quite honestly love the product. We can do a lot with it with our clients. So we trust the product and because of the investment now in reselling, and by bringing that to market, they’re recognizing the investment and the success we’ve had moving in that direction.

Although your origins are in Canada and you’ve got an office in Calgary, your HQ is in Minneapolis. What are the challenges in dealing with the Canadian market?

I think the Canadian market, in and of itself, is a laggard market compared to the U.S. It’s a more conservative market. But we’re definitely seeing a shift begin to happen. The cloud isn’t as foreign to HR as it was just a few short years ago. One of the key changes we’re excited about is SAP launching their Canadian data centre for SuccessFactors, so that they can better deal with Canadian privacy laws. That’s a huge investment by SAP. So for us as a reseller, we’re very excited about that. And I think the Canadian market’s getting ready to make the shift to cloud and getting more comfortable with leveraging what the cloud has to offer. I think it’s a good time for Canadian companies, because it’s a much more mature market than it was five years ago. The HR cloud solutions are much more robust. The integration of the solutions, the presentation layer, it’s just a cleaner, more mature solution that’s on offer now. It’s a great time. It really is.

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