How IT Works on the Frontlines of the Employee Experience

Acquia's Head of IT explores how technology is influencing the employee experience and becoming a more central part of every organization.

In decades past, HR and IT teams may have been viewed as complete counterpoints. Human resource departments, as the name would suggest, are in the “business of people.” They want to find and support talented employees and foster a great company culture. Meanwhile, IT departments are in the “business of machines.” They’re making sure an organization's systems run smoothly and securely, and everyone is equipped with the right technology to perform their role efficiently. However, technology and people are becoming more intertwined to form a more complex employee experience. With digital transformation now touching every part of an organization, communication systems, enterprise cloud software and reporting tools are all shaping company culture and influencing how employees engage in their jobs. As Acquia’s Head of IT, I work alongside stakeholders from every corner of the business to make sure they’re using technology in a progressive and strategic way that’s aligned with the overall vision of the organization. Just as the CMO role is taking a more data-centric approach to delivering better user experiences, tech teams are becoming more human-centric in designing the experience of their own end-users: the employees. 

From Problem Solvers to Proactive Partners

IT used to only be the place an employee went when something broke on their laptop or they forgot their log-in credentials. Now, IT influences every piece of the employee journey from enrolling in benefits systems to conducting regular reviews to communicating with remote team members. Rather than stepping in to solve an existing issue, IT leaders are becoming more proactive and thinking about ways they can design an organization’s technology setup to simplify day-to-day tasks and increase employee productivity. 

More productive, engaged employees also benefit HR leaders who are battling a similar reputation as problem solvers and the “last resort” for employees to go to when they have a workplace conflict they can’t solve on their own. HR teams are now using technology to position themselves as employee advocates. The goal of IT and HR collaboration is to create a better end-user experience that improves the lives of employees from day one. We want people to stop seeing all their systems, passwords and security compliance requirements as things that get in the way of doing their “real jobs” and instead see technology as a way to empower them to do their jobs better. When workers don’t have to worry about where to file their expense reports and have easy access to all of their company training videos, documentation and directories, they can focus on the tasks they were hired to do. This leads to better business results and higher employee satisfaction. The opportunities for progress are expanding every day, but with so much rapid technology change, how can technology executives ensure that they’ve got total insight into the kinds of tools people are actually using? 

Taking IT Out of the Shadows 

HR is only one of many areas of business today that is becoming increasingly tech-dependent. A 2017 Gartner study found that nearly 40 percent of technology purchases occur outside of the IT department. As areas like marketing depend more heavily on collecting and analyzing customer data to build better brand experiences, marketing executives have dedicated more autonomy in what technology they use and are dedicating more of their budgets to these purchases. However, without collaborating with IT on these decisions, many marketing teams end up buying multiple tools that all serve the same function. For example, when I first came to Acquia, there were six different video conferencing solutions in place. Not only does introducing extraneous systems waste resources, but it also harms operations if everyone is using a different tool for the same job. If an organization has hundreds of employees all relying on different workflow tools, it becomes impossible to keep track of progress or communicate between systems.

Rather than let these shadow purchases cause friction between departments, technology leaders should instead recognize this as an opportunity to identify gaps where they’re not meeting employee needs and establish themselves as a responsive, visible leader moving the entire organization forward. People generally don’t download a new messaging app or start using an unapproved cloud storage service just so they can feel sneaky bypassing the IT process. The use of unapproved tech is done because there is a business need that’s not being met by the official tech stack. (Or, perhaps a solution does exist, but employees were never made aware of it.) Eliminating the shadow IT problem in the long term means using up-to-date data and consistently seeking out feedback from all sectors to understand their current employee experience. Seeing how people are using your systems and which functions they’re outsourcing means that CIOs can better recognize where the business can improve their technology options.

One of the most effective ways our HR and talent teams help identify employee pain points is through regular digital survey tools that allow them to collect data and identify challenges. Once employee data is gathered, HR and IT both play a part in analyzing and assessing that data, so it can be translated into action. Our technology teams collaborate with members of the talent organization every day to create more consumer-friendly interactions that span the entire workforce. This starts by making sure that every employee has an IT advocate in their department who understands the specific tech challenges they face and can communicate their requests and turn them into results. 

Informing IT Decisions from Employee Data 

Designing better experiences, both internally and externally, means listening to what the end-user is asking for and meeting that need quickly and comprehensively. At the end of the day, employees are a business’s most important customers. As people become more accustomed to better digital experiences in their personal lives through things like smart appliances and direct-to-consumer grocery delivery, they expect that same relevant and user-friendly experience at work. If every employee is now paying more attention to technology, those responsible for that technology need to be paying more attention to their employees.  

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