The use and impact of human resource information systems on human resource management professionals

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    e 6 D

    [27,28]. Moreover, it is argued that HR professionals

    Information & Management 44

    fax: +44 1274 546866.

    both provide value to the organisation and improve

    their own standing in the organisation by using HRIS


    E-mail address: (J. Wallace).1 Permanent address: Brunel Business School, Brunel University,

    Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, UK.

    0378-7206/$ see front matter # 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/ Introduction

    Human resource management (HRM) is relatively

    new. Indeed, Storey [26] observed that prior to the

    1990s, the term HRM was rarely used outside the US.

    The subsequent process of convergence of traditional

    personnel management in the UK into the US based

    human resource (HR) practice has been rapid. Storey

    [25] and Legge [16] have both described thismigration.

    Of recent, the increasing pressure to support strategic

    objectives and the greater focus on shareholder value

    has led to changes in both job content and expectations

    of HR professionals [24,1,5,18]. One of the major

    changes has been the contemporary use of IS in support

    of the HR process [30,23,8,20]. Increased use of human

    resource information systems (HRIS) allows profes-

    sionals to achieve improved performance and thus

    facilitate participation in internal consultancy activities* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 1274 234335;Human resource information systems (HRIS) usage allows the human resource (HR) professional to become a strategic player.

    With both increasing functionality and affordability, HRIS are being used extensively in organisations of all sizes. Despite this,

    surprisingly little is know about the current usage, whether disparities exist between companies of different sizes, or about the

    impact HRIS has on the general professional standing of the HR professional.

    We developed and administered a survey and gave structured interviews to assess and compare the specific areas of use and to

    introduce a taxonomy that provides a framework for academic discussion and comparison. We further determined whether HRIS

    usage was strategic, a perceived value-add for the organisation, and its impact on professional standing for HR professionals. These

    findings were compared to those for other professions that also use MIS. Our results showed that, on average, few differences exist

    between SME and large company usage. Moreover, we found that the professional standing of HR professionals has been enhanced

    by the specific use of HRIS for strategic partnering but that this is not as pronounced as that experienced by those from other


    # 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

    Keywords: Human resource information systems (HRIS); HRIS taxonomy; Non-strategic and strategic HRIS usage; Strategic partnership;

    Professional standingAbstracton human resource m

    Zahid Hussain a, James Wallaa School of Management, University of Bb Faculty of Management, McGill Univ

    Received 22 January 2005; received in revised

    Available onlinesource information systems

    gement professionalsa,*, Nelarine E. Cornelius b,1

    rd, Emm Lane, Bradford BD9 4JL, UK

    , Montreal, Quebec H3A 1G5, Canada

    19 September 2006; accepted 27 October 2006

    ecember 2006

    (2007) 7489

  • Z. Hussain et al. / Information & Management 44 (2007) 7489 75Ulrich [31] and Brockbank [2] argue the need for HR

    to become a strategic partner. HRIS is seen to facilitate

    the provision of quality information to management for

    informed decision making. Most notably, it supports the

    provision of executive reports and summaries for senior

    management and is crucial for learning organisations

    that see their human resource as providing a major

    competitive advantage. HRIS are therefore a medium

    that helps HR professionals perform their job roles more

    effectively [6,3,17] and to support strategic decision


    In 1992, Kinnie and Arthurs [14] reported their

    findings of HRIS usage based on a national survey and

    four in-depth case studies of UK organisations. They

    analysed the responses of 231 personnel directors and

    itemised typical routine and non-strategic usage. Whilst

    they did observe a difference in the level of HRIS use,

    they found that the nature of usage had not changed

    appreciably since the 1980s. They therefore argued that

    this was evidence of considerable lost opportunities.

    The comparative benchmarking study by Martinsons

    [19] further suggests similar patterns of usage, also at

    that stage, in Canada. Later, Ball undertook a survey in

    the UK of small and medium sized private and public

    sector organisation (her analysis was based on 127

    usable returns, a 24.4% response rate from organisa-

    tions with up to 1500 employees). Approximately 54%

    of her respondents worked in personnel or HRM and of

    these, 36% were personnel or HRM managers: the

    remainder, including the 10.4% of respondents who

    were directors, were from non-HRM functions but used

    HRIS systems. She found that HRIS was primarily used

    for filing cabinet replication of administrative tasks.

    Thus, she argued, most HRIS use was in support of

    routine administrative HR tasks, a conclusion broadly

    consistent with that of Kinnie and Arthurs.

    In contrast, Lawler and Mohrmans 2001 US study

    created a different picture. It built on the work of Ulrich

    and surveyed HR directors of large commercial

    companies (the average number of employees was

    21,023) in order to assess the degree to which HR was a

    strategic partner; they defined this to be a role related to

    the development and implementation of business

    strategy for the organisation. Their analysis of 130

    returns, a 15.5% response rate, found that 41.1% of

    respondents were full strategic partners with only 3.4%

    with no role in the strategic process. Furthermore, they

    found that the use of HRIS had consistently increased

    over the previous 57 years, irrespective of the degree of

    strategic partnership held by the HR function. Indeed,

    HRIS usage had increased substantially even in firms

    where HR had no strategic role. They cautioned,however, that the use of HRIS and, in particular, fully

    integrated HRIS systems, did not necessarily ensure that

    HR would become a full strategic partner.

    The role being played by HRIS in support of strategic

    decision making is important as this enables organisa-

    tions to achieve competitive advantage [7,13]. However,

    little is known about use of HRIS by small-to-medium

    and large sized companies for strategic decision

    making. Furthermore, the impact that this has had on

    the HR professionals is also relatively unknown.

    2. Research method

    Our research used two techniques to investigate the

    impact of IS on HRM: a questionnaire survey to

    obtain responses from HR professionals in UK

    organisations, and interviews with a small number of

    senior executives, such as directors, to gain deeper

    insights into the emerging issues and as a source of

    corroboration of the research hypotheses deduced from

    analyses of the survey responses.

    In our analyses, the convention of treating routine

    usage as having an associated probability of 0.5, was

    employed. Then usage at a significantly higher level

    would be considered evidence of substantial use

    throughout HRM whilst the lower level demonstrated

    only sporadic use.

    2.1. Questionnaire

    A questionnaire was first developed by the authors. It

    was then piloted with ambiguous questions and those

    with poor response rates being reworded for clarity,

    accordingly. The revised version was then sent to HR

    managers at 450 organisations situated around the UK.

    These were in diverse sectors of the economy and were

    selected by stratified random sampling from the UK

    Business Directory. As we were only concerned with

    HR professionals, the seniority of the responder was

    confirmed and confidentiality assured. Of the ques-

    tionnaires received, 101 were from suitably senior HR

    professionals (a 22% return); these were used in the

    subsequent analyses.

    The survey questions were designed to provide

    demographic information about the responder and their

    organisation; to elicit beliefs on the role of HRIS in

    supporting professional activities; to determine the

    extent to which HRIS were used, particularly for

    strategic decision making; the current reliance on HRIS

    by HR professionals; the level of intervention afforded

    by HRIS and the perceived impact that current or

    expected future HRIS usage was having on the

  • Z. Hussain et al. / Information & Management 44 (2007) 748976professional standing of HR professionals. A copy of

    the relevant questions is given in Appendix A.

    2.2. Interviews

    In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted

    with 11 senior organisational executives to whom the

    HR professionals reported. These were intended to

    determine whether the professional standing of the HR

    professional had been elevated as a result of using

    HRIS. Comparisons were made with other non-HR

    professionals. In each case, the executives were

    randomly selected from companies in the survey who

    used HRIS, with selection being based on company

    size, approximately in proportion to those responding to

    the full survey. In order to select senior executives, it

    was therefore necessary to receive the questionnaires

    ahead of the interviews, which were subsequently

    undertaken on the telephone.

    A copy of the question template is presented in

    Appendix B.

    2.3. SME and large companies

    In our research, company size was grouped as small-

    and-medium sized or large. The former, termed SME,

    had a workforce that did not exceed 500 workers, with

    the remainder being categorised as large companies,

    these being in accordancewith the guidelines of a recent

    Commission of the European Community report [32].

    2.4. Strategic and non-strategic HR usage

    HRIS are used to support a variety of HR tasks. Here,

    strategic tasks are those that have a direct impact on, or

    are used in support of, an implicit or explicit strategic

    objective. Kinnie and Arthurs and Ball itemised specific

    HR non-strategic tasks that were undertaken using

    HRIS; Lawler and Mohrman similarly introduced an

    array of tasks that related to strategic usage. In all

    instances, a large number of disparate categories were

    present. As a consequence we have introduced a

    taxonomy consisting of a broader categorisation with

    fewer entries; it provides focus and facilitates mean-

    ingful comparisons. The strategic and non-strategic

    functions identified in these major studies were mapped

    onto this taxonomy. All routine activities that were

    typically performed by less senior, non-professional

    personnel were excluded. This made it possible to make

    a qualitative comparison between previous and current

    non-strategic uses of HRIS, strictly by HR profes-

    sionals.We also assessed the degree to which companies

    were currently employing HRIS in support of non-

    strategic HR, from the surveyed companies. This was

    contrasted with previous levels of usage, as reported by

    Ball. Tests for a difference in the respective proportion

    of users were undertaken for current and future HRIS

    use. The proportion of current users of HRIS for non-

    strategic functions was compared to the proportion

    of previous users, as identified by Ball. A similar

    comparison was also made for future use, which was

    estimated from reported HRIS planned usage from our

    survey. These comparisons were made for both SME

    and large companies. An additional test for proportional

    usage was also made, regardless of company size, and

    the previous user levels. In all cases, it was assumed that

    non-strategic HRIS use was likely to have increased and

    so one-sided Fishers Exact tests were conducted. We

    also identified the current profile of SME versus large

    company non-strategic HRIS usage and planned usage.

    Finally, the extent of usage of HRIS for strategic

    tasks over those that were still performed manually was

    determined. This degree of computerisation of strategic

    tasks was also computed to see if it differed according to

    company sizes. A descriptive summary was provided

    for the former, and a Fishers Exact test conducted to

    quantify the latter.

    2.5. The research hypotheses

    Six research hypotheses were investigated in our

    study. The corresponding questions (see Appendix C),

    and the associated investigations were as follows:

    Hypothesis 1. HRIS are used by HR professionals insupport of strategic tasks.

    Strategic tasks included strategic decision making

    and providing crucial information in support of this, in

    the areas of: HR Planning, Salary Advice, Employee

    Benefits and Industrial Relations. Operational level

    activities were considered to be background tasks,

    typically performed by junior personnel. Data for this

    hypothesis were obtained from responses to survey

    question 8: At which level can/do HRIS support you in

    your emerging roles, such as HR consultancy and

    strategic decision making? The appropriateness of the

    response was gauged by qualifying questions 2, 9 and


    Fishers Exact test for HRIS use by HR professionals

    was conducted to assess whether the proportion of users

    to non-users differed between SME and large compa-

    nies. Additional binomial tests were undertaken for

    these two groupings to assess the level of advanced task

  • Z. Hussain et al. / Information & Management 44 (2007) 7489 77use against a routine level of use (H0: p = 0.5, H1:

    p 6 0.5).Hypothesis 2. HRIS will be used differentially bysmall and medium sized companies in support of stra-

    tegic decision making relative to large sized companies.

    Several types of HR strategic use were categorised:

    HR Planning, Salary Advice, Employee Benefits,

    Industrial Relations, Assessment and Training Needs,

    Recruitment and Performance Management. Data for

    this hypothesis were obtained from responses to question

    14: What strategic HR tasks are you performing that

    are supported by HRIS? The appropriateness of the

    responsewas gauged by the qualifying questions 2 and 9.

    A separate Fishers Exact test was conducted for

    each category of use to determine whether the

    proportion of users to non-users differed between

    SME and large companies. Additional binomial tests

    were conducted for the two size groupings, to further

    compare each type of advanced task use against a

    routine level of use (H0: p = 0.5, H1: p 6 0.5).Hypothesis 3. HRIS will be used more in support ofstrategic decision making in organisations in the future.

    Data for this hypothesiswere obtained from responses

    to question 12: What is your view of (further)

    deployment of HRIS in your organisation for work

    and decision making?: More strategic use of HRIS for

    long termplanning. The appropriateness of the response

    was gauged by the qualifying questions 2 and 9.

    A binomial test was performed to see whether HR

    professionals will use HRIS more in support of strategic

    decision making in the future. Two separate binomial

    tests were also undertaken for each of the company size

    groupings in our survey. A Fishers Exact test was also

    conducted to look at the proportion of companies

    claiming there will be an...


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