#HRTechChat: Brandon Dorr, Director of People Technologies at WPS Health Solutions

My guest for this episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast was Brandon Dorr, director of people technologies at WPS Health Solutions. The path Brandon took landing him in HR is interesting. He’s an IT person and never expected that this background would steer him into a career intersecting with human capital management (HCM). He started at WPS as a service delivery specialist, a very IT kind of role.

“So I came in to help with technical project management,” he said, “representing just that additional level of technical expertise that our project managers didn’t necessarily have at that time.” Eventually, the company’s HR department expressed a need for help with its data and asked Brandon to consult. One thing led to another, as the saying goes, Brandon figured out that the issue at hand involved much more than data itself, and he soon found himself waist-deep in the software ecosystem for HR at WPS.

“I didn’t know anything about HR, and I hesitated a little bit,” Brandon said. He wondered what kind of impact aligning with HR would have on his future value as a technologist. He started researching and realized, “Wow, there’s so much technology for HR.” Furthermore, there seemed to be “an opening for technical people to help tie that technology to HR business processes.” He concluded that HR was “an untapped market or underutilized combination” for IT people and made the decision to move into HR, as an IT-trained professional. “So that’s how I started in HR.”

As he has dug into the work at the intersection of IT and HR at WPS, Brandon has worked closely with UKG to optimize the vendor’s deployment there of UKG Pro, which the employer implemented several years ahead of Ultimate Software’s merger with Kronos (which formed UKG). Brandon extolls the attentiveness and helpfulness of UKG’s team in helping WPS realize its vision for the software.

“I want to put a plug in here for what UKG calls extended services,” he says. “That group has stayed dedicated to us. They can get us to the right places to start leveraging UKG Pro in new and creative ways.”

With the advent and proliferation of cloud-based software, by the way, loud voices have for years now strongly suggested that IT is forever marginalized. But IT isn’t, really. After all, the idea of the HR Technologist is much-needed in HR, and it’s just begging for IT-trained professionals. It may be that a simple, slight shift in IT’s self-concept may work in IT’s favor. Against this backdrop, and in light of his success as an IT person diving deeply into HR and the opportunity for others to do likewise in HR and other domains of the enterprise, Brandon and I discussed the future: how can vendors work with stakeholders in academia and elsewhere to promote business-vertical specialization among IT professionals?

It seems like a line of thinking ripe for exploration. If you have any interest at all in how IT can be an asset to HR departments deployed on software-as-a-service-delivered HCM systems, you owe it to yourself to watch this episode.

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Brent Skinner 00:00
Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to this the latest episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast. And I have with me today very special guest Brandon Dorr , who is director of People Technologies at WPS Health Solutions. Welcome, Brandon.

Brandon Dorr 00:21
Hi, It’s great to be here.

Brent Skinner 00:22
Yeah, it’s great to have you. And thank you so much for, for joining us for this episode of the podcast. Really looking forward to our conversation today, we’re going to talk a little bit around sort of the confluence of it, and HR technology and some leadership opportunities around that, really looking forward to that, or to that discussion. But maybe first, you could share with us a little bit more about just from a high level, introduce us to yourself and what you do at WPS Health Solutions and what the company is all about?

Brandon Dorr 00:57
Sure, sure. So we’ll start with the company. So WPS Health Solutions, we’re a not for profit health insurer in Wisconsin. We’re also a federal contractor that supports active duty military and retired military personnel, and seniors and families throughout the US.

Brent Skinner 01:17
So great, great healthcare industry. So it sounds like you have a lot of interesting stuff to work on. People technologies, when you talk a little bit about that, how, what was your sort of your How did you when did you start at WPS Health Solutions? Where did you start there? And how did you get to where you are now?

Brandon Dorr 01:41
Sure, sure. So as you mentioned, now, I’m the director of people technologies. But when I started at WPS, it was about seven years ago, and I came in as a service delivery specialist. So I came in to help with technical project management, representing just that additional level of technical expertise that our project managers didn’t necessarily have at that time. So I was brought in had to learn the IT department top to bottom, my background is in web development. So I had been in it for, for quite a quite a while going up from helped us through web development and project management, which landed me at WPS. So that technical expertise, I came in learned, really how the IT shop functioned like where are my database people? Where are my integrations, folks? What apps do we have? What does the environment look like? And then you could drop me into these projects to pull those pieces together for the business. Right? Because they don’t, they don’t need to know what firewall rules need to be put in place for what servers, things like that, right. So I’d be brought in to help pull those pieces together and launch some of our some of our larger technical projects. Coming out of that, our HR department had been looking for some assistance with their data. And that was basically all that was given to me was, you know, we want to look at we think we need some help with our data. So they asked me to consult. So I spent, I spent a little bit of time over in HR. Never been in HR never. I didn’t know anything about HR, like no lie, right? I knew nothing about HR. So I came in, and I just had started asking questions and sort of watching how they use their systems. You know, being a programmer, in my early days, there were a lot of parallels into what I was seeing, right? I had done reporting, I’ve done database design, I kind of got how it data flows. So after two weeks, it was it was pretty clear. The issue wasn’t just the data. It was the systems and the processes and everything around it. So I presented that, and they asked me if I’d stay in HR. And that was that was a an interesting moment in my career journey, because I had never thought about having a job not in it. So at that point, I hesitated a little bit. I was like, can I give me some time to think about that. I need to see what I might do. And what that looks like because if I aligned with HR, am I going to not be as valuable as a technologist in the future? Will that look better? So I started researching. Like I said, I didn’t know anything about HR. So as I’m looking I’m like, Wow, there’s so much technology in HR and top of that, there seems to be an opening for technical people to help tie that technology to the HR business processes. And like, I feel like this is, at that time, almost an untapped market or underutilized combination. And it was when I realized that when I decided, yeah, I’ll move into HR. And I’m just gonna bring all my IT background with me. So that’s how I started in HR. And at that point, we had to build an HR s team. At that time, we’ve now moved, we’ve now called people technology. But at that point, we had to build this team. HR had basically been running the system without any help from people who knew systems and who knew data and reporting and governance and integrity. So we jumped in, then we’re using UKG. Pro, and we’re at that time. And when I got in there, since they had not had as much technical expertise as they would have needed at implementation, there were a lot of decisions that were made, that may have been made differently with more technical guidance. Okay? Just for instance, take the taken org structure, right, those, when you have those, you may see them as like their names, right. So let’s take hrs, but with that, in a system, there’s usually a code that goes with it, that code is a unique way to tell everything that this is HR is. So with the implementation of that the codes were kind of just created willy nilly. Now, there’s a lot of power in those codes, if you are someone who understands the data. So we had a lot to dig into just a lot at that point. So we actually engaged ultimate software at that time now UK, G. And ask them if they’d step in and kind of help now with this new technology backed mindset. So we went through the system top to bottom, they offer a program, I don’t know if it’s still in place, but it’s called people process and product. And we sat down and just went top to bottom through the system. We looked at all the coding all the step of the org structure, we went through everything, workflows, security, and we looked for possible points of improvement. And what that did is that gave us this long roadmap of different things we wanted to take care of, to kind of re implement in a way but without having to overhaul the whole system. So that was the beginning of our HRMS journey.

Brent Skinner 07:56
This is fascinating. And, and it’s quite evident that you’re very, you’ve become very passionate about HR, which is, which is really, really heartening and encouraging and, and I’ll just share a few thoughts. Just a lot of what you’re talking about. Just had a bunch of mini micro aha moments as you were sharing your story because one Yeah, you’re right there is a dearth of technologically savvy people in HR and it’s not hrs fault. You know, HR leaders, and HCM, mature organizations or HCM, that organism, HR organ organizations that are still sort of mired in the operational HR administrative morass. That to understand this, I was speaking with a fellow that I know in this space have known for a while he’s been an HR leader, several organizations. He’s not a computer guy. But he talks about the idea of HR leader, as technologists, the HR technologist, and it’s absolutely essential. I just don’t see how we talked to all sorts of users in the HCM space. And, and we’ve, we’ve, I’ve spoken with people around their implementations, what those had been, like, across several industries over many years. And it just seems to me especially you’ve sort of put a fine point on it or underscored it for me. I imagine it’s really, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of sort of gray area there for a vendor going in to help an employer that doesn’t have that technical expertise on its side, you know, because oftentimes, you know, it might not be involved or very sort of minimally. So to have that person. swoop in like you did it That to me, I can’t imagine an organization doing it without that, I guess is what I’m getting at. Sure,

Brandon Dorr 10:08
I totally agree, I definitely been a proponent of bringing that tech, technological expertise into whatever it is you’re doing. In this case, right? This, this could be beyond HR itself. But where there’s technology in this in any industry where we’re growing and our reliance on technology is just growing and growing and growing, and it’s embedded, we need to have that partnership between it and whichever business unit it is, whether it’s finance or HR. Going forward, because I’ve seen it kind of split up in different ways with some companies, some companies will have an IT shop, with people dedicated to a business unit. Sometimes that works. In other cases, you have the business unit who pulls in a technical person, which is what we have, both can work. But where I have found the most success is when you have someone dedicated to the business unit, who learns the ins and outs of that business unit for instance, HR, right, I came in with all this technology understanding, but I didn’t have HR understanding. So that I had to grow and learn, right, I had to be adaptable and flexible to learn. Like how complicated benefits are, I had no idea. I just knew it was tricky to fill out my thing once a year in the system, I didn’t know how complicated that got, right? Or how does compensation work? Or how do we make sure people are paid appropriately, and no idea how that works. So by learning, and living, and working amongst everyone, I could start to really understand what their needs were, and what the situations would call for than the technology piece that could just bring in and help start streamlining processes or building teams that could automate and improve even just reported, right. So we start having accurate data go out, we start being able to now branch into, you know, a form of analytics, you know, so having that embedded I think has just been just been very, very important.

Brent Skinner 12:20
Yeah, couple things come to mind. Think about the sort of the legacy or the history of it right back when we had the battle days of on premises solutions, you know, where you had the, the it you know, the sort of the archetypal IT guy gonna everybody’s desktop, right that way back with the a CD ROMs, and all of this, and I’m older than I might look. I’ve been around the block. But anyways, you know, and then you have the, you know, your companies have their own, you know, their, you know, they have their sort of their mainframe, or whatever it is that they work on, off of, you know, in the hit had the IT department, sort of the, you know, the, the, you know, grants, you know, the central planning, you know, office where they’re kind of watching everything, and that’s, and so, I t’s role was very visibly evident to the organization. Right, then we move to the, to the cloud, and that’s old hat. But, you know, what I’ve been hearing forever is that, you know, it is role just isn’t as important with cloud based solutions, and all this and, and, and what I’m hearing what I’m really understanding, though, in the past few years, and, and again, this conversation is really kind of underscoring it is that it is the raw, it still is important, very important, that tactical expertise at the using organization, that information technology, expertise, so important. And it just, it it’s the it’s the it is the factor that’s going to enable you as an organization to, to is going to make the difference between a failed implementation possibly, depending on the where, with all the vendor of the vendor itself, and there’s how scrupulous they are. And, you know, and in wild success, and it makes me wonder, whether it started me think started me to thinking of, you know, just now, what is the training? What kind of educational training to IT professionals go through to the is it a computer engineering degree? Do we need to go into you know, start something with the universities where we are the royal way not, not necessarily you and me? Oh, that’d be great. But it just does it does a profession No need to go and say, Hey look, universities, you need to start combining computer engineering degrees with some sort of a business acumen. And it can be attracted. They want, you know, whether it’s sales or HR or whatever. And because understand that this is growing, this is the future of the IT profession, IT professionals very important. It is going to thrive if we do this. I mean, is that crazy talker?

Brandon Dorr 15:29
No, it’s, well, it’s not crazy talk. So it would business acumen is often called management information systems. That is a type of technology upbringing, you spend less time in the weeds in the programming and a little bit in a bit more time understanding how business works. So that’s one path, right? That’s, that’s got that hybrid of just business in general, then we’ve got comp sci, where, where you can get into your machine learning AI, you can really get into this complicated pieces, but you are going to have a bit less business in there. So what I think would be very important is in a little bit more specialization on the business itself. Right. So if you could have a hybrid IT and HR course series, of course, honestly, there’s so much tech, you could have a series of courses on it, and how to apply it principles to HR, I think that would be the value. I know we’ve it’s been pitched to our local tech college. But we didn’t get any interest. There was no interest in it. Because people don’t understand quite yet. Not everybody how important it is to bring these disciplines together. As we move, it’s not just it, it’s not just the business. It is it folks who understand the business that they’re working on. I think that can be very valuable, whether it read I mean, finance and HR to like, two areas, right? For heavy, more heavy technology intervention to help leverage all their systems. So I’m with you on can we do? Could we do educational differently, maybe, I don’t know, across the whole us who’s got what, from programs, but I can absolutely see a benefit of bringing those together. Some of the things, for instance, that we’ve done is we’ve brought in Agile to the scrum framework into HR, right? It’s like, blasphemy probably six years ago, but taking the principles of iterative development, in this case, iterative project work. And putting our work into two week increments and focusing on what we can deliver in two weeks in HR was a game changer for us. Right, we ended up seeing greater productivity and lower stress levels, when we started to think in smaller increments that we could deliver, people started delivering things every two weeks, they’re like, holy cow, I said I was gonna do it. And I actually got to do it. Right. Because the whole structure of agile, if you could put that into a course to deliver, that’s incredibly valuable.

Brent Skinner 18:28
That’s incredible. Yeah, absolutely might be, I wonder if some of the vendors in the space could bring some, you know, some persuasion, dubare, whatever you want to call it to, to maybe sort of make this happen. You know, it’s interesting, too, is there’s there would be a lot of, there would be more than one potential career path for somebody who’s, you know, it would just take the HCM or the HR, the HR focus, right, for, you could work at a large organization that needs that person that has that cross trained expertise, working right, in embedded in HR for the technology piece, or, you know, go work for one of the vendors in the space and help them, you know, create their greatest innovations, you know, in technology, that sort of thing. You know, there’s all sorts of potential career paths. And I think marketing might be another one of the disciplinary tracks that probably could use this. Is this absolutely fascinating. I wanted to just touch just shift gears just a little bit. Because I know that you know, the UK G I know that you think you were mentioned we had full disclosure, we had a conversation before this podcast for the audience, as we usually do with our with our guests, and that’s how we kind of come up with the ideas but Brandon and I were speaking and you and I were speaking and you had some ideas around You know, you kgs, their level of service and their responsiveness, maybe just talk a little bit more about how they really helped when you sort of stepped up to the plate, say, hey, I can do this. And then you turn to them for some help.

Brandon Dorr 20:17
Yeah, absolutely. So it said, we still had to build the hrs team. So what I walked into was all of this, all of the all of the things in HR in the tech they had. And when I reached out, they were they were there. For me, we, as I said, we went through this, this program that they had, which was kind of a reevaluation of where you’re at. And they walked us through the whole thing, right? They process mapped everything, gave us our project to go forward. But not only that, that started some relationships that I’ve had now for six years with people at their company, who not only helped us do that piece, but who have stayed with us, to help us make sure it never got back to that point. So I want to put a plug in here for what UKG calls are extended services. So when we got through this kind of reimplementation process, and we had a project and we started putting these things in place, that the process that we went through got us so far, right, it got us to like, let’s reorg, the whole company, new orgs, use them consistently document it. And then we’ll move on to the next project when we got to the end of these like, full blown, well identified projects. That’s where we brought in extended services. And that group stayed dedicated to us and still do, to this day, to look at our processes, and help us understand the capabilities of UKG Pro. And to get us to the resources we need. It is that has been the most valuable partnership of any of my software vendors to date, because they keep us in the know, on what’s happening. And when we’re like we have this crazy idea with you know, because we’re bringing all this technology, like we have this crazy idea What if we did this and tried to do this, there’ll be there to be like you can and cannot, or here’s how you might try to do that. Here’s a workaround. And let me get you in contact with someone. Right. And now we got innovation. Right now we’re doing new things, cool things for you, we don’t know the entire back end of UKG. Pro. That’s just it’s secret, right? It’s proprietary. But they can get us to the right places to start leveraging it in new and creative ways. So that’s been that’s been instrumental?

Brent Skinner 22:52
Yeah. Not surprised to hear it. You know, we’ve, it’s wonderful to hear, again, we’ve heard from other users as well, that they, they really get into the weeds, and they’ll really help you make something happen and sort of that, that real white glove approach as well. And you’re absolutely right about that. I mean, that talk about talking about long term commitment, you know, there’s, you know, there’s, I think there may be from the outside looking in, there might be sort of this, this idea that, Oh, you know, it’s cloud technology, you know, he just implemented it is now it’s deployed, and you just gonna get your updates every three months, or whatever the cadence is. And that’s sort of a one and done thing. But it’s not like that at all, especially if you’re an organization wants to keep innovating your own HR processes and HCM approach to HCM and leverage that, that that vendor is a partner that you need one that whose solution is flexible enough to accommodate an any number of things, but also whose team is, is able to help.

Brandon Dorr 24:02
Yeah, yeah, absolutely moving. All of our platforms are cloud based. That was one of the appeals for me actually. In this space, you can get your app to the cloud. It’s managed by a different IT team, you don’t have to worry about servers and uptime, and those types of things. There’s another company dealing with it great. But you still have to use the technology while it’s there. It still needs to be configured so that it works for the business. There’s still plenty of technical work that needs to be done. Also, these things are in different clouds. You have more than one piece of software, right? We also leverage ServiceNow. We need ServiceNow and UKG Pro to talk to each other right now we need to set up data integrations, these, there’s just there’s so much more to do than just keeping a server running in a data center which would have been the old one way to do it not in the cloud. So there’s still plenty of opportunity, moving data, configuring applications to meet the business needs. So yeah, there’s clouds, great, it saves, it saves a lot of operational costs for the business, but there’s still technical work

Brent Skinner 25:17
to be done lots of integration to do lots of workarounds to do, you need, you’re going to have to need more than one system. I’ve seen more than one. report out there research looking at the data and you know, organism, there’s there for they’re projecting more integration in the future, not less, you know, more applications for HR departments, not fewer, in the future. And so that’s, that is, you know, that that’s where things are going. And so, you know, as that, as that plays out, you’re just going to need more and more of that expertise internally, and, and be able to find that vendor that that understands and can actually accommodate that, that level of aspired flexibility, if come up with a new term there. In any event, yeah. And I wish I wish we I wish we had time to talk a little bit more about the ServiceNow piece. But this is just been, this has just been absolutely fascinating. Brandon. And I just want to thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story. This is a really, really interesting angles are really important piece of the puzzle in this space.

Brandon Dorr 26:36
Yeah. Thank you for giving me the platform to discuss it. It’s something we should discuss. Technology. It’s the wave of the future. It’s going to be changing the way organizations work. So I’m happy to I’m happy to chat about it.

Brent Skinner 26:49
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, Brandon.

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