Discover HRO, the Second Time

HR Executive magazine’s May 16 cover story, “What You Should Know About HR BPO,” was a nice scoop…if a few years late. Any reader of HRO Today will recognize the story, featuring BMO Group’s lovely HR leader Rose Patten, from HRO Today’s cover in 2004. But hey, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

by Jay Whitehead

I want to thank HR Executive magazine for some nostalgia. For those of you who missed it, this was the cover headline of the May 16th edition: “What You Should Know About HR BPO.” For me, the story was like one giant flashback. It brought me back, back, back to July of 2002, when Harry Feinberg and I published the first issue of HRO Today magazine.

Our first challenge was to name this fast-growing market. We coined “HRO.” Soon, every known analyst was using the convenient acronym. More than 40 HR service provider companies put HRO in their name. Today, every HR leader knows HRO. They know it for its proven cost savings, successes, service-level and accountability improvements, and because it represents their ticket to a seat at the table.

Few use “HR BPO” any more. As an acronym, it is long, confusing, and has its roots in IT outsourcing. In fact, I first remember hearing “HR BPO” from EDS founder H. Ross Perot. He used it in a news conference I saw in 1984 or 1985. I remember writing the term down. By reading the antique acronym in HRE, I flashed back to hearing Mr. Perot’s squeaky voice some 21 years ago. Don’t know whether he deserves a royalty on his phrase. As for the acronym “HRO,” Harry and I always let others use our much-more-modern “HRO” freely and for free.

And the rear-view mirror views just keep on coming. The HRE cover story takes me back, back, back to 2004, when BMO’s Rose Patten graced the cover of HRO Today. Then, Rose was a client of Exult. By the time HRE’s scoop appears last month, Rose’s firm is a client of Hewitt. A quick Google search reveals that Hewitt bought Exult a year and a half ago. You probably remember that watershed event…because you saw it first in this magazine and online at

But I got misty-eyed for more reasons than just the old-time HR BPO reference and dated cover story. The magazine’s analysis of HR BPO’s viability took me back to October 2002. Of course, in her quotes, the ever-professional Rose Patten was very supportive of HRO and instructive on the topic. But the piece’s more prescriptive and descriptive analysis was cute, like a small puppy. The article was written as if HRO had just been invented and had yet to save its clients billions of dollars and improve HR services for millions of employees.

“Despite the promises of cost savings and improved service levels,” HRE’s story read, “the mere mention of HR BPO can conjure nervousness and fear among in-house HR employees—and for good reason.” And then, “Even the best-laid outsourcing plans can lead to, or be overtaken by, disaster.” Or my own personal favorite, which blames HR managers for HRO’s shortcomings, “HR BPO also presents its fair share of pitfalls…The reasons for dissatisfaction include failing to properly manage vendor relations, underestimating the complexity of outsourcing, and setting unrealistic cost-savings and service-delivery goals.”

All this nostalgia left me with a feeling of great happiness. I’m happy that HRO Today covered all those points back in 2002. And I’m pleased that in 2006, HRO Today covers modern HRO topics like the importance of change management, compliance, corporate responsibility, offshoring, and second-generation HRO innovations.

I’m also happy to offer the writer of HR Executive’s recent article, Cindy Waxer, a chance to modernize her coverage of HRO. She can find my phone number and email on Simply for the asking, I would gladly share the names and numbers of many HRO clients. Plenty of them are within a 90-minute drive of Ms. Waxer’s office. A modern way to report on HRO is to actually visit a user, see first-hand how much money they are saving, how much happier their employees are, and how much more accountable their HR functions have become. I’d be honored to help HR Executive discover HRO, a second time.

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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