Sodexo’s Vice President of HRMS and Payroll Lou Fiore has built a successful career by acting as liaison between the business side and technology operations.
By Debbie Bolla
Information technology (IT) is intimidating—those who aren’t technologically savvy fear the complicated matter and complex dialect that techies operate on. And Sodexo’s vice president of HRMS and payroll, Lou Fiore, was no different—at first. He was a businessman at heart with an affinity for HR. IT wasn’t his ballgame.
“When I was recruited into IT in the 90’s, I was a bit uncomfortable with my role in IT,” he explained. “I didn’t have strong IT background, just basic knowledge. But the only way to do it was sink or swim, so I decided to learn it real quick.”
It was a decision that proved invaluable for his nearly 15-year-career in HR and IT at the integrated food and facilities management services provider. At the time, he discovered a way to become an integral piece that the business environment was missing: a professional who understood the intricacies of IT and could explain it for their company in a manner that non-techies could understand. He was working for IS&T with HR as his primary client, and he saw a lack of ability in translating the business needs of the client into fitting the IT function. He manipulated the organization’s strategy for IT into a common dialogue that was easy to understand in order for the business to achieve its goals.
“It was a big piece that was missing from our organization at the time—the business wasn’t talking to IT and neither one could understand what the other wanted,” he explained. “I didn’t see anyone else doing that role, so I stepped up to the plate.”
A large part of his success was his active disposition. Fiore started small, but through his desire to learn the ins-and-outs of the industry, plus extensive on-the-job training, he grew from having a minimal IT background into being a bona fide techie. He eventually ended up leading the team that brought him on.
“I began to really like the technology piece. I enjoy learning new things and making improvements so operations can be more effective and efficient,” he noted. “But I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day and do programming. I had to have the people interaction, so it was a good fit for me.”
Being a liaison between the business side and technology ops provided Fiore the best of both worlds. He could use his new-found passion for IT with his innate ability to interact with people. “IT is something that most people don’t know much about, so they have a fear of the unknown,” Fiore noted. “And when the IT folks have such an in-depth knowledge of technology and operate in that environment, they may have difficulty taking a step back and leaving the lingo behind. As a liaison in IT working with the business, I was able to bridge the communication gap between the two entities.”
Fiore has worked for Sodexo since 1991. Over the course of his storied career, he has served various senior roles in IT and HR. He has been the key liaison between IS&T, HR, legal, and marketing for application and business improvement; he has developed solutions that leverage new IT technologies as applied to business process requirement; he has facilitated project development and communication for new applications; and he has lead large-scale technical projects.
“When I started working for IS&T, I forged relationships with segments that I was leading projects for, whether it be HR, marketing, or legal, to understand what their long-term and short-tem strategies were,” Fiore explained. “Once I understood what they were trying to accomplish, either from a process improvement or system improvement standpoint, I would help them find solutions in a form of a vendor. I would work with them through the RFI and RFP process. After a vendor was selected I would take them through the entire implementation process.”
Why Outsourcing Works
An advocate of outsourcing, Fiore preaches the benefits of leveraging a third-party provider. Outsourcing, he argued, provides organizations with an expertise that often isn’t available internally. Using a partner to handle transactional activity and back-office processes, as well as taking advantage of best-of-breed solutions, gives businesses the chance to use their own people to the best of their ability, he explained. That being said, forging an outsourced relationship isn’t without its challenges. He believes the vetting process should be arduous, with a model of ownership to establish responsibility so that neither party has unrealistic expectations. Striking a balance, he said, is key to success.
“We don’t outsource the heart of our organization—our people,” Fiore explained. “You have to make sure to keep your expertise in-house and turn to the outsourcer to provide the operations that don’t readily reside in your organization. Often companies send everything to an outsourcer, or keep it all in-house, and that’s where you don’t get the most effective relationship.”
Executing Due Diligence
So it was only natural—when Sodexo wanted to transfer its legacy system into a new enterprise HR system, which included labor management and payroll—that Fiore was called to lead the organization to the most efficient and appropriate solution. He oversaw the analysis of company-wide HR reporting metrics, including turnover, retention, diversity, and promotion tracking. Along with a robust team, Fiore thoroughly vetted five companies during a three-year process that he referred to as exhaustive due diligence.
“When you are looking to outsource, and you have an RFP out there, you’re told everything you want to hear,” he said. “A key to our selection process was having a robust team that performed our due diligence.” To ensure a productive and effective selection process, Fiore and his team took road trips to visit with providers, had specific measurements for each one of the presentations that he sat on, had evaluations that were tallied with the same metrics, and contacted references. Said Fiore, “We painted the picture as clearly as we could in order to move forward with a vendor without any big surprises.”
A main consideration and overall deciding factor was the shear size of Sodexo; the outsourcer had to have the bandwidth to handle the number of transactions associated with the company’s 100,000-plus U.S. employees. After three years, Sodexo selected ADP’s Enterprise HR system.
“ADP could withstand the sheer vs. sure volume and magnitude of our organization,” he said. “And this is their area of expertise. The legacy system we were on, it wasn’t their expertise. It’s nice to partner with an organization platform where payroll, TLM, and HR is their core competency.”
Sodexo went live with a “big bang” in January 2008. For the depth of change that the new HRMS introduced to the organization, it was quite an impressive feat to implement all of the functions at once in lieu of a phased approach. Part of the success was based on getting all staff members on board with the changes that lay ahead.
“We really hammered the change management aspects of this implementation, and explained how jobs would change,” he noted. “We documented hundreds of change points, mitigated and communicated those change points, so that the change was embraced, as opposed to being resisted.”
And through this diligence, Sodexo is reaping the benefits of their outsourced relationship. Return on investment is being measured by payroll accuracy, number of calls the call center receives, the amount of use of the applications in the HRMS by Sodexo employees, and metrics based on delivery.
As a global organization with satellite offices in 80 countries, Sodexo doesn’t foresee the new system being implemented throughout, even though it has experienced much success. The main reason: compliance, a factor that continues to hinder global payroll.
“The U.S. is very specific toward compliance,” Fiore noted. “There’s a big difference in what we can do in the U.S. [compared to] Canada and Europe. From what I heard from my counterparts, for our payroll specific services, we are looking at regionalized solutions simply because the platform requirements are so different.”
But one thing Fiore is certain of is overcoming his “fear” of IT. He has embraced information technology to the point where he is the face of IT for Sodexo. Recognizing that missing niche and taking advantage of each opportunity in his path has taken him further than he ever imagined—and he plans on staying.   

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