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HR Technology That Focuses on People

October 26, 2001
Related Topics: Featured Article, Technology
Getting people to change behavior is much harder than creating sophisticatedtechnologies," says John Sculley, cofounder of Signature 21 consulting firmand former CEO of Pepsi and Apple Computer. Sculley's comment refers to onlinetraining, but sums up one of the greatest challenges of HR technology: how toapply "cool tools" in ways that empower people to increase efficiencyand productivity.

    Technology is helping organizations manage everything from recruiting and benefitsto attendance and training. As information systems get smarter and self-servicetakes hold, the HR professional's role is undergoing a sea change.

    For one thing, HR is working more closely than ever with IT. As computers takeover more data-management tasks, the HR person's job becomes less about formsand numbers and more about using technology to support company objectives andhandling the people side of things. In large enterprises, it is increasinglycommon to see human-capital executives as part of leadership teams. Just asa CFO handles financial capital, the human assets manager handles people capital.HR departments carry out human-capital strategies in areas like recruiting,employee development, and staffing management.

    "Over the next few years, the role of the HR person will continue to evolveaway from data-centric paper shuffling," says Jim Spoor, president of SpectrumHuman Resource Systems Corp. "The HR person will be able to focus on thingsthat will make a difference, working alongside operation management, talkingabout the future of the business, and things like strategic human capital managementplanning and the evolution of business plans."

    In the new economy, knowledge and productivity are the roots of success. Gettingthe right people who have the right competencies on board at the right timedirectly affects the bottom line. This means companies are starting to walkthe talk when it comes to strategic approaches to HR.

    Human asset management is gaining not only relevance but also new complexities.Today's employees, especially in IT fields, move between projects and jobs likesurfers hunting waves. NextSource Inc. created its Multiple Listing StaffingAssociation (MLSA) to give businesses better control over permanent and contingentstaffing services. MLSA is an industry-wide network of independent staffingagencies based on the multiple-listing concept common in the real-estate industry.In this model, agencies collectively deal with staffing industry challengesand help clients implement their human-capital strategies.

    Sculley, through Signature 21, is helping to position NextSource as a leaderin the competitive and fragmented IT staffing industry. Programs like MLSA andNextSource's vendor management program, which helps companies manage agencyrelationships, are meeting the demands of the next generation in staffing. "NextSourceis in the nexus of recognizing changes in big enterprises and giving them bettertools to work with," Sculley says.

Web-based training
    Demand for skills and knowledge is increasing at a rapidclip. At the same time, employees constantly crave ways to update their skillsand remain marketable within their organizations and in the job market. Onlinetraining suits the urgency for skills acquisition. "People are loyal totheir skills and what they do -- they're not particularly loyal to a singlecompany," Sculley says. "We're seeing more and more highly skilledpeople who want to find a way to manage their own lifestyle with the kind ofwork they want to become increasingly good at...Companies have got to have flexibilityand they've got to have the speed to respond."

    In this environment, technology is essential to the learning organization."The whole concept of continuous learning, which used to be looked at askind of a secondary adjunct, is becoming a fundamental part of human-capitalmanagement," says Sculley. This leaves HR managers with the challenge ofimplementing new training technologies without losing sight of the company'smission. Web-based training is gaining popularity as it keeps pace with theurgency of skills acquisition. Signature 21's Web Campus is designed to integrateeasily with a company's IT system for e-training that supports business objectives.

    Learning-technology providers agree that the proof of the pudding is in theplanning when it comes to online training. "All the technology in the worldis not going to do any good unless it fits the customer," says Sam Russell,director of marketing for TEDS, a CBM company. Russell says that learning-managementsystems "should be driven more on the HR side than IT, but can't be independentof either one." TEDS, which calls itself the "People Resource PlanningSolution," anticipates a big future in e-learning and constantly integratesnew technologies into its systems. Live teachers are not, however, marked forextinction. "Instructor-led classroom training will be with us forever,while e-learning will continue to grow," Russell says.

    Companies use Web-based programs to roll out learning-management programs forworkforces that are spread out geographically. Online training makes it easyfor employees to log on and learn whenever and wherever they want. TEDS movedinto the international e-learning arena in the early 1990s and now helps customerslike GE Medical Systems and Ericsson train staffs across international locations."A key factor in an employee's acceptance of e-learning ... is that thetechnology shouldn't get in their way," Russell adds.

Self-service, please
    Traditional HR technologies, such as compensation, benefits,and attendance management, are increasing in sophistication and becoming morepervasive. The latest buzz is self-service, which opens communication channelsand speeds decision-making. Self-service allows HR professionals to spend lesstime answering basic questions, like benefits choices, and more time dealingwith more complex HR issues. In the meantime, HR and IT become brothers in armsas they apply these technologies to dovetail with corporate strategies.

    Chuck Baker, senior associate for compensation for Dow Jones & Company,sought a system that would reduce compensation planning cycle time and improvedecision-making by all managers in the organization. He chose Kadiri Inc.'sTotalComp, which allows line managers to access comprehensive compensation datathrough the company intranet. Dow Jones is using the system to plan merit, variablepay, and stock compensation for thousands of employees. Line managers gain thepower to make timely recommendations for compensation and have access to reliabledata. "We wanted to change our administration of (compensation) to be real-timeand away from the spreadsheet approach," says Baker. The system makes compensationinformation available to line managers on their PCs, rather than passing itup and down the chain of command through e-mail.

    TotalComp not only makes compensation planning more efficient and accurate,but also empowers managers to be more responsive and cuts the waiting time forapprovals. Baker says the system "gives managers more control" andwill help Dow Jones implement strategic compensation programs.

    Kadiri recently entered an alliance with Aon Consulting Worldwide to strengthenits products and services. By combining Aon's Web-based solutions, such as CompModeler,with Kadiri's compensation-management applications, both partners strengthentheir solutions. These tools not only improve compensation planning, says MitchWilliams, Kadiri vice president of worldwide sales and business development,but also change attitudes and behaviors within organizations. Williams citesa customer follow-up survey in which a majority of employees reported levelsof trust in managers' compensation decisions after the Kadiri system was putin place.

    "Managers, by virtue of using our application, are better armed to communicatewith their employees," says Bruce Spiegel, senior vice president at Aon.In performance reviews, for example, a manager has reliable, up-to-date compensationdata at her fingertips, and employees don't have to search the Internet to findout whether their salary is equitable.

    Compensation systems are geared toward managers, but self-service can go allthe way down the ranks. It has become common for companies to provide onlineHR information to employees. Towers Perrin's "Human Resource Center Survey2001" found that companies are expanding employee access to HR informationand using Web-based technology for transactions like online benefits enrollment,personal data changes, and 401(k) allocation. Sixty percent of respondents --HR centers representing 3 million employees -- said they will allow employeesto complete benefits enrollment online by the end of the year. The report alsoforecasts an expansion of self-service capabilities through next year for functionslike merit reviews and salary changes.

    HR self-service makes it possible for employers to open communication channelsfor any or all levels of the organization. Employees in turn feel empoweredand have easier access to HR data and control over choices such as benefitsoptions, retirement planning, and training. "Employers come at it fromtwo different perspectives," says Stanley Davis, a spokesman for TowersPerrin. "On one side, it's all about efficiency, improving accuracy, andtimeliness. On the other side is effectiveness, making better connections throughoutthe organization, better connections between employers, employees, and linemanagers. The Web allows unprecedented ways to reach out to people, and in apersonalized way."

    The study also found an increase in online access to HR intranets. Comparedto the year 2000 report, 10 percent more of the respondents (91 percent) providedworkplace access to the information, while a whopping 58 percent more providedaccess at home. Companies are also turning to HR knowledge centers, which consolidateinformation in a single online location.

    Employers are not "entirely willing to pull out all the technology stopsto support self-service," states the report, which speculates this is dueto pressure to keep down investment costs. But, says Davis, "technologyis catching up with the hype; it allows you to make a one-time investment andget a long-time return."

    Computerized data management not only gives HR professionals more time to dealwith tasks requiring HR expertise, but also offers them better tools for dealingwith those tasks. "Data storage and accessibility of information createsless (routine) work on the part of the HR person and better trust on the partof everyone," says George Murray of InfoTronics, which offers time-and-attendancetracking systems. InfoTronics' Attendance Enterprise handles complex companypay rules, attendance monitoring, and flexible reporting. Murray says the systemnot only boosts productivity and efficiency, but also improves the supervisor-employeerelationship.

    "First of all, the rules are applied uniformly. Second, as an employeeyou feel safer in your environment. Your attitude is, 'I'm being treated thesame as other employees.'" Attendance tracking, applied in all types ofsettings from production lines and health-care facilities to offices, handlesdata exchange over internal and local networks or intranets. By allowing employeesto "punch in" through their computers, self-service attendance trackingaccommodates flexible working environments, such as telecommuting and job sharing.

Affirmative action
    HR technology also supports affirmative-action planning.Peopleclick offers systems for AA/EEO planning for enterprise-level and smallerorganizations. Organizations implement these Web-based systems primarily tomeet government requirements and to go beyond compliance for diversity objectives."It's
important that when you're monitoring your workforce and how decisions are made,it works toward a fair and equitable environment," says Chris Northrup,senior director of product management for Peopleclick. "It has an impacton the bottom line."

    In a move that shows Peopleclick's focus on the AA/EEO planning market, thecompany recently acquired Optimum, a leading provider of AA planning and EEOdata analytics. "Last year we began expanding beyond our recruiting solutionsarea," says Jack Palmer, senior vice president of sales and marketing."Our customers were looking at EEO issues and how they relate to recruiting.Affirmative action and EEO are right at the forefront of making sure companiesare looking at fair hiring practices." The Optimum acquisition followstwo acquisitions last year in the AA/EEO arena.

    HR people responsible for EEO compliance are all too familiar with the timecommitment of collecting and compiling enormous amounts of data. "HR professionalsare in HR not because they like to crunch numbers, but because they like towork with people," Northrup says. "Yet they are faced with compilingall this data and have to come up with numerical results. Peopleclick systemsassist them and make the job a lot easier."

Smart investments
    Measuring return on investment for HR technology becomeseasier as functionality increases. The business case for higher productivityrates, successful recruitment, and increased retention is clear. However, someHR technology outcomes remain difficult to quantify, such as improved employeemorale and better communication flow. Nonetheless, HR technologies promise tobecome more prevalent in the years to come. Companies will have to find waysto capitalize on these tools without losing sight of the big picture. "Wecan choose to become technology-centric or people-centric," says Jim Spoorof Spectrum. "Wise leaders are focusing on the latter."

Workforce, November 2001, pp. 55-58 -- Subscribe Now!

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