Workflow technology comes of age. Over the years, the use of workflow technology and groupware has gained popularity. Electronically routing forms, peer reviews, recruiting data and myriad other tasks can reduce cycle time significantly. It also can save considerable sums of money by reengineering processes and slashing through mountains of paper. But one of the headaches always has been to get such a system operating enterprisewide. Too often, lofty expectations crumbled when a company faced the reality of trying to route data through assorted computer platforms, operating systems and software.
No longer. Intranets deftly sidestep an array of compatibility problems and allow companies to automate a growing number of tasks. Recruiting, applicant tracking, new-hire processing, wage increases, peer and performance reviews, skills assessment and succession management are just a few of the possibilities. While IT or HRIS handle back-end hardware and database issues, HR and line employees are free to point and click their way through one task after another. As one person approves a transaction, it's automatically routed to the next person—until the process has been completed.
Osram-Sylvania automates benefits administration and the job-posting process. Consider Danvers, Massachusetts-based Osram-Sylvania, a producer of lighting products. Although the company had realized significant gains using the groupware features in Lotus Notes, it wasn't until the latest release of the program that Osram-Sylvania began to streamline workflow to any substantial degree. Using Domino, a new Web-enabling technology built into the latest version of Notes, the company automated benefits information and job postings last fall.
Employees now can handle all record updates without any assistance from HR, and job postings are available in real time. If a manager wants a job posting to expire on a particular date, he or she simply enters the data into a field and the event will take place. Not only has the latter eliminated paper and work, but also it has reduced hiring time from weeks to days. "What was a human-intensive process has become totally automated," says Roger Rudenstein, manager of HRIS and payroll systems.
Better yet, the software has slashed costs and improved morale. The company is already saving more than $130,000 a year—money previously spent on data collection and third-party reports. And recent employee surveys indicate that employees are pleased with the new system. In fact, after the company introduced the ability to apply for positions online, it received 157 applications for 171 jobs—over a third more than it had received when it used bulletin boards and paper printouts.
By fall, Osram-Sylvania plans to put its open enrollment online and automate dozens of other processes. Says Rudenstein: "There will no longer be any forms or paperwork. An employee will indicate preferences or make selections, and [the software] will automatically update the database. They'll not only be able to view benefits programs, they'll be able to make choices from their PC or a kiosk and the information will be sent directly to the providers. That benefits everyone."
To be sure, the capabilities are becoming more sophisticated all the time. Sheila Zinck, an HR solutions manager for Lotus Development Corp., likes to think of all this as a revolution in the way information and data are handled. Over the last year or two, "We have seen a convergence of technology that's allowing companies to harness the power of self-service," she says. "Web browsers, open databases and software that enables workflow is redefining the modern corporation."
Workforce, March 1997, Vol. 76, No. 3, pp. 88-93.