But that's changing. Thanks to client/server architecture, innovative new software and a convergence of peripheral technologies—including scanning, desktop video and online communication—office automation is fast becoming a reality. And nobody is leading the charge more than Pleasanton, California-based software producer PeopleSoft, which, with the help of San Ramon, California-based Ramos & Associates (workflow automation specialists), has established the noble, though some might say foolhardy, goal of establishing the world's first paperless office within its own human resources department. The underlying idea, of course, is to showcase the company's own products and boost sales.
PeopleSoft's client/server system allows employees to use interactive voice response (IVR) for benefits enrollment and records updates. Later this year, employees will make all their changes online, using PCs in the office or at home. It has created online directories, handbooks and booklets—including a Lotus Notes database that offers an up-to-the-minute list of primary-care physicians, dentists and other professionals. Benefits statements, including an employee's 401(k) balance, can be requested through another IVR system, and is sent automatically via e-mail.
The Lotus Notes network also offers links to sundry mutual-fund providers. Once inside the company's web site, it's simple to view a prospectus or Morningstar reports on various funds. Employees can even view a video clip of the fund manager discussing his or her investment philosophy. And employees who participate in the firm's employee stock-purchase plan can enroll electronically using a Lotus Notes form that automatically links to brokerage firm Charles Schwab.
Managing benefits is only part of the picture, however. Sophisticated workflow technology routes promotions, salary increases, transfers and other forms through the organization to the proper managers for approval. As one person signs off, it's routed to the next. If anyone forgets to process a document, a smart agent issues reminders until the task is completed. Training materials—including video—are almost entirely online, and all payroll checks are distributed electronically.
But the company's hiring process may be the most futuristic aspect of all. Applications sent via the World Wide Web or fax are automatically deposited into a database; those submitted on paper are scanned into the computer and plugged into the same database. Once a hiring manager has selected an applicant for an interview, the system phones that person and asks him or her to select an interview time by punching buttons on a touch-tone phone. At the end of the call, the client/server database notifies the interviewers of the appointment, and even offers a reminder the day of the interview. It's all handled without human interaction. And an orientation program for new hires works much the same way.
"This is a showcase, not so much for technology, but practical, pragmatic business solutions," says Steve Zarate, PeopleSoft's chief information officer. "We want to blow away underlying assumptions and show how far it's possible to go in a well-managed client/server environment. By creating a paperless office, we're forcing people to think outside the box." So far, it seems to be working. The firm, with 1,500 employees in 14 countries, has realized clear-cut gains. While the average company has about one human resources staffer for every 50 employees, it's supporting a ratio of 1:110. That already translates into millions of dollars a year in payroll savings. And by the year 2000, when it expects to be completely paperless, the company wants to boast an HR-to-employee ratio of 1:500. "Client/server is driving incredible change. It's bringing tremendous power to the desktop," says Zarate.
Personnel Journal, May 1996, Vol. 75, No. 5, p. 92.