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Federal Express Makes Its Workflow Automation Package Work

July 1, 1994
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Featured Article
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For years, technocrats have dreamed of creating a paperless office: A place where electronic documents could zip across communications networks and provide staff with instantaneous access to crucial data; an environment in which administrative and clerical tasks that add little or no value could be stripped away. Unfortunately, as corporate America has learned all too painfully, computers often generate an even greater glut of paper—as they automate already inefficient processes.

Memphis, Tennessee-based Federal Express Corp. is one organization that's managed to wean itself from paper. The express transportation company operates what many experts consider to be the most automated and sophisticated human resources system in the world—one that, remarkably, runs off of a mainframe computer. Dubbed PRISM, the 93,000- employee system provides capabilities that most corporations only can envy.

Using the system, managers can track job applicants and enter information on new hires. There are online services for affirmative-action reporting, organizational charting, departmental structures, job bidding, training, merit reviews, job descriptions and employee-satisfaction surveys. And employees update their own personnel records, choose benefits by phone and E-mail and bid for new jobs from anywhere within the firm. Altogether, PRISM offers more than 550 online screens—many of which carefully guide employees through the steps needed to process a transaction.

In 1991, Federal Express also added sophisticated electronic imaging. After assembling action teams to study the problem of excess paper and unnecessary work, the firm developed a specific strategy. It opted to link its mainframe computer to seven PC workstations—all equipped with scanning. Clerks, working six-hour shifts, are now able to feed about 10,000 pages a day into the system. An optical disk jukebox provides sophisticated data storage—holding 114 disks, each with a 66,000 image capacity. As a result, human resources managers worldwide can view resumes and personnel records online and, if necessary, receive hardcopy from the Memphis headquarters in less than three minutes.

Yet PRISM is more than a management information system. It's also an advanced reporting system that incorporates state-of-the-art workflow automation. The software will inform a hiring manager if an applicant has applied for a job at another Federal Express office, and if the individual has been turned down, what the problem was. If a manager opts to hire an applicant, the system first verifies that the position is budgeted, and then automatically assigns the new hire an employee identification number and organization code. Finally, PRISM transfers information from the applicant tracking data base to an employee data base—without personnel ever filling out a form or entering data at a computer terminal. Remarkably, it doesn't generate a single piece of paper. And that's fundamentally changing the way the human resources department at Federal Express operates. Says Jim Candler, managing director of personnel information systems: "Even as the company has grown, our department hasn't grown. We've never replaced people with technology. The jobs in the department have simply become more technical."

Personnel Journal, July 1994, Vol.73, No.7, p. 32N.

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