Empowering Employees Online

GKN's payroll department was streamlined from three sites to one, reducing staff by half. The HR team was also centralized and reduced by 20 percent.

January 8, 2002

In the mid-1990s, GKN Automotive decided it wanted to become the employer of choice in the automotive industry. "To do that, we needed the technology to empower employees," says Ted Bishop, project manager for HR applications. "Being a state-of-the-art company is a valuable tool in the recruiting process."

Location:Roxboro,North Carolina
Business:Supplierof components and systems to auto manufactuers

At the time, GKN's payroll process was "a flat file system" that relied on basic data entry to process paychecks every week, and there were no HR applications. GKN's three dozen HR employees were decentralized, all of them creating distinct HR processes for their own regions.

"We needed to change HR from an administrative collection of data to a proactive business-development process that would give employees the tools to manage their careers," Bishop says.

In late 1994, he gathered representatives from all departments to create a document outlining the functions that every department wanted the new system to perform. They created an extensive questionnaire and then began evaluating vendors. After a lengthy review process, which took years to complete, GKN signed with PeopleSoft in March 1998 -- on the condition that the system be up and running by January of 1999.

"Five months was an aggressive target," Bishop says. "A lot of people didn't think we could do it."

But they needed the system in place in order to be sure they had a year's worth of data before Y2K. A small in-house team of only five people, working with a third-party company, accomplished the task just in time, even though two upgrades were made during the implementation to accommodate new versions of the software. "There were a lot of long nights, seven days a week," he says. "We all missed Christmas that year."

Once the system was up and running, GKN was able to dramatically reduce manpower. The payroll department was streamlined from three sites to one, reducing the staff by half. The HR team was also centralized and reduced by 20 percent.

"It changed the role of HR," Bishop says. "It's no longer an administrative job. We've refocused our energy on planning for the future."

That was just the beginning. A year and a half after the new integrated system went live, PeopleSoft launched a Web-based version of the tool. Going against its usually cautious nature, GKN agreed to be the first pre-release customer for the new application.

"We saw the limitations of the version we had installed. Not all of the functions we wanted were available to empower employees," Bishop says. He had been considering customizing the system in-house when PeopleSoft approached him. "It was a bold decision, but putting the system online would give employees the functionality they needed."

After a great deal of debate, GKN decided that because the financial implications were so appealing, working with PeopleSoft as a beta customer was the best choice. "Customizing would have been a huge expense," he says. "And we didn't want to wait two years for PeopleSoft's Web version to be fully tested and available on the general market."

To sweeten the deal, PeopleSoft gave GKN reduced rates and top-notch support. Within a similarly aggressive time frame, PeopleSoft got GKN's payroll online and active in 40 days so that it would have a live customer for its October 2000 user conference.

The transition was a success. There were no real technical issues, GKN's fall open enrollment went off without a hitch, and the employees liked it. "The Web version put a lot of access and control in their hands," Bishop says. For example, employees can view payroll as soon as it's done, so they don't have to wait to see how much they'll be paid, and managers have employee information at their fingertips. "It's made us all more productive."

Workforce, January 2002, pp. 66-67 -- Subscribe Now!