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The Need for Speed

May 1, 2000
Related Topics: Strategic Planning, Featured Article
There’s no avoiding a basic reality in today’s dot-com, e-everythingworld: speed matters. Today, getting information, products, services and moreinto the hands of customers and employees at light speed is absolutelyessential. In an era of instant gratification, companies are pushing theboundaries to new heights -- or some might say new depths.

Clearly, human resources is getting pulled along for the ride. Although itmight not experience the crushing pressures of an e-commerce site, HR isn’timmune from compressed technology cycles and growing demands for faster andbetter service. It’s no longer possible to install a new recruitingapplication or benefits system over a period of months or years. By the timesuch an implementation is complete, the functionality is obsolete.

"What makes e-business and the Web different is that it comes down tosurvival of the fastest, not necessarily the fittest," states Ed Nazarko,managing director of Scient Corp., an e-business consulting and integration firmbased in San Francisco. Of course, the penalties for those who don’t play thegame effectively are steep: competitive disadvantage, and, in a worst-casescenario, outright failure.

If you feel like you’re sitting at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, you mightas well sit down and gulp the tea. Things aren’t going to change anytime soon.Because the underlying infrastructure of the Internet allows constant andimmediate change, it’s human nature to make constant and immediate changes.The important thing, says Jim Monastero, a lead partner for e-businessconsulting at KPMG Consulting, is to balance speed with the ability to deliveron your promises to customers or employees. "If you can’t deliver, yourreputation can be damaged, even destroyed," he warns.

Here are seven rules for moving at Internet Speed:

  1. Understand that the Internet is fundamentally different. Processes andprocedures that worked just fine in the brick and mortar world can turn theInternet into a logjam. E-business and e-commerce require more creativethinking and less bureaucracy. This philosophy must filter into a number ofareas, including site design, usability, performance and generalcapabilities. But it also means thinking up new ways to communicate anddeveloping new business models. Some of these models haven’t been inventedyet.

    Yet, regardless of the exact approach, one thing remainsconstant: The key concepts here are delivery and service. Within anenterprise, employees typically desire information about their benefitsselections, retirement accounts and more. Managers want information on theirdesktop to make critical decisions -- and workflow solutions can provide thefuel to make that happen. When all is said and done, the Internet can createnew opportunities -- but only if HR understands the need to move quickly andeffectively.

  2. Elicit the support of senior management. It’s simple, if your CEO andtop executives don’t understand and support your HRIS project it’sprobably headed for the virtual trash bin. It’s essential for HR to builda business case for projects and then provide plenty of useful informationso that management can understand what’s required. Equally important:Senior management must understand the fundamental reasons for embarking on aparticular initiative. It’s not to become part of the dot-com generation,it’s to compete in today’s rocket-paced environment.

    Of course,one of the best ways to get senior management’s attention is to providehigh-level capabilities that can boost earnings and slash expenses. Forexample, at Broward County School District in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, aWeb-based business intelligence system helps administrators betterunderstand everything from demographic trends to scheduling classes at over200 schools. The latter used to take days or weeks but can now beaccomplished in a single afternoon. Once top administrators saw the businessand HR capabilities the system offered, it was a no-brainer to move forwardas quickly as possible, says Nancy G. Terrel, director of strategic planningand accountability.

  3. Create a team or task force that is empowered to make quick decisions.Because e-business overlaps among multiple departments and domains, it isessential to develop teams that can communicate issues and understand theneeds and concerns of others. The timeline in the e-business and e-commerceworld is typically 60 to 120 days -- and much of this thinking is filteringinto HR as well. "The conventional two-year implementation cycle thatmany companies have grown accustomed to cannot work on the Web,"Monastero warns.

    For example, at Dell Computer Corp., HR teamsfocusing on content and functional requirements, work closely with IT tospearhead the e-HR initiative. Management stands aside and lets these teamsmake their own decisions. That allows fast and efficient decision-makingthat mirrors the company’s customer service model for consumers. "Thegoal is to provide the best experience possible for employees and to putsystems in place to make that happen. It’s important eliminatebarriers," says Terril Brummett, director of human resourcesinformation management at Dell.

  4. Don’t use conventional ROI calculations. Although it’s possible to useROI for measuring major systems, it isn’t always possible to calculate thevalue -- or meaningful return on investment -- of many e-HR functions.Monastero believes that an organization must weigh various trade-offsrelated to implementing and maintaining e-business solutions and the speedof progress. "It’s one thing to say, ‘This project will cost us $3million or $10 million and we can’t afford it.’ It’s quite another toexamine the affect of not investing the money." Indeed, when it comesto e-business and e-HR, many initiatives are so new and there are so many"soft costs" wrapped into the equation that it is nearlyimpossible to measure a direct return on investment.

    Some of thesesoft costs can lead to enormous productivity gains or simply happieremployees who are more loyal and less willing to look elsewhere for work.Nazarko puts it this way: "There’s no question that financial gravityexists. But you can’t think about ROI in a two month or six month window.And you cannot allow the financial considerations to get in the way ofproperly upgrading and maintaining a Web site." Indeed, if employeesdon’t find a site useful and easy to use, they’re perfectly happy tovote with their feet and their phones. Instead of turning to the Web siteand using e-HR functions, they’ll buckle HR with countless inquiries.

  5. Make sound business decisions. These days, it’s important to viewe-business as a balancing act, requiring trade-offs between scalable,personal and secure architecture and the need to deliver solutions quickly.That means working with other departments and IT to see the big picture ofhow various decisions affect HR and the entire enterprise. For example, asystem that benefits HR might not integrate effectively with systems fromfinance or operations. In the long run, it might create a roadblock as theorganization attempts to introduce additional functionality. Likewise, it’simportant to move fast but not leave gaping security holes or providemismatched content and capabilities. A poorly designed strategy or systemcan wreak havoc for months or years to come.

  6. Build an IT architecture that is flexible and scalable. If you get lockedinto proprietary systems and cannot expand easily, you could find yourselfwith a subpar intranet or creaky Web site. Worse, you could wind up shellingout big bucks later on in a futile attempt to fix everything. The righthardware and software can make it easy to move quickly as things change.

    That means laying the foundation with a solid ERP, database andmiddlewear to provide maximum flexibility. Unlike changes to a Web site orfront-end systems, these tools can remain in place for years. Yet, incertain instances and for particular applications, it might mean turning toapplication service providers (ASPs), which offer a turnkey solution bymanaging software and systems remotely -- including things like time andattendance, payroll and recruiting. It also means tapping into expertise,either internally or through consultants, to oversee and monitor anenvironment effectively. "Ultimately, you have to ensure that for everyentrance strategy there’s an equally valid exit strategy," Nazarkopoints out.

  7. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Even the most successful e-HRinitiative is fraught with mistakes and missteps. The key is to understandthe big picture and define the infrastructure and strategy as clearly aspossible. Then be ready to shift focus at a moment’s notice. Whensomething doesn’t work, consider changing it.

    In fact, it’s not aquestion of whether to move fast, it’s how to move fast. The biggestproblem, says Nazarko, is that companies adopt a strategy that is tooconservative and defensive. "Instead of grasping the opportunity theyare saying, ‘I don’t want to get hurt.’ They spend too much timeanalyzing things. The reality is that you are going to be wrong 30 percentof the time and need to build that into the process."

Ultimately, you might question whether the pace of today’s businessenvironment is truly progress. Every time we turn around it seems that someoneor something is heaping more stress our way. But the simple reality is: Theclock isn’t going to travel backwards, the need for instant gratification isn’tgoing to vanish, and the Internet isn’t going to become passé anytime soon.

Better strap on your seat belt because the ride has just begun. Welcome tothe brave new world of e-HR.

Workforce, May 2000, Vol. 79, No. 5, pp. 20-21-- Subscribenow!

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