Giving power to the people

There’s no doubting the big human resource topic of the moment – the to employee level and freeing up valuable time for more strategic issues. Guy Matthews reports on developments. devolution of responsibility for information archives from centralised departments to employee level. So-called employee self service, enabled largely thanks to the prevalence of intranet technology in today’s enterprises, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. On the one hand one might expect HR professionals not to welcome a trend that appears to take power away from their control. On the other, such a system is surely fraught with risk of abuse. These concerns do not seem to be reflected in real life experience. Both HR managers and the consultants who advise them welcome the trend as freeing up valuable time for more strategic issues. The only real loser may be vendors of HR solutions. Less may be more for those implementing the systems, but the growing simplicity, streamlining and integration of the HR management function with other corporate business processes may render the need for discrete HR solutions obsolete within a few years.

Alf Turner, human resources manager with BOC

Turner, a speaker at the forthcoming Softworld Human Resources & Payroll event, says that BOC is in the throes of moving to a new, consolidated human resource model. “We are moving from a traditional model with responsibility for human resource management devolved across several offices to one where everything is managed under the same system. This is enabled by intranet technology.”

He describes the new model as a “call centre” approach. “We will be employing a combined employee self service and line manager self service system. People will be able to call into an information centre and verbally update records online, a bit like First Direct bank.”

Turner says that the joy of this model is that the time of HR managers is freed up from bureaucracy and redirected to more strategic ends. “Red tape is the last thing that anyone in HR wants to get lumbered with.

With our new system, this will be cut out of the equation.”

The basis of the BOC system will be SAP’s HR module. “It does most of the job we need, but not all. We will be looking to back it up with additional knowledge management software. This will allow us to get at information that is currently in people’s heads and reengineer it for availability as an intranet solution.

Turner is not fazed by the devolution of responsibility for HR records to employee level. “Do I think there is a danger of abuse? Well obviously we won’t be letting people anywhere near stuff like salary information.

There will be in-built safeguards to ensure that that sort of thing is not allowed for a second. That’s what the technology is there for, as far as I am concerned. In fact I take the view that far from leading to problems, the application of this system will lead to far greater accuracy and all round satisfaction. The result will be better not worse information.

It’s really a question of picking the right system and the rest falls into place.”

Softworld Human Resources & Payroll, at Wembley on February 10 and 11, will be both an exhibition and a series of seminars and masterclasses covering developments in HR and payroll technologies. Topics covered by the seminars include globalisation, the deployment of intranet applications, and the benefits of client-server. More than 50 leading software suppliers will be participating, as well as independent experts and human resource professionals like Turner giving the benefit of their experiences. Further information can be obtained from Softworld on 0181 541 5040.

Martin Stockton, director of Deloitte Consulting’s HR practice

“Our HR work has increased 400 percent this year, and we are looking to recruit more consultants in that area,” says Stockton. He identifies three vendors that are currently dominating the market for HR software – SAP, Peoplesoft and Oracle. “Those three have got the whole market pretty much sewn up between them. SAP has slipped a bit this year, because Peoplesoft has been taking the market by storm. It is particularly strong in the banking and finance sector.”

Stockton says he tends to avoid viewing the market as separate vertical areas. “Deloitte has been highly active in utilities, telecommunications and banking, but I prefer to view things horizontally. All big companies are looking for HR solutions, no matter what sector, and we can’t afford to have our eggs in only one or two baskets.”

A trend in client demand that Stockton pinpoints is systems that take the admin overhead out of HR management. First, he says, were systems that devolved this task to the level of line managers, and this year has seen responsibility for updating systems devolve right down to individual level. “Employee self service takes a huge amount of the cost out of the management of records. It is welcomed by HR professionals, because it leaves them free for less repetitive and tedious work. With today’s corporate intranets, people can easily tap into the system to make changes to their record, when they get married, say.”

Stockton accepts that safeguards against falsification are a must. “Is employee self service open to abuse? Of course it is. It has got to have checks built in. But I’ve been involved in the implementation of prototype self service systems that have managed perfectly successfully without many checks.

Stockton feels that while the self service trend has gone down well at corporate level, its implications for the HR software industry are as yet unclear. “It might be killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs. As systems get more and more efficient, they also get more and more reduced. But there’s nothing anyone can really do about it. It’s a general trend with systems of all sorts to enable more and more user access.”

Another trend is the increasing globalisation of HR systems within major enterprises. “Records are being kept on international databases. In the old days lots of big multinational companies would not be able to tell you exactly how many people they employed because HR data was not consolidated.

This was obviously a concern, and it’s now being addressed. HR systems are also being integrated more and more with systems for logistics and finance. HR is really coming in from the cold.”

David Clifford, partner with KPMG

“Companies have an increasing appetite for systems that give them knowledge about their staff,” says Clifford. This is not, he says, a particular product of the offerings out there, good as they are, but a reflection of the changing way in which people are being managed. “Companies are becoming aware of the need to know who works for them. Sounds obvious, but it’s happening at the moment. And the staff are expecting to be recognised as individuals rather than job titles.”

Technology to manage HR is now inexpensive and accessible, says Clifford.

“A lot of companies are using technology like the Internet to do exciting things with the management of people. Others are still not able to overcome their view of the Internet as essentially a toy.”

Like Stockton, Clifford is heartened by the gradual merger of HR systems with other corporate IT functions. “There are still some HR managers not into IT but that’s changing, and the driver is that people need better information on their employees to be effective. They need ways not only on archiving who works for them, but ways of setting up active communication with them.”

Employees expect their records to be spot on, he says. Now that HR management is not just about paper processing, accuracy is improved.

Clifford agrees with Stockton about the possible pitfalls of employee self service. “Abuse of the openness of systems can happen in any organisation.

If systems are achieving one thing though, it’s the removal of the grand illusion that everything happens in a naturally organised way. How often do HR managers say ‘This is the way it’s supposed to work, but here’s what really happens’. That can’t happen with the right systems. Integration with other systems means that HR management is no longer an isolated ‘command and control’ function.”

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