HR Technology Smart HR: Just how good is the new people management software?

Integrated, web-based human resource solutions that link the everyday ‘admin’ stuff with other HR functions like training and competency development, have been on HR managers’ wish-lists for years. But it’s only since the recent advent of single-solution software that it’s become ‘do-able’.

Variations of this software are now available, but most organisations are just starting to contemplate and appreciate the potential and the power that’s increasingly within reach. Beyond the back-office applications, enterprises are using sophisticated HR software to drive business plan and performance management processes. Management wants to identify, nurture and retain top talent by using online information.

A survey of some of our larger corporations reveals lot of activity going on out there in HR cyberspace.

Local activity
For example, the New Zealand Rugby Union has recently adopted PS Enterprise. The primary product offering of Rebus, PS Enterprise is mid-sized, HR management and payroll solution. At the top end, large employers like National Bank and Telecom have embraced Oracle Human Resources Solutions, which in addition to automating routine tasks, gives staff access to other key areas of business intelligence. And Air New Zealand is currently deploying $37-million PeopleSoft enterprise-wide solution (over five years) which, when complete, will have 26 systems all hanging off the one platform.

Homegrown options are also easy to find. For example, the 34 users of Jade’s software solution, JADE Star, include organisations like BHP NZ Steel, the Department of Conservation and the National Library.

And what started out four years ago as homegrown performance management and leadership development tool for Carter Holt Harvey’s in-house use – Talent Manager – is now being sold commercially as an ASP model (with 15 external clients) via its HR solutions subsidiary Mariner7. Similarly, Lion Nathan developed its own in-house solution and is now contemplating commercialising the application under the People Planet brand name.

Drill down further and there are more niche-based applications like candidate testing software DrakeWize.

StaffCV software, developed originally for recruitment in the aviation sector, claims to have shaved $700,000 off Virgin Blue’s HR operation costs.

Survey-based software is also becoming more popular. One example is Survey-online.com, developed by John Robertson & Associates to manage virtually any form of people research, such as employee surveys, 360-degree feedback and exit interviews. Key clients include: Trade NZ, The National Bank, ACC, Auckland Regional Council and Simpson Grierson.

Automation is key
So what does this software technology deliver that HR managers couldn’t ante-up before? The short answer is nothing. But the difference, says JADE Star general manager Karen Dale, resides in the integration and automation of the processes.

Put simply, integrated HR software solutions attempt to:
* Free-up employee administration time
* Automate numerous manual tasks
* Improve communication across workforces
* Streamline reporting requirements
* Enhance the recruitment process
* Provide faster and easier access to up-to-date workforce data
* Identify employee skill and competency gaps, and
* Help implement strategies to improve performance.

With automated back-office systems already in place, the decision to implement new software within medium to large organisations is now being driven by HR rather than payroll or finance.

Culture gains
Does all this software work? Lion Nathan’s answer is resounding yes.

Nicolette Wood, the company’s director HR technology, links Lion’s recent ranking as Australia’s fourth best employer – third best in NZ – to their People Planet solution. The firm migrated to an in-house developed solution after deciding that the best-of-breed “off the shelf” software wasn’t meeting the company’s needs.

According to Wood, Lion Nathan is making big gains in developing its culture and leadership, the dual fulcrum on which much of the company’s business is won or lost. “The software provides mechanism for improving capability in developing people. By automating assessment, we’ve been able to provide more consistency between qualitative evaluations,” she explains.

Deployed three years ago to around 1200 Lion Nathan employees, People Planet was designed to sit atop leading-edge HR practices. Used mainly by HR and line managers, it is being used as mechanism for developing the company’s human capital. It also provides an information base that employers and managers can draw on for appraisals.

Manual processes
Software solutions don’t eliminate manual-based processes, like tailoring job accountabilities, objective setting, monthly, annual and core competency/bonus reviews, but web-based automation does make these applications easier to follow. For instance, by using web portals employees can apply for internal job vacancies, and complete forms and processes online. And by linking performance with accountability/behaviour results together on the same system as payroll, bonuses can be automatically paid online.

By using People Planet staff can request professional development courses online, explains Wood. Once approved, the employee is automatically enrolled on the course and reminder alert is sent to them few days before the course begins. New qualifications are updated and added to the employee’s competency profile. This is reflected in monthly report that helps managers staff new project that requires new skills.

Ensuring no surprises
Mariner7 CEO Katja Carson believes the automation of these processes prompts employees and their managers to keep important reviews “top of mind”. “Constant feedback means that at the end of the year, there should be no surprises when it comes to reviewing areas where employees need to improve.”

By automating the work-flow pro-cess companies can not only drive efficiency gains, but also cascade accountabilities from the business plan down into individual roles, says Carson.

CHH’s home-grown software, Talent Manager, covers large chunk of the company’s salaried staff. It allows line managers to assess competencies against pre-defined criteria. “In addition to capturing competencies, online 360-degree survey tools enable peers to rate fellow staff on leadership qualities. Through the efficiency of automation we’re able to entrench performance culture, and keep it proactive in people’s minds,” enthuses Carson.

Best performers
Using internet-driven HR solutions is turning employees into co-partners with management in driving performance culture in the organisation, according to Carolyn Tremain, Air New Zealand’s senior vice president HR. By presenting employees with better window into where the organisation is headed, they can take more responsibility for their own career development. Similarly, the organisation gets better perspective of the individual’s aspirations.

Tremain expects the company’s migration from manual-based system to more automated, all-inclusive PeopleSoft platform to improve reporting for managers, the quality and currency of data, and to cut operating costs. “By operationalising strategy we expect to improve business performance. It’s another mechanism for aligning business targets with individual behaviour – by identifying the best performers.”

And equally important it helps to ensure the company gets the right employment outcomes, says Tremain. “This is especially important when identifying and developing people who, while not necessarily high-fliers, are integral to the organisation.”

Remote control
Should all companies embrace sophisticated HR technologies?

Frankly, the cost of an integrated HR software solution can be prohibitive for smaller enterprises. Telecom’s HR manager NZ

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