Making HRIS deliver for your business

by 04 Feb 2008

Few HR professionals would want to carry out their day-to-day tasks without a decent HRIS system, but how can you move from basic functions to getting maximum return on your technology investment? Angus Kidman looks at how to reap the most benefits from a HRIS

The direct approach

Dell is one of the world’s largest PC manufacturers and relies heavily on IT for its direct-order-only approach, so it isn’t surprising that technology also plays an important role in its human resources activities.

“One of the things I found when I joined Dell is that having been in HR for over 20 years, coming into Dell I was pleasantly surprised in terms of the HRIS in place and the level at which those systems were at,” says Australia and New Zealand HR head Karl Solomonson, who heads up a multifunctional team. “They’re probably the best I’ve ever seen.”

Dell uses a single, in-house system called HR Direct for all its global operations, primarily delivered via a portal interface. The Direct branding, reflecting the company’s core business activity, is also used for many subsidiary systems, such as Performance Direct for performance management, Talent Direct for talent management, Careers Direct for workforce planning and Recruitment Direct for internal and external hiring. The integration between each of these systems is crucial, making them much more effective than if they were isolated.

“It’s fully-integrated,” Solomonson says. “And it’s live, so all of our systems refresh every 24 hours. Whatever data goes into it is updated overnight.”

“The Direct model applies similarly for our people and our management teams. This is a system that’s designed to be direct and easily accessible by managers, personnel and the leadership teams,” Solomonson says. “Employees can go in and nominate what their next job will be. They can sit down and build a development plan. They can map their competency level as it currently stands against the competency level of the new job and what training they’ll need to do.”

Given the central role technology plays, ongoing planning for enhancements and updates is crucial. “Because it’s such an important part of our business, from an HR perspective we do a lot of planning around our people systems and, like anybody else in the business, have to program them into our annual IT roadmap,” Solomonson says. Feedback assessment is also crucial. “We have a regional HRIS team that deals with the HR business units on a day to day basis and takes feedback.”

“It goes beyond HRIS and into our core HR programs around performance management. You have to use the tool to conduct an annual review process or put in the performance plan for the year, and that performance plan is linked to Australian, [Asia-Pacific and Japan] and corporate objectives.”

The HRIS system isn’t exclusively used by the HR department. “I always using the term ‘fully-integrated’ because while it’s an HR tool, it’s a very valuable tool for our finance people as well, for example,” Solomonson says. “It assists them with day-to-day workforce planning and management of operating expenses. It is a fully-integrated business tool.”

“The systems which we have are designed as a time saver. There’re a lot of organisations out there still using Excel spreadsheets to run their core HR programs; the HRIS system we have is designed to save time and make it easy as possible for our managers.”

That emphasis on people also means training and ease of use are crucial. “The system is only as good as the people using it,” Solomonson says. “We spend a lot of time as part of our new hire on-boarding in getting people familiar with the system.”

“As a fully-integrated online tool, this system can drive anything from basic HR transactions to a fully-integrated career development plan agreed to by employees and managers. The strategy is ensuring as we develop the tool and enhance it that we make it as user-friendly and easy to understand. That’s really key. Some companies I’ve worked for in the past have systems that aren’t easy to operate. If it doesn’t get used, it becomes a redundant system. It’s really about keeping that balance and ensuring that people are using the system.

So what advice would Solomonson offer to other businesses? “It depends on the size of the organisation, but in terms of system design, it really has to be a system that’s aligned to your overall business strategy. There’s no point in developing a talent management system, for instance, unless the business is committed to talent management.”

Process before PCs

One recurring lesson in the implementation of HRIS systems is that technology needs to be the servant of business goals, rather than the other way around. That’s certainly been the experience of Indian information technology company HCL, which now operates in 17 countries and has close to 50,000 employees.

“Technology is always secondary to concepts and thought processes,” says HCL Asia-Pacific vice-president J Kalyanaraman. “For us the use of technology is more of an accessory than the primary means of managing people, which is the ‘employee first’ philosophy we work with.” That strategy is crucial, Kalyanaraman says, in a contract-driven industry where employees will be responsible for delivering services to a wide range of customers.

“To make employee first successful, one of the things we did was change the landscape of working. Technology is the partner that lets us do it more effectively,” Kalyanaraman says. “Where technology adds value for us is making the process effective – the process is still the core.”

“HRIS by itself is only a portion of that user technology for enabling the employee. Working with external customers, we often find that HRIS gets used as an information source for just a couple of people. HRIS should be a database of information that everyone can use. Almost all our daily managers get to see who is working on various projects and what they’re exposed to.”

One area this is evident is in ongoing performance reviews. “The process of review is largely self-review, and starts with the employee doing a self-assessment. Where technology helps us in that the whole process is automated, and the system takes them through everything step-by-step.”

“A typical review process if we didn’t automate it would take 60–90 days to complete. With technology we can do that in 15 days.”

A similar approach is taken with HCL’s annual 360-degree reviews of managers. “Every employee rates the manager, and every manager gets to see a consolidated report of what his people think about him,” Kalyanaraman says. “This is done in most organisations – where we took a step ahead is we go ahead and publish that information back to the teams. That gives people a reason to say what they want to say and the confidence that what they’re saying is taken seriously.” Ensuring individual ratings are secure while making summaries readily available requires efficient technology, but having an efficient information publishing system in place offers long-term benefits.

“Information dissemination becomes very easy – it’s a single message that goes across. We don’t have to wait for information to trickle down.”