ESS: keep on rolling it out

by 24 Jun 2009

Employee Self Service (ESS) is the big hitter when it comes to freeing HR from the burdens of transactional tasks. Teresa Russell talks to the University of Queensland about the efficiencies it has realised by rolling out a new ESS function

According to UK HR software sup plier Computers in Personnel (CIP), about 50 per cent of big organisa tions are yet to introduce ESS in any form. Equality of access concerns, implementa tion costs and data security issues head the list of reasons for delays. However, in 2009, when efficiencies and cost savings are being sought across all organisations, ESS is a great place to start.

According to global research conducted by Towers Perrin, many organisations completed upgrading HR systems by 2006. “ESS activity is growing most today in its ability to help employees manage their own job performance, growth and develop ment. By the end of 2009, employees in more than 75per cent of respondent com panies will be able to use ESS to view job postings, apply for posted jobs, enrol in training courses, view training history and update performance goals and results,” the 2008 report states. Onboarding employees and online career planning tools will be the biggest areas of ESS focus over the next two years, it predicts.

Some ESS doubters think that ESS just pushes work out of HR and on to man agers and employees. But two thirds of respondents in Towers Perrin’s 2007 research reported less work or no change in workload for employees. Workload increases are usually the result of poor web design or sluggish systems, according to Towers Perrin.

“I just can’t imagine why organisations don’t have an ESS,” says Jennie Webb, man ager of the University of Queensland’s HR business improvement program. “If you make it user-friendly, people use it,” she says.

The University of Queensland (UQ) upgraded its HRIS in 1999 in response to Y2K compliance issues. “We needed a safe, modern system that could keep pace with developments in new technology,” says Webb, adding that they chose a commercial product and stopped in-house systems development at the same time.

UQ employs about 6700 people across three university campuses, in all Brisbane’s teaching hospitals and on a research base on Heron Island. Webb says that the first ESS function they introduced in 2001 was updating of contact details, viewing pay details and accessing job information. She says that, on reflection, it was wise to give employees this initial access to the system, before introducing transactional functions, because it got them used to using it.

Later in 2001, all leave processing (annual, conference, sick, personal etc) moved from a manual system on to the ESS. Last year, UQ’s ESS processed 57,000 leave transactions. In 2002, the university introduced a training module and used the ESS for in-house training applications, with training record storage on the HRIS.

In 2007, employees became responsible for updating their own banking details, then, in 2008, electronic timesheets were introduced, removing the need for manual processing of 2500 casual salary claims each fortnight.


“The cost of processing all these trans actions has been removed from the business. It was a burden on HR that didn’t add value,” says Webb, who notes they have realised time savings and improved client service as well. “People are now in charge of the time liness and accuracy of the transactions that impact on themselves.”

There have also been large savings in the cost of paper and, Webb’s favourite out come, removal of the need to file and store paper records, with an audit trail and audit reports available through the HRIS.

Ongoing costs after the initial pur chase of some hardware includes the annual license fee based on headcount and the employment of a “small systems administration team”.

Webb recalls the decision-making that went with the initial vendor selection. “We considered the balance between function ality and cost and chose a mid-range system that was able to work across a wide range of technological environments.” Scalability was another imperative, which has since stood the test of time.

Webb says that UQ reviewed its system in 2005, but decided it was well placed for the medium term. “We’ll probably review it again next year, to make sure the system functionality is still matching our busi ness needs and that our vendor is moving with the times,” she says.


With such a wide geographic distribu tion of employees and an extensive range of computer skills, teaching peo ple how to use the system was initially a challenge. “People are used to using the web now, compared to when we first introduced our ESS,” says Webb. “If you make sure your ESS has a user- friendly and intuitive feel, it does not need much training,” she says, empha sising the importance that an evaluat ing team is representative of the types of future users.

A progressive rollout allowed UQ’s help desk to deal with call volumes and gave Webb’s team time to fix problems before the next cohort came on board.

Webb says that take-up was good across the whole organisation. Change was communicated in the system via the university’s e-newsletter and some brochures and web pages were designed when new functionality was introduced.

Since 2001, the organisation has grown much faster than its HR depart ment, making it now one of the leanest HR departments in the “group of eight” universities. “We have also changed the focus of who we are hiring into HR roles. Most are tertiary-qualified now,” adds Webb.