News good, bad from HR tech

New Zealand companies are not gaining what they expect from technology associated with human resource systems, according to a survey. But the news is not all bad.

New Zealand companies are not gaining what they expect from technology associated with human resource systems, according to a survey. But the news is not all bad.

Late last year, Wellington-based IT and HR management specialists Infinity Solutions’ survey of 65 public and private-sector organisations found that HR technology failed to live up to expectations in some areas but exceeded expectations in others.

Some 32% expected new technologies to enable “more time for strategic HR”, but only 19% found this was the case after implementation. On the other hand, 41% of respondents told Infinity that new technology sped up their HR processes — a benefit only envisaged by 22%.

There are clearly a lot of HR IT projects going on at this time. According to Infinity, two-thirds of Kiwi firms had projects underway, but about two-thirds also had projects planned for the coming year.

Infinity HR general manager Esther Livingston says firms with a formal strategy for using technology in HR found the technology met expectations and 60% were “successful” or “very successful” in using that technology to meet their business needs. “Twenty-six percent of those with a strategy rated their companies ahead of others in the use of technology in HR. But only 9% of those with no strategy rated their companies as ahead of the pack,” she says.

Livingston says new HR technologies managers’ and staff’s access to information, removes barriers to effective workflow and removes “clutter” from administration.

“The HR team itself is able to move from being a team of ‘information generators’ to being people able to evaluate knowledge and turn it into something meaningful for the organisation,” she says. This could include analysing when people are sick, to see, for example, if it coincides with big matches at Eden Park.

Companies, Livingston says, are using HR tools to remove admin tasks, for example, by letting staff check their records online. Some firms even issue pay slips online; others offer more complex processes such as “succession planning” and “performance management”.

HR managers desiring such capabilities, she advises, should enlist the support of their chief executive by pointing out the value of such implementations from a cost-benefit perspective. Planning is essential, which includes explaining what you are going to do and how you will do it, what the expected benefits are and how will they be achieved. So, for example, if staff payslips are going online, they know the reason why and how to access them.

Hopefully the quality of implementation improves. Infinity suggests the main cause of projects “failing” is firms not planning how to implement solutions properly, not the performance of the technologies.

HR managers should consider the price of new systems, the stability of the underlying system, how adaptable the workforce is to new technology, how the system is going to be supported and how secure it is, particularly if it is to use an intranet front end.

The IT manager, who would be responsible for implementing such a project, she says, would have to work closely with the HR manager, operate the implementation using the principles of project management and ensure the security and stability of the chosen system.

As for measuring the success or otherwise of an implementation, Livingston says a simple measure is how long HR managers spend responding to “HR queries” such as holiday leave and most recent pay rises.

Before Infinity’s own HR implementation, she says 60% to 70% of HR staff time was taken up with simple queries like the above. They had targeted this to be cut to 20% but found after three months just 10% of their time was spent on such “trivial” matters, freeing up staff for more “value-added” activities.

Livingston says HR software in New Zealand comes in three forms — simple payroll products, as part of a larger financial package or specific human resource information products.

Cost cutting is often high on the agenda of firms seeking new HR systems. In December Oracle — which comes from the large financial package camp — said it intended to use its own HR software to save $3 million a year across the Asia Pacific.

Oracle Asia Pacific HR executive Alison Sibree confirmed new technologies were pushing HR from a boring paper-pushing route to something more analytical; for example, making decisions faster and taking evasive action to stop valued staff from leaving.

This year, Oracle will launch Manager Self-Service, which will offer managers access to more data about their staff such as their workflow patterns, giving them the power to set pay rates and so on, instead of HR.

“Managers are better equipped and closer to their employees in making decisions that have been made one or two levels above them,” Sibree says.

Greenwood is Computerworld’s HR reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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