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Focus On: HR Specialists – Chris Burrows, E-HR

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The E-HR revolution has software providers fighting it out for a share in this new market; it has changed the face of business not only in terms of processes and record-keeping but in every aspect of strategic HRM, the way we learn, capture and analyse data and even conduct employer/employee relations; Chris Burrows, E-HR Manager at Coventry City Council talks to HRZone about the ins and outs of life in cyber HRM.

Career history

An HR professional in the public sector since 1974, Chris Burrows has gained valuable HR generalist experience. His career in Human Resources Management (HRM) has touched upon industrial relations and more latterly E-HR.

Burrows has been employed by three authorities: Coventry, West Midlands and Solihull.

Among his accolades are fellowship of two professional bodies the CIPD and the Institute of Payroll and Pensions Management.

Branching out into E-HR

Timing was everything for Burrows.

For 14 years he worked as HR manager for Coventry City Council’s Education and Library Service before accepting a secondment to champion the Council’s E-HR project.

Paper-based systems were starting to hinder the Council’s plans to move HRM forward while a five year old HR & Payroll software solution seemed to be inhibiting progress.

It soon became apparent that there was a need for a specialist to lead the implementation of an E-HR function which not only served a payroll purpose but offered the technology to improve HR administration, transactions and process performance which the current system was failing to deliver.

Not only had E-HR been pushed to the forefront of the agenda in order to improve data capture and HR practices but it was fast becoming a requirement of government.

Each local authority is inspected by the Audit Commission. A key issue is the application of the e-government agenda. Coventry City Council had to examine which functions could be made more effective if computerised.

Burrows took up the role as E-HR Manager for Coventry City Council in March 2004.

The agenda

The challenge for Burrows is to find a replacement for the existing HR and Payroll system. A new system must offer an integrated payroll agenda while dealing with many aspects of HRM administration including employee and manager self-service. This will be workflow enabled to effectively reduce the number of repetitious data processes.

The first objective was identifying the needs.

Key challenges include:

  • Improving the ‘value add’ of the service
  • Improving quality of information so as to support better strategic decision making
  • Reducing paperwork
  • Managing workflow with ICT
  • Assisting the Council in meeting its e-government targets

A number of interim projects are also being tackled.

Casework log

This allows the Council to identify and monitor all kinds of casework – disciplinary cases, grievance and ill-health issues for example. E-HR will assist in producing accurate reports.

Recruitment system
A wholly manual recruitment system is being replaced by an interim e-solution recruitment module. This should improve the effectiveness of recruitment procedures for managers and reduce the time taken to find new staff.

Training module
The current HR and Payroll software solution has a training module but this has never been activated. Burrows hopes to change this and ensure accurate data on training is kept electronically.

E-links with schools
The futility of some of the current systems is no better demonstrated then with the repetition of schools’ data. At the moment data is uploaded in the school database, a memo is then sent to the Council bearing the same details and this is then inputted into a separate system. Burrows hopes to establish an e-link that will override this need for repetition.

E-HR skills

Burrows admits to having always held a healthy interest in ICT and explains that a good understanding and a keen interest in technology is a must have for the job. Project management skills are also key as well as a knowledge of HR and payroll.

Why E-HR?

Clearly having a great interest in ICT is a prerequisite for anyone considering going into this field. When asked what parts of his job he most enjoys Burrows highlights identifying cutting edge technologies and understanding how this can benefit the whole organisation as well as using project management skills to demonstrate the return on investment for adopting an E-HR system.

Why not E-HR?

E-HR in the public sector is dogged by finances, says Burrows. Local authorities like Coventry City Council are required to account for their investments which can be a drain and indeed funding to replace the existing HR and Payroll system still needs to be secured.

How to get into E-HR

Would-be E-HR practitioners are advised by Burrows to gain an understanding of where their organisation sits in terms of ICT and what benefits E-HR would bring to the organisation. Having an interest in the area is important but getting management to listen is key. Burrows suggests engaging all the stakeholders in any E-HR project including the HR and payroll function and ICT to ensure success.

HRZone will be following the progress of Chris Burrows and his E-HR project. Look out for further updates!

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Annie Hayes

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