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HR sets the pace at Softworld event

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HR software is rarely a source of excitement, but traditional priorities were turned on their head at the Softworld event at the Birmingham NEC last week. John Stokdyk reports

Sandwiched between accounting/finance and project/performance management exhibitors, the HR & payroll companies were frequently swamped with visitors while rival exhibitors were left moaning about the lack of passing traffic.

Rising interest in HR came as no surprise to Graham Kimberley of COA, which last year brought Grampian Software into a group that also offers several financial software families as well as the PeopleAnalytics program.

According to COA executives, the combination is proving to be a persuasive one. “A significant percentage of FDs have responsibility for HR and many of the metrics they look at are financial metrics around people. Sickness and absence get talked about as a metric, because that’s a key measure that cosdts them money. There’s a natural fit with finance and the strategic view of HR is often owned by finance, where interest in human capital management (HCM) is also growing.”

Oracle, whose stand straddled the finance and HR zones also confirmed the rising interest in HR systems. “Judging from the show footfall, we are getting a lot of attention on the HR side,” said Oracle’s Tim North. “That reflects a movement in the market, where a lot of companies are looking at things like staff retention.”

Taking a breather from dealing with visitors to the Snowdrop stand, sales executive Ben Ibbotson said the team had been busy throughout the event, with perhaps two-thirds of the people asking about integrated HR and payroll software.

The time clocks are a changin’

The traditional time clock hasn’t disappeared in the 21st century, but it has gone through some radical changes to cater for the digital age.

Time Systems, which proudly boasts that it supplies the machine used by workers to clock in at Mike Baldwin’s ‘Coronation Street’ factory, continues to supply mechanical time clocks, but R&D director Ian Barker predicts that the market for mechanical devices will die out within five years. The alternatives were strewn around the company’s Softworld stand last week.

The simplest device was an Ethertrax network device into which the worker can swipe a magnetic card, punch in their ID code or use a bar code reader to register a project completion point. Increasing levels of sophistication are available, from the Ultrax device which can run Windows SE and features a touch-sensitive screen to fingerprint readers and the Touchline 1000. This contraption stores electronic data maps of workers’ hands and requires them to make contact with a set of levers to activate the time reader. Interest in this device is driven by the need to reduce “buddy punching” – but can run into difficulties in industries such as rail and steel, where many workers don’t have the full complement of fingers, Barker explained.

In all cases, time and project data is sent to a database which can export the information to other programs such as payroll. The company’s PayStandard program, for example, feeds time clock data straight into Sage Payroll so managers can generate monthly pay statements and payment runs with just a few clicks of their mouse.

The scope for expansion and growth in this sector obviously excited the timeclock boffin. “People are becoming more sophisticated. They want software solutions to be available in a browser that will work with smartphones and PDAs. It’s going to happen,” predicted Barker.

HR and the environment

ASR’s marketing manager Tony Flanagan highlighted a new dimension that has emerged in the HR software market – the environmental factor. “People are asking about how they can reduce the paper flow within their organisations,” he said at Softworld.

“HR is very admin heavy and they are thinking about how to make their companies a little more carbon-neurtal.”

According to Flanagan, self-service HR software is great for reducing the paperflow by prompting employees and managers to enter their own data for tasks such as appraisals and taking on new starters. While a lot of the technology already exists, some of it is underused within existing installations, he noted.

“We’d like to see people using these tools to maximise technology’s full potential. People invest thousands of pounds in software, but are not getting the most out of it. We feel a responsibility to use our experience to get our users to share best practices.”

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John Stokdyk

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