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Softworld case study: Implementing a new HR system at the National Assembly for Wales


Tony Bracey

The National Assembly for Wales recently replaced its existing HR system with a new one in order to allow its 4000 staff to maintain their own records online. Tony Bracey, who headed up the project team, shares his experiences with HR Zone members.

Why did you need to implement a new HR system?
Replacing the existing system with a new one was part of the Assembly’s strategy to devolve some HR responsibility to line managers and individual members of staff, automating administration procedures and increasing the accuracy of personnel data. We wanted to move from paper systems to electronic records, from multiple processes/systems to fewer processes and therefore less admin effort.

Devolving responsibility
In terms of devolving responsibility, we needed a system that would enable staff to be responsible for maintaining personal information by updating it online – eg request absences; access recent policy info; view job description and competency frameworks; maintain work history and educational details; and apply for vacancies online.

In addition, we wanted it to allow managers to authorise absent requests and view employee availability; view organisational structures; receive online management information and access performance reviews; job descriptions and development plans. We also wanted the system to enable managers to make better informed decisions by providing relevant, timely and accurate information.

We needed a system that will enable the organisation to segregate parts of the organisation structure; devolve areas of the HR function; make decisions based on evidence.

Data integrity
We wanted a system that would enable:
– online update of info
– not third party databases
– online questionnaires on disability, ethnicity, welsh language ability and health and safety

Who was in the project team?
We tried to ensure that there were representatives from each relevant area of the business. The project board included the Project Manager (myself) and 2.5 full-time project team members from Personnel Division although they also had to support the existing system. Other project members from the rest of the organisation included Internal Audit, Office of Government Commerce, Assembly Procurement Unit, user representatives, IT representatives, finance, HR system support team.

The approach we took can be split into five stages:

  • Develop vision/strategy – What are we trying to achieve?
  • Develop the business case, identify the processes – Where are we now?
  • Define requirements, select software – What will it look like?
  • Project start-up, implementation – How do we get there?
  • Lessons learned, benefit realisation – How did it go?

Do you have any tips on preparing a business case?
The business case for us was part of a wider strategy on how we handle employee information and an integration of corporate systems. We looked at what we were trying to achieve in terms of the business vision/strategy and developed the business case from there. At regular stages of the project we reviewed the original case and where we were at.

How did you go about selecting the system?
I established an evaluation team who were involved in the whole process and responsible for recommending the supplier to the project board.

The procurement process involved:

  • A detailed specification against which each tenderer responded (scored by evaluation team)
  • A presentation by each supplier (approx 1 hour with no steer given) on how they thought their product satisfied our requirements (scored by evaluation team).
  • A visit to the tenderers’ headquarters by myself and the HR IT Support Manager where we met key staff
  • Reference site visits (attended by each evaluation team member) to one customer of each of the tenderers
  • Financial analysis.

    What did you choose and why?
    The Assembly chose Snowdrop’s Evergreen (employee records), Spring (recruitment) and Fountain (training) software modules, all of which are accessible over our intranet system through Snowdrop’s U-Access technology.

    We chose Snowdrop because the tender evaluation covered each area and the supplier presentation was tailored to the specification. They seemed organised and we met the whole team when we visited their offices. At the reference site we visited, the self-service element of the Snowdrop system was actually in place and working, unlike some of the others.

    Although it wasn’t the cheapest, overall it seemed like value for money.

    How did you get buy-in from senior managers/those who would be using the system – what different tactics did you use to get them involved?
    Stakeholder involvement is always a concern and encouraging buy-in can be a struggle in any IT project; this was no exception. Our key stakeholders were senior managers, personnel users and the wider staff who would be using the self-service system – each group required different tactics to get them involved.

    To engage senior management, we made them aware of the information the system could provide to aid their strategic decisions, eg trend data on absence and turnover, which would help them monitor the health and welfare of the staff.

    We consulted personnel users about their requirements for the system based on their day-to-day processes and their own ‘wish lists’ for system functionality. We fed their comments and requirements directly into the system development. For them, seeing the results of their feedback in the finished system was highly motivating.

    For the wider staff, communication was very important, as explained below.

    In all three cases the key factor was making people feel involved from the outset in order to create a sense of ownership for the system.

    How did you communicate the project?
    We used the staff intranet to whet their appetite by keeping them up to date on the system development and the things they would be able to use it for. We then ran a series of awareness sessions, during which we presented the system to staff and showed them how to use it.

    Within the project team, I produced monthly update reports and also carried out regular presentations at executive level. I’d often gatecrash divisional ‘away days’ and get a 10-minute slot to talk about what was happening.

    Updates were also sent out in the organisation’s newsletters and on the news pages of the organisation’s intranet.

    How long did it take to roll out the system?
    It’s difficult to say as we stopped and started but in terms of selecting a system, approximately 1 year from advert to contract. Then the implementation has taken about 12 months, although of course this will be ongoing as the needs of the business change.

    When transferring data from the old system to the new system, it is essential to check the integrity of the data and clean the database if necessary. We found quite a few gaps in our personnel database due to data entry shortcuts in the past, which meant we had to spend some time cleaning it.

    To avoid wasting time and resources when doing this, we decided what data fields we needed to transfer into the new system right at the beginning. This meant we only needed to clean certain fields of the database rather than the whole thing, which saved us a significant amount of time.

    Have there been any pitfalls?
    The hardest thing was ensuring buy-in, and getting the commitment of staff who still have to do carry out their day-to-day tasks, especially the commitment to do testing.

    We anticipated that the roll out of self-service would be tough but it has been easier than we expected.

    What have been the key benefits since implementation?
    Staff are updating their personal details, eg their disability and ethnicity details, emergency contacts, bank details, contact details. As a result, it is providing better information, eg gender split, total ethnic minority, total disabled staff. We would usually have to conduct surveys to find out this sort of information.

    The system enables us to demonstrate that we are operating in line with good practice and equal opps and provides essential information and evidence for our annual reports on compliance, eg Welsh language scheme.

    The new system is helping us achieve our strategic vision of open access to accurate personnel data, which will inform business decisions across the Assembly as a whole. It will also link to other corporate systems providing more consistent and better quality management data. Hopefully, this will lead to more confident managers, using relevant, timely and accurate information to make decisions and better plan and manage their staff and resources.

    It is flexible enough so that if the business changes, the system can change too.

    What feedback have you had from users?
    Feedback has been positive. Staff say it’s easy to use and intuitive – we don’t have to send staff on training courses to learn the system.

    What’s the next step/challenge for you?
    We’ll continue to develop the system so that it is the definitive source of employee information and we intend to be proactive about this, in particular we are planning:

    • to roll out the training module to help the HR department record and identify staff’s training and development needs and manage performance
    • more interactive management information system
    • further HR delegation to divisions/managers
    • internet/intranet recruitment
    • skills audit/succession planning
    • seamless corporate information systems
    • better management of resources through informed decision making and evidence based planning.

    If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?
    I would probably factor in more time to manage and raise awareness of the commitment involved in such a project – don’t assume people are willing to come on board! Also, I’d allow more time for user testing and assessing expectations.

    What advice would you give to HR Zone members who are looking to select and implement a system?

  • All the evaluation team must be involved at every stage of the project.
  • Be clear and accurate about what you are trying to achieve, why you need to change the system and the success criteria.
  • A scripted process is well worthwhile.

    In terms of budget, we learned that projects do not always fit nicely with financial years and to be successful, flexibility is required on both sides.

    Our success was mainly due to a formal project management structure and support, involvement with the users, and the fact that the evaluation team remained as the project team.

    Tony Bracey will be talking at the Softworld HR & Payroll seminar on Wednesday 3 March at 11.45-12.45. Take a look at the free Softworld HR & Payroll seminar programme

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