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Softworld preview: Questions and answers with Ian Wells, PA Consulting Group

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SoftworldAt the Softworld HR and Payroll show later this month, Ian Wells and Bill Whetstone from the PA Consulting Group will be giving a presentation on selecting and implementing an HR information and payroll system. Here, we put some specific questions to Ian Wells on the subject.


HR Zone: Is it worth putting in place a system for one aspect of your HR, say, recruitment, or should you look at putting systems in place across the board?

Ian Wells: It depends on the business case, for example, Adecco, the recruitment agency train 28,000 people looking for work through the internet and that simply could not be done cost-effectively without technology. Manpower employs 200,000 temps globally and tracks their development into more senior roles using a global web-based tracking tool. However, you will not get the ERP benefits of joined-up information without an integrated system and that means financial links too.

HR Zone: With so many potential providers, how do you go about establishing what you need to ask them?

Ian Wells: Technical advances make systems more powerful and catch up is faster, so knowing that a system is capable of a function is not a good basis for selection – the question is how. The emphasis is more on the business case – one client we helped saved half of planned £2m cost.

HR Zone: Do some providers specialise more in providing systems for one type of organisation than another?

Ian Wells: Providers tend rather to get experience in a particular type of implementation e.g. the retail sector.

HR Zone: Is the computer literacy of those who are going to be accessing a system an issue?

Ian Wells: It’s less so in professional and knowledge-based organisations. But automation is not the whole answer. Managers can still make poor salary decisions and conduct poor performance reviews and they soon learn what will keep the system quiet with the minimum effort. Too many HR functions are guilty of creating over-engineered performance review processes for example, just because the system allows them to collect so much data. The best organisations stay true to the principles of their people agenda so that automated HR systems clearly support common themes. Care is taken to ensure managers understand the compelling benefits of the processes they are being asked to engage in as well as what they need to do. Even Cisco, whose business is hardware, stresses that e-HR has more to do with culture change than technology.

HR Zone: Are there organisations for which e-HR is not likely to prove an advantage?

Ian Wells: The business case for employee service is not there for shop floor workers who do not normally use PCs. However the problem is that, although more than two thirds of companies are using either the internet or their intra-net for HR management, most are for information content only – relatively few are using them to reap the productivity gains of distributed HR process management. The benefits can be huge: Cisco which prides itself on modelling the e-organisation claims savings in productivity of $36m per annum and at least as much again in effectiveness improvements. When the sharp reversal in business hit Cisco the recruitment processes world-wide were closed off at the press of a key on the keyboard. Until that moment the recruitment machine had been fuelling massive growth of the 70,000 strong organisation recruiting a thousand or so people weekly – every hour lost would have meant hundreds of people recruited needlessly.

HR Zone: Why is jargon so common when people talk about e-HR?

Ian Wells: Because it’s too technically-led!

HR Zone: What does your organisation expect the key developments of 2003 to be for e-HR?

Ian Wells: Ten years ago HR systems provided information, kept records and ran processes in the HR department and for many organisations that is still true today – much of the activity is to move beyond that, replacing old systems. The question is, what to? What is possible and what is cost effective? More possibility means more choice and that has made it harder.

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