The evolution of HR management systems

Stuck between 2.0 and 3.0, HR reluctant to make the jump to the Internet
By Gerson Safran
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/12/2002

If "generation" has become the yardstick for measuring the life cycles of technology products, it can be said the modern human resources management system (HRMS) has reached generation 2.5. How HR responds to employee and manager self-service options will go a long way to determining the future evolution of systems.

Mini and mainframe HR systems existed prior to the introduction of desktop PCs, but the growth of HRMS products really began in the late 1980s with the introduction of DOS-based desktop systems (generation 1). Windows products replaced DOS systems in the early 1990s, but these were often just a reworking of features to take advantage of the new operating system without changing the functionality of the HR systems themselves.

By the mid to late 1990s however, HR systems had gone through significant redesigns to include new reporting capabilities, enhanced functionality, improved ease of use, multi-user distribution via LANs (local area networks), and the addition of new modules to satisfy the demands of HR users (generation 2).

HR systems continue to evolve as enhancements are added to take advantage of technology such as the Internet, e-mail messaging and improved telecommunications capabilities.

Many HR organizations are now beginning to look at upgrading or replacing second generation HR systems acquired during the ’90s.

When they go to review the various upgrade options, HR departments will typically be faced with several important questions. Most importantly they will have to decide how deeply they want the HR function, and the whole organization for that matter, to move onto the Internet.

HRMS vendors are faced with a similar set of issues. What direction will the market take, how much effort should go into developing HRMS products that take advantage of these new technologies and how should they train users to both understand and implement new capabilities? Vendors have taken on more of a consulting role because of these system additions.

The growth and stability of the Internet, and the HR applications that operate with it, have provided HR managers with different models for user access. In addition, HR managers will be faced with decisions based on the actual location of the HRMS.

For example, with the application service provider (ASP) model, the complete HRMS can be moved off site with security-defined access provided to HR managers only, HR managers and supervisors or all employees. (For more on ASPs, click on the link below). A variation of this is to keep the system in-house but implement limited employee self serve (ESS) and management self serve (MSS) capabilities via a company-wide intranet. Or else, HR management can keep the entire system in house, but still use the Internet to distribute parts to employees and managers.

Alternatively, HR still has the option not to get involved with any Internet or intranet functionality and distribute portions of the system via a LAN or VPN (virtual private network) to managers and supervisors.

These decisions rest on only a few key issues. Will distributing all or part of the HRMS via the Internet result in a loss of data integrity, control and audit capability? What are the costs and benefits of such a distribution? And in the case of a Web-based HRMS, what other items are required, for example training, communications technology, additional PCs or kiosks?

Rather than review the ASP and ESS options at a theoretical level, let’s look at one common scenario from organizations considering employee or manager self service in terms of the criteria stated above.

The objective of implementing ESS or MSS capability is to reduce the amount of “administrivia” faced by the HR department, a main source of which is answering employee questions, such as, “How much vacation time is available?” ESS that makes this information available to employees will reduce the number of phone calls, freeing HR time to be used on more strategic issues.

Continuing with this example, a logical next step is to allow employees to enter dates for planned vacation once they have reviewed their entitlements. From an ESS design standpoint, this is easy to do. However, we are now faced with several control issues. How does the employee’s supervisor, who is supposed to approve vacation schedules, find out about the request and how is the employee notified about the approval or rejection? And, if rejected, why?

Again, from a system design standpoint, the solution is not overly difficult. A request for vacation can trigger an e-mail message to the appropriate supervisor, who either approves or rejects the request. In either case, an e-mail message can be automatically sent to the employee, informing him of the decision. A rejection can be accompanied by an explanation.

So, intranets and e-mails can be brought into the process, but, is it all worth it? Will supervisors and employees check their e-mails frequently enough? Will messages be understood? What if data is entered incorrectly? It’s great to use technology, but possibly, in this example, the better solution is to have the employee visit the supervisor who has HRMS access, ask about the vacation dates and get a face-to-face answer. After reviewing the options, this seems to be the approach being taken by many organizations.

HRMS vendors are faced with a set of related problems. How far should they go in providing ESS and MSS capability?

Other areas available to employee input are benefits selection where a flex plan exists, training course selection, changes in address, dependents, emergency contacts, beneficiaries.

Many vendors have decided that the whole area of employee and manager self service design is a work in progress. Basic Web products are available, but enhancements will depend on inputs from users and the market in general. As the market for these products matures, users will come up with new requests which will direct vendors as to changes required.

Other Internet and HRMS linkages include interfaces to Web-hiring systems, integration with or interfaces to Web-based payroll products, interfaces to Web-based training modules, and so on. The movement to, and acceptance of, the Internet as a common feature in HR management systems will be evolutionary, unlike the revolutionary step that put the HRMS on the HR manager’s desktop. We are now at generation 2.5, with the final HRMS/Web/Internet design (generation 3.0) still some years off for most organizations. The eventual system structure will require changes in technology in terms of where the system resides and the use of Web-based products. HR professionals also have some decisions to make.

Gerson Safran provides marketing and sales support for the INFO:HR HRMS. He can be reached at (519) 672-5984 or gsafran@aol.com.

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