When Donna Hawkins joined Accellos more than three years ago, the supply chain management company had about 10 employees in the United States and 75 in Canada. Since then, the company, which is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., has grown through acquisitions to about 200 people south of the border and 85 in Canada, with employees in four states and Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and British Columbia.
That kind of growth was hard to manage on an Excel spreadsheet, says Hawkins, manager of HR in Markham, Ont. Up to 150 was manageable but as the payroll, accounting and HR departments grew, the system wasn’t working anymore.
“We’d have one hire, one change, and we’d be updating four or five different spreadsheets. The monthly vacation liability report would take me two hours to do,” she says. “Now, I just press a button, it takes me two seconds.”
That efficiency came about after Accellos decided to upgrade to an online human resources information system (HRIS), info:HR from HR Systems Strategies, that automates the paid time-off (PTO) requests. Hawkins came upon the company at an HR conference and was impressed, especially having encountered several providers that were not interested in her smaller-size company.
“I was surprised they didn’t want to (take us on), you know: ‘Well, our system’s for bigger companies and we don’t need you little guys.’ I was also surprised about companies that could not manage Canadian and U.S. and global (payrolls).”
Customized system from info:HR
Info:HR fit her budget and was user-friendly, she says, and it also could accommodate Accellos’ many challenges. For one, Accellos needed one system that payroll people in the U.S. could look after and many service providers charge for every user, she says. Accellos also wanted something that was easy for its server access and had an active directory as the company had several applications that used one password. The system also had to accommodate differences when it came to issues such as family leave and tracking overtime.
“Through acquisitions, they ended up with a number of different HR products, plus their original location, which had nothing, so they needed something that would automate all of their locations using the one application,” says Jerry Rowland, vice-president of product development at info:HR in King City, Ont.
“And since they are an organization that has remote offices throughout many places, within the U.S. and Canada, they needed to make sure the staff had access to data no matter where they are working.”
The new system provides employee and manager self-service for vacation or PTO requests. Instead of tracking everything manually, workers can track and maintain their own entitlements and time off while managers gain reporting capability, says Rowland. Info:HR also customized the system for part-time people who might work Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so when they request vacation, the system knows how many hours to deduct versus a full-time person.
“We were also looking at becoming green, we wanted to use less paper and save time, so having vacation approval all online and automated is huge — that alone saved a whole bunch of administrative time,” says Hawkins.
Accellos hired info:HR in January 2010 and went live in May. The preparations included online and in-person training, with Hawkins paying for five days of training with an implementation consultant from info:HR.
The change took longer than hoped, she says, because of the difficult PTO program and her desire to ensure an accurate database, which meant comparing four or five different spreadsheets to other users. But the only errors that occurred with the launch had to do with incorrect data in the old system, such as a wrong hire date affecting vacation accruals, she says.
Employees received online training as well, with Hawkins’ using her profile as an example to show them how to change their address, beneficiaries, cellphone and emergency contact information and passwords.
“Now, it’s just part of our orientation when a new hire comes onboard. We take them through this step, this step and, boom, right into the ESS or the employee self-service portion of info:HR and they know exactly from day one how to request time off,” says Hawkins. “It’s so user-friendly.”
Reception from employees has been very positive, with people saying the company should have done it a long time ago, says Hawkins.
“Managers love it because they’re not looking at papers underneath their doors, trying to find something. They can approve it when they’re away on vacation or business, it tracks bereavement, jury duty days… You’re always in touch with your employees, it’s amazing.”
And because so many reports are available, Hawkins finds she runs more, splitting out the head count by area or business units, for example. The system also sends automatic notifications around salary increases, so people in the U.S. know to update the system for life insurance and disability.
“It’s done in seconds whereas before it was ‘sort’ and ‘arrange’ and, you know, ‘pick and choose,’” she says.
The next step will be to automate the time sheets, which is complicated by the fact about 25 people are considered non-exempt hourly employees. But the program will sync automatically to Ceridian Powerpay (which Accellos used before), so it will be used for payroll as well. If a name, address or banking information is updated in info:HR, it will update the Ceridian record at the same time, “eliminating error and administration costs,” says Hawkins. “It’s fabulous, I can’t wait.”
Accellos will then take it a step further and use the program for performance reviews, so people can reference their progress electronically and managers can be alerted to deadlines and changes.
Technology on the rise
Though workforces may be leaner following the recession, HR professionals across the United States and Canada are supporting the drive for peak employee performance by expanding their commitment to talent management and the technologies that support it, according to Towers Watson.
The importance of HR technology as a must-have in managing the business is reflected in technology spending — which not only held level during the economic downturn but increased for 2010, according to its HR Service Delivery survey of 456 companies worldwide.
While cost efficiencies and reductions were a vital focus during the recession, organizations are now updating and implementing systems as part of a long-term effort to streamline processes and, more broadly, HR service delivery approaches, found the survey.
“By implementing self-service options for critical career and rewards categories, organizations are simultaneously creating an environment of ownership and self-reliance that employees can build upon,” said Tom Keebler, global practice leader at Towers Watson’s HR service delivery and technology practice.
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