Getting your HR intranet right

Balancing business, human and technology goals.

There’s a lot at stake in designing, launching or improving your organization’s HR intranet.

Cost and efficiency are primary goals — whose HR department is not being challenged to do more with less? In addition to reducing staff or other costs, freeing up HR’s time is essential to playing a more consulting-oriented and strategic role in the business.

This is also the era of enablement: employees and managers need access to information and practical tools in order to carry out their roles and take care of HR-related transactions and decisions themselves.

Finally, HR is getting to be more of an “e-business” as it moves onto the same footing as other business processes.

Many organizations struggle amidst the “trees” of HR intranet development or operation, without an eye on the big picture. The symptoms of being lost often sound like these:

•“The company has many intranet (or Internet) sites; they all look different, and there’s no co-ordination.”
•“Other companies have HR intranets, so we have to move quickly and just get something in place.”
•“We have quite a lot of HR functions available online, but most people are continuing to do things the traditional way by phone and using paper forms.”
•“Who’s in charge? There isn’t an individual or group responsible for what we do on the Web, or how well we do it.”
•“Our first foray into an HR site backfired. There were inconsistencies, people found it confusing, and now we’re thinking we should go back to the old ways of doing things.”

There is a way to avoid these dilemmas: take the time at the start, or when problems arise, to create an overall framework and plan, before jumping into action. In this respect, designing and launching an HR intranet site is no different from any other significant change or improvement initiative.

A comprehensive framework

At IBM, we organize this framework development into three key phases to ensure that all the critical issues are addressed:

1. The strategy phase initiates the planning and defines the scope. What are the goals? How will the organizational environment need to change? What other transformations are going on, and how can the overall set of changes best be managed?
2. The governance, or e-business management, phase develops an organizational model to support e-HR: process definition and change, roles and responsibilities, measures and policies to ensure accountability, alignment and quality.
3. The operations phase identifies priorities among initiatives being considered, assesses capabilities, highlights gaps and risks, and develops business actions.

Creating a roadmap

Speakers at the International Quality & Productivity Centre’s recent third annual HR Intranets conference, held in Toronto, described many of the basics involved in developing and managing an effective HR intranet.

Toby Ward, of Prescient Digital Media, said large organizations have invested in big, costly ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, while smaller organizations often look to buy-and-install software packages. More recently, e-HR tools are outsourced to an Application Service Provider (ASP) based on a subscription model.

Ward summarized the HR functional areas that are frequently enabled on intranets:

•benefits enrolment and management;
•staffing and selection;
•job analysis and evaluation;
•polls and surveys;
•occupational safety and health;
•legal tools and content;
•expense reporting;
•wireless access;
•discussion groups; and

Marsha Capell, executive director of IMAGIS, the Government of Alberta’s integrated information management project, offered an eight-stage approach to self-service applications implementation:

1. Establish a foundation: business case, vision, scope, performance measures and a champion.
2. Assemble a networked team: sponsors, steering committee, development team and implementation team, incorporating employee participation.
3. Understand stakeholders: identify them, tailor communications and recognize other things going on in the work environment.
4. Decide on technology: architecture, applications, standards and reporting.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate: develop a strategy, be consistent and visible.
6. Secure, secure, secure: infrastructure security, authorization and education.
7. Define support model: help desk, functional expertise, content management, and so on.
8. Build and deliver: structured methodologies, simplified processes and phased implementation.

Michelle Nolan, manager of HRIS at Aliant Telecom, explained how an intranet can be of assistance during mergers. (Aliant was formed through the 1999 merger of the four Atlantic provinces’ telephone companies.)

The challenge of aligning four separate organizations and cultures, was aided by Aliant’s intranet, Nolan said. The HR intranet was seen as a key vehicle for projecting a unified identity as the companies and their people began to work together.

The first step is to provide a single source of employee information. As policies, practices and processes are harmonized and aligned across the four business units, employee and manager self-service capability will be added.

Chuck Stanley, manager of HR Web services at IBM, spoke about the firm’s Human Resources Service Centre, which serves a vast employee population across numerous HR programs.

Benefits include:

•increased productivity for managers and employees through end-to-end process management, for example;
•increased customer satisfaction (intuitive, easy to use);
•increased reliability and scalability;
•increased flow of data between IBM and service providers;
•attraction and retention;
•decreased costs; and
•increased access by the entire population — almost 800,000 active and inactive employees in the U.S. and Canada.

Another take on value

Another recent Toronto conference, the Canadian Institute’s fourth annual Human Resources Intranets, also put the spotlight on HR intranets.

Rick Schwartz, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Canada’s director of compensation, benefits and HRIT, said his firm designed its HR intranet to be employee-centric, not function-centric. The aim is to provide personalized, useful information and transaction capabilities from a personalized Web home page. It’s part of HP’s goal of removing barriers between work and life, making it easier for employees to create their own schedule.

He portrayed the HR intranet as a tool enabling the delivery of global processes (not country or site specific processes) as e-services.

Other key HP outcomes include:

•reinvention and transformation of service delivery including back-end processing — not just a pretty front end;
•advancement of workforce development;
•end-to-end customized solutions that break down barriers between functions; and
•freeing HR from administrative tasks.
To achieve similar outcomes, Xerox Canada stressed the need for extensive HR process redesign before intranet implementation, said Tony Martino, director of human resources at Xerox.
“Take the time to look at all your policies, processes and programs; engage your customers; simplify and systematize,” he recommended.

Among other presenters at the Canadian Institute conference included Jim Love, director of management consulting with DMR Consulting, and Richard Steele, director of change management for the Ontario Public Service’s Enterprise HR System Implementation, of the Ontario Government Management Board Secretariat.

DMR views intranet functionality across a spectrum from least to most complex. Love detailed the spectrum as:

1. Least complex: publishing information and procedures for ready access by employees and managers.
2. Medium complexity: straightforward self-service transactions like benefits enrolment.
3. Most complex: the “transformational level” including process change and “strategic conversations.”

The Ontario Government story emphasizes what every organization has discovered in its journey into e-HR: careful, effective management of the change process is essential in introducing significant new ways of doing things. The goal: informed, motivated, involved and engaged people.

Managing change

HR and IT professionals working on e-HR initiatives agree that while there are common steps and ideas in every effort to developing and introducing an HR intranet, every organization requires a sensitive, customized course of action. The specific culture, organizational history, personalities, target audiences and any other changes going on in the work environment all play a part in shaping the right approach.

Proven principles and approaches to change management apply with e-HR, as with other organizational initiatives. Experience in many different organizations and change situations confirms the value of these key requirements:

•Stakeholder analysis and planning: Who will be affected by the change, what is their history in learning and adapting to new ways of doing things, what kind of active or passive response is needed from them to achieve success with the change? What will work best with each group?
•Leadership roles and planning: Who will sponsor the change, who will the advocates and agents of change throughout the affected population be, and what types of education, support and coaching do they require in order to provide leadership?
•Transformation planning and implementation: What initiatives and activities must be carried out, what are the time frames, resources and responsibilities? What are the most relevant measures of progress and success? What kinds of recognition and incentives will support the desired behaviours and responses?
•Communication strategy: From beginning to end, what constructive messages will help prepare and support people through the changes and what forms of communication will work best? Who will develop and deliver the various communications, and how can feedback and opportunities for two-way communication be fostered and managed?

Ray Brillinger is a senior consultant with the IBM Consulting Group. He provides change management, business transformation and organization effectiveness services to client organizations. He can be reached at (905) 316-4646 or [email protected].

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