HRMS: Using technology to tap talent

For a Vancouver firm managing a growing international sales staff, multiple pricing and compensation plans created an HR nightmare. Technology to the rescue.

Recruiting, retaining and managing a high-powered workforce is always a demanding task. The challenge is even more daunting as a company’s operations expand, its markets become increasingly diverse and its departments develop in size and complexity.

Increasingly, growing enterprises are realizing that traditional human resources systems cannot cope with the challenges brought by new markets and evolving business objectives. This is especially true for organizations attempting to attract and retain top talent to capitalize on overseas business opportunities in sectors where demand exceeds supply.

Such firms require an advanced sales support and compensation system that empowers their sales personnel, while lowering HR administrative costs. The system must be capable of handling multiple currencies, languages and the unique needs of different territories. It must be accessible from the Internet, and allow sales staff to immediately submit performance updates and review their compensation/commission status from the office or from the field. Given the unpredictability of new markets, the system must enable enterprises to frequently evaluate their current position and, if required, change direction.

For example, Vancouver-based SUMmedia needed a flexible and versatile system to meet the scope and reach of its widening operations. As a leader in the development of eCouponing technology, SUMmedia’s electronic coupon solutions allow businesses to offer discounts on a variety of items through its Web site,

The company also provides e-commerce Web-site hosting and development services, and is rapidly moving into the development of wireless applications that will allow businesses to offer anytime, anywhere discounts. Using Web-based technology, these services allow businesses to attract customers online and to steer potential customers into bricks-and-mortar stores.

In a relatively short time, the immense popularity of this “bricks-and-clicks” services model enabled SUMmedia to sign up retailers from across Canada, the United States, Australia and Hong Kong. Business success, however, brought fresh challenges. To effectively service its new markets, SUMmedia required an innovative, Web-enabled system that would help its HR department build a motivated and effective sales force.

“We are moving away from a ‘direct sales force only’ model and starting to use third-party sales staff and strategic partners,” says Evan Baergen, vice-president of emerging technology at SUMmedia. His company enters into a slightly different agreement with each third-party sales group and required a sales compensation and support system capable of handling these differences.

“Most of all, we wanted a solution that matched our corporation’s evolving business and HR objectives and not one that forced us to bend our objectives to its processes.”

SUMmedia realized that the simple spreadsheet applications it traditionally relied on to support sales staff were incapable of meeting all of these new needs. The legacy applications required transaction data to be entered twice the first time by sales persons and later by the administrative staff.

“While this manual, double-entry system may work in a small office, it becomes ineffective and unproductive once sales departments grow in size and complexity,” Baergen says.

The company eventually developed an Internet-enabled solution using Oracle Sales Compensation, an application built around Oracle’s Web-enabled 8i database. The software uses Internet standards to make the sales support process scaleable, accessible and cost-effective.

While SUMmedia’s previous system lacked transparency and forced many salespeople to keep their own records, the new solution is completely accessible to authorized users. SUMmedia reps can now view data on the system and fix errors in real time before they interfere with sales processing and compensation.

As a result, sales people now spend less time performing administrative tasks which, in turn, enables them to dedicate more time to forging relationships with existing and potential customers. This, according to Baergen, is a significant advantage, particularly because the expansion of SUMmedia’s business has enabled SUMmedia to serve sophisticated sales forces on a larger-than-ever scale.

“The solution allows us to have different pricing and compensation plans, commission structures, payment cycles and so forth,” says Baergen. “We can modify processes on the fly to make the fit even better. Also, the applications are accessible through the Web, so we avoid hefty installation and maintenance fees.”

This system has a central repository where SUMmedia can create and store as many compensation plans as needed for different types of receivers, including its direct sales force, external independent agents, distributors and sales managers. Plans can be assigned to salespeople using predefined templates or customized to work in the context of one of 29 languages and currencies.

The new solution can cope with the plethora of IT platforms used by SUMmedia’s global sales staff because it supports a variety of computer platforms and operating systems. By building a system that takes advantage of the Web, salespeople have access to all the necessary tools, regardless of where they are or the computing platform they use.

Using a Web browser-enabled application and a standard user interface, salespersons actively manage their own compensation process, while sales managers can view the entire pipeline of current and completed sales transactions.

“SUMmedia’s new sales support and compensation system epitomizes the concept of employee self-service,” Baergen says.

Competitive success, however, requires that HR departments extend the very same concept of self-service to the company’s entire workforce not just to sales personnel. This is imperative because of the close integration between various departments in the modern corporation.

Companies can provide pervasive employee self-service capabilities by implementing human resources management software that can extend functionality to both employees and external service providers alike. These solutions can also be integrated with other business processes to better identify personnel requirements and monitor improving employee experience levels.

Self-service applications, which are at the very heart of human-resources software solutions, leverage an Internet-computing model in which applications and data are centralized on Web-enabled servers. For instance, self-service applications exploit the Internet’s open standards to enable secure and robust access to business functions. End-users require only one piece of software — a standard Web browser.

By taking advantage of the Web’s open standards, HR functions can be rationalized and automated saving HR administrative costs through a self-service model. For example, employees can update personal information and submit performance assessments. These changes go directly into the system and prompt a rules-based workflow engine to perform necessary notifications and obtain required approvals.

The use of Internet standards to build applications also makes it easy to integrate business systems within and between organizations. Enterprises are using extranets to link end-users and corporate HR management systems directly to outside providers. The most important integration, however, occurs within the company.

By combining HRMS systems with other lines of business, a broad understanding of the firm’s current and future staffing needs is achieved. The more complete its understanding of the business cycle, the more adept an HR department is at identifying core-competency requirements for various positions.

The principle of employee self-service, at the heart of HRMS systems, may be used to foster career-management objectives like motivating employees with stimulating goals and the means to achieve them. For instance, employees may use self-service applications to sign up for online training courses, or apply for new jobs within the organization.

The integration of HR with other lines of business yields advantages across the enterprise. As projects emerge, managers from particular departments can query HR data on the availability of employees with specific skill-sets. These queries don’t require the involvement of HR staff, because the manager concerned can easily access this information through a Web-enabled, self-service application.

If a company lacks employees with a particular skill set, the HR department can use the very same applications to fulfill this need through recruitment.

By fostering self-service, HR management software can empower staff in every department and at every level of the organization. Additionally, it can have a more direct impact on the efficacy of a firm’s HR processes by eliminating paper trails and making data more accessible, immediate and accurate. Above all, HR applications enhance employee-satisfaction levels —something that’s absolutely vital to a company’s business success.

Carolyn Collett is senior applications marketing manager at Oracle Corporation Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont. She can be reached at [email protected]

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