Human resources — at your service

Suncor’s HR department puts the polish on a shiny new, company-wide HRMS

What do Suncor Energy Inc. gas and oil exploration, mining and refinery divisions have in common? Besides pumping out fuel, they each have their own HR department using one HR management system to manage a total of 2,400 employees under a new company identity.

But that wasn’t always the case.

When the Calgary-based company decided to unite its three separate businesses in early 1997, it found the new philosophy at odds with the three separate HR and payroll systems.

How could a core business culture flow through three swelling businesses across two provinces when the HR management styles were completely different?

Bringing the three in line — and online — culminated in a massive technology overhaul and was one of the final steps to unite Suncor.

In June, 1997, the three HR departments, totalling about 45 employees, drew up a project steering committee of six senior HR leaders led by Suncor’s corporate HR department in Calgary.

Its task was to replace the three independent HR systems and software and orchestrate the $835,000 information technology facelift.

The result has been an undeniable success. Currently into the second and final phase, the Human Resource Management System (HRMS) project — based on Cyborg Systems Canada software — is ahead of schedule and under budget by 15 per cent. The project is described as a “holistic” measure to finally integrate the management of Suncor’s people.

That has been achieved despite considerable challenges. To further complicate matters, Suncor simultaneously underwent a business re-engineering to simplify and standardize applications across all operations, an upgrade of applications to make everything Y2K compliant (skipping a level to a higher version of software), and an introduction of new hardware.

What made the project so successful, says Marilyn Blackwood, Cyborg’s vice-president of customer service and acting senior manager on the Suncor project, was how well organized Suncor was for the implementation.

“They had the project planned to the smallest detail, and managed it exceptionally well,” she says. “The difficulty or success of every project really depends on those two things.”

Blackwood, who has worked on about 50 implementations with Cyborg, says that try as they may, many companies cannot properly organize implementations.

Suncor’s was a complicated task that had projects within projects and interdependent phases. “That added a whole extra level of complexity,” says Blackwood.

Before the identity change, the three businesses were run autonomously. Suncor is made up of the Athabasca Oil Sands near Fort McMurray, Alta., Suncor’s Exploration and Production for oil and gas, based in Calgary, and Sunoco, which includes a refinery in Sarnia, Ont., and more than 440 retail gasoline outlets. Each business has its own HR department.

“Suncor (integrated) the business side of the three, but we had not integrated the people side,” says Allan Cunningham, head of the project and director of HR at Suncor’s corporate office.

The steering committee wanted to standardize the software for HR and payroll across the three businesses “and still maintain the uniqueness of decades of success under the old way,” says Cunningham.

The main problem with having three separate systems and software is fragmented data. It’s difficult to obtain data that reflects the demographics of the whole company with three different systems.

“We had to have credible data to make informed decisions about people in the company,” says Cunningham. “I’d be sitting here trying to make recommendations about people with a lousy database. You can’t do it.”

Added to the hiccups in reporting and lulls of slow processing, Suncor’s software programs were so outdated that vendor support would soon expire. A software upgrade topped the agenda.

The steering committee carried out vendor comparisons of four large HRMS software companies and even considered a fifth option of outsourcing payroll and HR functions, before settling on Cyborg’s Version 3.0 for HR/payroll.

Suncor was already familiar with Cyborg’s systems, since it had been using transitional pieces of outdated Cyborg software in all three businesses since 1996. Sticking to one of its original vendors saved time and cut some of the costs.

Cunningham said they were looking for a vendor with a high profile and large client base in Canada. While other vendors had this, Suncor preferred Cyborg because of its integrated HR and payroll software and its flexible client-server infrastructure — meaning Suncor would be able to make changes, upgrades and additions to the system more easily and in a more cost-effective manner.

Also, because Cyborg was being used within in the company, developing training would be easier. Later in the project, Suncor developed training in-house, generating even more savings.

Once the steering committee chose a vendor, it delved into organizing and planning the project. To start, the steering committee outlined two phases (see bottom of article) and seven implementation objectives, including:

1. simplify and standardize HR and payroll business processes;

2. simplify and standardize Cyborg software;

3. implement the latest release of Cyborg HR and payroll software (ensuring all systems are year-2000 compliant);

4. enhance ad hoc and standard reporting capabilities;

5. implement new HR software applications;

6. solidify technical and application support infrastructure; and

7. support the project with an effective communication strategy.

The team recognized that managing staff’s time would be a huge challenge. As set out in the committee’s implementation principles (see box, page G14), appropriate resources were mapped and maintained among project participants.

To manage the project on a day-to-day basis, Cunningham hired Mark Holland, an IT professional with 17 years of experience, as the full-time HRMS project manager in February, 1998.

Says Cunningham, “Recruiting someone with IT skills was deliberate. I wanted someone who would know how to manage the server and not just look to implementation of the Cyborg platform.”

Of all the aims of the HRMS makeover, perhaps the most important was to simplify and standardize HR and payroll business processes across all three Suncor HR departments.

As it stood, the differences in program and screen styles, formatting, and even terminology, made it difficult to draw information from the different HR departments to build reports, analyze demographics and manage Suncor’s people.

For this reason, Suncor wanted minimal customization of the new software. Too much customization can make upgrades complicated, time-consuming and costly.

“If you customize once, then you have to re-customize on the newer (upgraded) version continuously,” says Holland.

The committee quickly agreed, surprisingly, to standardized screens. Disputes over the interruptions and changes to work processes that can occur with standardization tend to hold up HRMS projects. However, the group settled and about 80 per cent of the system’s screens are standardized, while the rest have been customized to meet particular needs.

Minimal customization, called keeping the base system “vanilla,” also allows for several advantages, including:

•minimal system maintenance and support costs;

•reduced keying errors; and

•standardization of basic HR processes (hiring, salary adjustments, termination, performance management and so forth) by linking appropriate screens together.

Simplified ad hoc reporting (of HR information) was also a major priority for the company. Suncor has added a third-party reporting software program called InfoMaker made by Sybase Co. to the Cyborg system.

Holland says that vendors are starting to bundle third-party reporting packages with their software, simply because the basic, inclusive reporting components in software packages don’t cut it for a lot of companies. (Cyborg’s next release, 4.5, will be bundled with an external reporting system.)

Suncor decided not to use the benefits/flex administration component in Cyborg’s HR package either. It had been using, successfully, a benefits software package across all three Suncor businesses since 1997, called Flexible Benefits Enrollment System (FBES), which it had developed with another company called Novasys.

“Going into this, we didn’t want to touch the flexible benefits. Employees were highly satisfied with it. It’s an excellent piece of software,” says Holland.

FBES is maintained as a Web-based application, and it interfaces with Cyborg’s HR/payroll system. FBES is the only application that Suncor users can access via the intranet. During benefits re-enrollment each year, employees can go through their benefits on their own and make changes, which are then exported back into the Cyborg system. A long-term goal of the project is to further expand the employee self-service areas.

Suncor also plans to use different software for time and attendance recording. It intends to take the software already in use at the Oil Sands business, the “Time and Attendance” software made by JeTech Co., and implement it in the other HR departments.

Holland says the architecture of the application and the flexibility of Cyborg’s software makes it possible to interface many different software and systems.

Along with standardizing and upgrading software, Suncor took on a massive hardware upgrade to be Y2K compliant.

The company is using the latest Oracle database system. And as part of the project, it replaced its aging and non-Y2K compliant HP server with two Sun Microsystem servers, purchased for the price of one HP server.

One of the new servers is used for the day-to-day HR/payroll processing, and the second server is being installed for testing and development of the software and system integration.

Suncor felt that a separate server was needed for the rigorous testing of the system required to complete Phase 2, as well as for future maintenance and improvements.

Suncor went “live” with its HRMS system on December 28, 1998 — three months ahead of the scheduled completion of Phase 1 and with the system running smoothly. Holland says the quicker turnaround is particularly noticeable in payroll processing. “(The corporate payroll department) is able to finish processing the same day they start.” In the past, payroll employees would have to come in on the last weekend of each month to complete the reporting requirements.

Also, the system has been crash-free — despite concern that with the spring season, typically a busy processing time for HR, there would be an overload of the new system.

If any problems arise, however, Suncor has a central in-house IT contact in place to handle them. Users with HRMS concerns or questions can contact the centre quickly. This set-up also helps the IT support staff troubleshoot common system bugs.

Suncor will be working on Phase 2 of the project throughout 1999 and into 2000. Currently, Holland is fine-tuning IT support processes for the new system so that processes and procedures for changes to the system are orderly, and responses to problems are systematic.

On the business side, the company will soon consider making an upgrade to Cyborg’s latest version, 4.5. But this upgrade would seem like a minor system glitch compared to the massive overhaul. Cunningham says that the foundation has been laid — a cost-effective HRMS with enhanced reporting capabilities. The information technology has been intrinsically tied to the way Suncor manages its people. And business processes are standardized, contributing to Suncor’s new corporate identity.

Two phase project

Phase 1 (delivered):

•bring HRMS to year-2000 compliance;

•simplify and standardize HR and payroll business processes;

•re-implement the Cyborg “vanilla” software (to maximize value from future releases);

•utilize canned Cyborg reports and enhance ad hoc reporting;

•solidify technical and application support infrastructure; and

•support the project with an effective communication strategy.

Phase 2 (1999-2000):

•further functionality;

•employee self-service; and

•better reporting tools.

Implementation principles

1. No customization (keep base system “vanilla”).

2. Rigorous stewardship by steering committee. The goals:

•set project milestones and measure our progress;

•effective communication.

3. Process re-engineering. The goals:

•support the principle of no customization;

•no automation of poor processes;

•strive for less bureaucracy and reduce costs of HR;

•develop integrated Suncor solutions.

4. Strategic HR. The aims:

•support Suncor strategic HR strategy;

•provide key data to assist in alignment and integration for overall efficiency and mutual gain;

•assist in the measure of HR value, effectiveness and results (cost per paycheque, number of payroll/HR staff per employee base, number of exceptions, total overall administration cost).

5. Appropriate resourcing. The goals:

•achieve the right balance between internal and external resources;

•gain dedicated commitment of internal resources for the duration of the project;

•attain an appropriate balance of time and money.

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