Take advantage of shortcuts with integrated human resource software

How a Vancouver tech company survived its HR growth pains by researching add-on options to its financial systems.

Growing pains are a common affliction for medium-sized companies, yet the human resources department is often the last considered for an information technology upgrade. HR professionals can keep it going for a while with dedication and hard work, but there comes a point when they instinctively know they are losing the battle to inefficient systems.

Here are the most obvious symptoms:

•important HR data is tracked manually or, at best, using desktop tools such as spreadsheets and word processing documents;

•hours are spent each month managing redundant data, just to compile meaningful reports;

•evaluation approaches from managers and supervisors vary widely; or

•every other department, except HR, has installed a new line of business software.

The problem is that HR professionals are seldom perceived as “systems people” capable of successfully implementing new technology. Thus they are left to accomplish tasks manually, with little or no time is left over for higher-value business building objectives.

Fortunately, as with all business software, good technology is working its way down to the medium-market. Better still, saturation in the large market and strong competition is driving down prices. In response, traditional medium-market business software companies are offering new human resource management functionality. HR applications are often integrated parts of other line of business applications such as financial information systems.

This availability of technology represents a dramatic short cut for growing HR departments under pressure.

vancouver case study

One Vancouver entertainment software company provides an example of perfectly timing its pitch for new HR software with its company’s financial system upgrade.

By its third year in business, rapid growth was becoming painful as operations managers attempted to juggle recruitment, compensation, training and evaluation data. In response, the firm recruited an HR manager to build a formal HR department.

Despite the high-tech nature of the business, the new HR team inherited tools so primitive they could not keep up with the expanding number of employees, each of whom brought specialized high-tech skills. Employee information, such as start dates, salary ranges and review dates were stored in a collection of Excel workbooks. Other information, such as employee reviews, was maintained either in Microsoft Word or via e-mail.

These were highly effective HR people with highly inefficient systems struggling to keep the information together and provide meaningful information for analysis. They needed a proper human resource management application, and soon. However, they also knew that any stand-alone solution (traditionally in the $10,000 to $100,000 range) would be a very tough sell to senior management, especially from a non-revenue producing department. Coincidentally, their accounting department had recently received the green light for a new financial information system.

Recognizing an opportunity, the HR department researched the new financial information system, in this case Great Plains Software. They discovered the software offered an add-on human resources module. Most medium-market financial or business management applications, including Navision and ACCPAC, offer feature-rich HR components.

building a case

This approach was more than a marriage of convenience. The new HR team built their business case and won approval based on the following benefits:

•Cost savings: For less than $5,000, this company introduced a feature-rich HR solution that did away with disparate software.

•Faster implementation: Since the financial system was already up and running, the risk of the HR module not going “live” was greatly reduced. HR could concentrate on providing the best content instead of battling operating systems and technical compatibility. The learning curve was greatly reduced, especially in areas where HR could follow the trail blazed by the finance and IT departments, such as optimizing user interfaces, security and flexible report-writing capabilities.

•Intranet capability: Employee portal functionality — essentially out-of-the-box self-service content for employees and managers. Like many, this high-tech company views intranet functionality as attractive but not critical for now. It has chosen to grow into it in a future phase. However, without an intranet solution, this HR application likely would have been eliminated as a dead end by either the IT department or senior management.

•Standardization: The HR manager can now produce timely, complex reports. This allows her to provide better decision-making tools for managers in the company. With a few mouse clicks, administrators can list employees who have had a change of status or change of salary, know their upcoming review dates, and familiarize themselves with the new, standardized evaluation topics and rating system. Online forms, or templates, are available for the evaluations by topic and job description.

Another short cut was found in the nature of human resource applications themselves because, unlike financial systems, the HR applications are not transaction-based meaning the HR department can focus on implementing one function at a time.

end results

All employees have felt an impact. Managers appreciate consistent templates for reviewing and rating employees, while employees welcome consistent evaluations.

Previous stumbling blocks, such as the risk of implementation and questionable return on investment, can be overcome by leveraging other line of business departments and applications. Business cases with hard returns and benefits can now be built for the new, lower cost HR applications.

The HR team discussed here overcame objections by adding a module to the existing financial system. Quantitatively, the company paid less than 10 per cent of the original financial system installation. In terms of improved efficiency and reporting capabilities, the HR team has passed its painful growth period in a relatively short time.

Brad Bushell is vice-president of Vancouver-based The RSC Group. The RSC Group provides customized financial information systems and business solutions. He can be reached at (604) 737-8570 or [email protected].

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