The implementation that never ends

HRMS implementation process continues as company grows

When Corus Entertainment was spun-out from Shaw Communications as an independent business in September 1999, it inherited an HRMS to manage its 1,100 employees in 11 radio and three specialty television stations.

With future growth plans primarily based on acquisitions, one of the first things the HR department did was evaluate its HRMS from HR Technologies.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Do we need this? Do we keep on with this practice?’” said Laura Thanasse, vice-president of human resources and communications for Corus Entertainment. “We very much felt that our HRMS was integral to our growth strategy. We felt that it was meeting our needs, so we didn’t see the need to go elsewhere when something was working.”

Corus now has approximately 4,000 employees in Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, France and Japan. It owns 52 radio stations (pending CRTC approval), a dozen specialty television stations including interests in The Comedy Network, YTV, Country Music Television, Teletoon and Food Network Canada.

Its content division is comprised of the animation company Nelvana, the music publishing company Balmur Corus Music and children’s publishers Kids Can Press and Klutz Publishing.

Throughout its growth through acquisitions, the HRMS has been the first step of the integration process. Because all information flows into the HRMS first then into other systems such as payroll, the HRMS has been the key system.

“This is an implementation that doesn’t have an end,” said Eric Smith, vice-president of HR Technologies. “Normal implementations will range from two to six months.” As Chorus continues to grow through acquisitions, so continues the HRMS implementation process.

Standardizing the non-standard
Many of the companies acquired by Corus did not have formally established HR functions. Although payroll records were computerized, they found that some acquisitions had HR documentation as basic as pencil-and-paper records, or one step up from the manual process.

“A lot of the companies that don’t have an HRMS don’t have the historical data,” said Thanasse. “That has been hard because we can’t recreate it. It’s hard to be strategic when you don’t have a lot of the historical documentation.”

For other acquisitions that did have an HRMS of some sort, the challenge has been to understand the content and then integrating it with Corus’ centralized system. A major challenge in conversion is ensuring the integrity of the data.

“Every organization has some kind of system whether its paper, or some combination of Excel and Word, or a formal HR system,” said Smith. “With every single acquisition having different data sources, it has been ongoing data conversion.”

Learning by doing
“Unlike other industries where there is often a fair amount of time between when a deal is announced and when a deal is closed, we are federally regulated and have to wait for CRTC approval,” said Thanasse. “That means we have a very short time frame in which we can integrate all the employee information.”

Once CRTC approval is received for new acquisitions, “we go in very actively to begin the process of mapping out what is the information that we need to get everything up and running,” continued Thanasse. “We have a 30-page document that outlines all of the issues that we have to go through to get people up on our system. It’s a pretty extensive document.”

Over three years, Corus has learned how to refine the HRMS integration and centralization process to make it very smooth.

“We are much savvier at integrating different processes into our systems, designing uploads, and minimizing duplication of data entry,” said Thanasse. “We know what information is critical to get things up and running.”

The HRMS evolution
For Corus, the direction that the HRMS is headed is toward more added-value HR functions such as charting succession plans as opposed to the more transaction-oriented, basic demographic type information.

“When we have all the information in a form that all the HR staff can access, it becomes easier to look at analyses across the company to compare equity,” said Thanasse. “It gives you better information on which to base decisions.”

HRMS service providers are constantly evolving to meet the needs of HR departments. For example, a year ago, HR Technologies moved into the time and attendance business, and starting this fall, will be launching in-house payroll/payroll bureau services.

“We’re not using the complete power yet, but that’s certainly where we’re going,” said Thanasse.

“They are starting to push the limits of our technology,” said Smith. “They will be one of the number of clients we will be working with as we take our technology forward with new releases in the next year.”

Smith said the trend will be for organizations to use more Web-based technologies to deploy HRMS technologies out to managers and technologies.

For those planning the implementation of an HRMS within their own organization, Thanasse recommends for HR to really understand what it wants the system to do, and how the data will be analyzed.

“It’s a front-end loaded process,” said Thanasse. “The more you can map out ahead of time, the more time you will save on the back end.”

She also recommends thinking of the future uses. Determine where the organization will be in five years, and if the systems could be configured to have the functionality and support required.

“You can easily outgrow and HRMS if you pick a small provider system,” she said.

Finally, an HRMS should not become so complex that the average user cannot derive value from it or access the information quickly.

“If it’s too cumbersome, then people won’t use it,” she continued. “Make it straightforward and easy to use, but still have the functionality to help you do those value-added HR functions like succession planning.”

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