The people side of HR system implementations

Implementation support: what to focus on

HR system vendors provide users with two equally important categories of items: the system itself plus other associated software, and the implementation support needed to get the system up and running.

When it comes to the implementation support part of the equation, there are three components of the process to focus on: the training of users on the new system, the evaluation of existing processes, which may be modified because of the introduction of the new system, and the project control efforts needed to keep the implementation and any new processes on the agreed time and budget schedule.

Training the people who use the system

Over the last 10 years or so, HR systems have become increasingly sophisticated in their functionality. However, system designers have become clever enough to keep much of the IT details hidden behind the scenes. Although the use of HR information system products is not completely intuitive, they are a lot more so than spreadsheets or enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites. Thus, the training is directed at HR features and functions rather than at computer stuff.

It’s best to have two of the customer’s HR people responsible for system administration. These individuals are trained in all the aspects of the system. Others to be trained are chosen by the system administrator. Typically these other users are introduced only to their pieces of the system, such as health and safety, benefits, payroll, employee training.

IT should be involved at the start of the process since it’s an IT function to install new software, to structure multi-location networking and usually to produce any new report writer outputs.

Training should be held on site. Where there are other geographically distant locations, system vendors will typically operate in a train-the-trainer mode. Sometimes remote location HR staff are brought to the main location. There are occasionally requests from firms to have vendors visit remote sites for training purposes. Vendors can also provide a secondary system that is loaded onto a server for test and training purposes.

Training is held over a series of months rather than in one continuous period. Users are trained in one or more modules (according to a mutually developed project plan) and are left with “homework” after each visit. Questions in the intervening weeks are directed at vendor support staff. Over the planned time frames, the database is built, tables are created, optional logic is defined, and the user moves into a live mode.

Evaluating and changing processes

The introduction of any new system provides an organization with the opportunity to review current practices and, depending on the capabilities of the new system, to make improvements in appropriate areas. Often, several process changes have been defined in the user’s needs list, but it is important for the vendor and user to review these in the context of the functionality of the new system. Organizations may just hear their vendors say, “Yes, we can do what you’re asking for, but given existing system functionality, there is an even more elegant approach that you should consider.”

A major process change area always involves the new-found ability to have single-source data entry between HR, payroll and any front-end data collection or scheduling applications. Issues of concern relate to data flows and their direction, changes to responsibility for system control and the auditing of changes, and timing considerations. Vendors should work with users to develop processes that reduce the number of “hands” touching data and to suggest a planned approach to process changes. HR should think of it as an evolution, not revolution.

The processing of new employee and time-sheet data highlights this approach. Most organizations agree that all new employee data, including that needed to initialize payroll records, should be processed through HR via the new system. However, time-sheet data, which is typically processed by payroll, should continue to be entered this way. Dates and reasons will be stored in HR for future, ongoing analysis.

There are good reasons for putting all time data through HR, but this change often meets with resistance, so the change in process is often made a future exercise rather than one associated with system implementation.

A second key process change area relates to manager and employee self service (MSS or ESS). Again, most HR departments have MSS on their needs list, but ESS and all that it involves in terms of employee training, new time off/vacation approvals and change audits, are often made a future activity. IT is definitely involved in this activity because of intranet requirements and the need to provide kiosks or some other form of HR input to all employees.

The project management aspect

As with user training and process change, the HR system vendor is a key player in the development and ongoing maintenance of the project control function. Time spent in this area is defined and costed on the proposal, and since the vendor offers “been there, done that” experience, it makes sense for the user to take advantage of this expertise.

A project team consists of members from HR, IT, payroll and the vendor. In smaller organizations, the HR representative is usually the HR manager, who also fills the role of system administrator. In larger organizations, the project team often includes several IT members (communication/networking, database control), several HR people and representatives from other areas such as payroll, training and health and safety.

The project begins with a skeleton outline of tasks, dates and responsibilities. Because users have ongoing significant workloads (a new system in addition to running their business), the vendor usually becomes the keeper of the plan. It is established as a spreadsheet that can then be e-mailed to all the players and can be easily adjusted as new opportunities are recognized and problems encountered.

Rather than teach users and other involved staff how to use new, sophisticated project-scheduling and control tools, spreadsheets that are regularly updated will satisfy the project control information needs very well. The ubiquitous nature of spreadsheets makes them an ideal device for this purpose. Most people are familiar with spreadsheets and can use them effectively.

A rule of thumb regarding the cost of user training, process evaluation and change and project control is that it will equal the cost of the acquired software and associated ongoing support. As has been shown over and over, the implementation of any system will fail totally if these support areas are not properly provided.

The inclusion of these support areas in requests for proposals and needs lists, and the importance placed on them by HR departments, have grown considerably over the last several years. It’s a very positive step because it helps ensure that systems sold will be properly installed, and this means on time, at the proposed cost and with a user base trained to take full advantage of the system.

Gerson Safran provides marketing and sales support for the INFO:HR Human Resources Management System. He can be reached at (519) 672-5984 or at [email protected].

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