HR software and back-end systems: latest innovations

Following a £600m redevelopment, the newly rebranded O2 Arena – formerly known as the Millenium Dome – opened on 24 June this year.

Over the coming months, it will play host to the likes of Prince, the Rolling Stones and Sir Elton John. But such big names attract big crowds, which creates a huge HR challenge, says Genevieve Glover, human solutions director at AEG Europe, the entertainment and sporting company that owns and operates the arena. “On the night of a big event, there could be approximately 2,000 staff working in and around the O2,” she says.

Not all of them will be directly employed by AEG Europe either, she adds. The company works with a number of external partners in staffing the venue, including stewarding and cleaning contractors, and the operators of the arena’s numerous bars and restaurants. But many workers will have applied for their jobs using AEG Europe’s own online recruitment site, which it has set up to help it with the challenge of identifying and assessing promising candidates to fill its own vacancies and those of its partners.

The site now accepts between 40 and 50 applications every day, reports Glover. And it’s not just an internet ‘bulletin board’ where job details are published. Instead, it accepts and handles applications and routes the information submitted by applicants directly into AEG Europe’s HR and payroll systems.


This integration has a number of benefits, according to Dee Caporali, sales and marketing director at Select Software, the HR and payroll specialist that provides these back-end systems as well as the online recruitment tool. For HR professionals, it means that the vacancies they create in the HR system are automatically uploaded to the website, and they can be immediately alerted by e-mail when an application is submitted online. For candidates, it means that once they have made an application by uploading their CV and cover letter via the site, they can log in from time to time to check their application’s progress.

“That’s good for the recruiting company, because it speeds up the recruitment process and cuts the costs involved,” says Caporali. “And it’s good for the applicant, because there’s nothing more frustrating than applying for a job and not knowing whether you’re being considered for the position or not.”

Online recruitment is something Select Software is seeing a lot of demand for right now, she reports – and that experience is echoed by other suppliers of HR and payroll software. But it’s not just online recruitment that they’re asking for, either – they want to make a wide range of HR processes available to authorised users over the web.

Christopher Berry, managing director of software company Computers in Personnel (CIP), explains: “More and more HR processes are being taken online, because that opens them up to people outside the HR department – whether that’s existing employees, or would-be staff in the outside world.”

Supply and demand

One of the big drivers behind that trend is user expectation.

“The internet is all about availability, and people who are familiar with online banking, or Amazon, or Ebay increasingly expect to be able to interact with an employer in the same way,” says Berry.

That rush online has fuelled demand for employee self-service modules that enable staff to perform simple tasks, such as booking days off or making an address change to their personnel file. But self-service is becoming more sophisticated, and is now able to support far more complex tasks.

Take, for example, Platform, the intermediary mortgage lender of the Britannia Building Society. Having used its HR system from supplier ASR to support simple online tasks, the HR team at Platform is now looking at giving employees the ability to book themselves onto relevant company-run courses online, and to mix and match a host of benefit entitlements, says HR business manager Claire Millhouse.

“We’re quickly gaining confidence in online processes as our successes stack up,” she says. “As a business, lots of our core processes are online, so why should HR be any different? To me, it’s about seeing our employees as internal customers and offering them the same levels of convenience as you do external customers.”

Similarly, at telecommunications company Kingston Communications, the HR team has moved performance management and employee appraisal processes online, and plans to roll out online e-learning functionality as well.

That will result in what they refer to as a ‘human touch point solution’ – an online venue where HR and staff can engage with each other on a number of different issues that occur throughout the employee lifecycle, says Jason Boyle, director of HR operations at Kingston Communications.

From the time they apply for a job online to the time they are considering retirement and need to access vital pension information, employees will be able to interact with HR online. And while they are building their career with the company, they can manage their own progress online, too.

“We’re making sure people have access to a lot more online than they previously had, so they can take on more responsibility themselves for a range of issues, including learning and development,” he says.

He admits that involves a major cultural change. “But it’s made a lot easier with an integrated software package that can support online processes in a robust and consistent way.” New online processes, he adds, have enabled the HR team at Kingston Communications to cut its headcount and significantly improve its customer satisfaction score in recent years.

Online appraisal is becoming an increasingly popular option for HR software customers, says Jonathan Legdon, business development director at HR software supplier Northgate. That’s down to many of the same reasons that online recruitment is gathering an enthusiastic following: it’s a process that, historically, has been time-consuming and paper-intensive. “But it doesn’t have to be that way,” he says. “By providing online appraisal via some kind of personal development portal, companies can be sure that their employees are constantly reminded of their goals and targets, and are encouraged to enter details of achievements attained along the way.”

But the internet isn’t just a great way to enable people to submit information to HR, says Steve Rozario, programme manager at outsourced payroll specialist Ceridian. It can also be used to ‘push out’ information, so staff can view vital data online instead of in paper-based reports, he says.

That’s the thinking behind one of Ceridian’s latest products, Ceridian Online Reporting. It enables authorised personnel to access a whole host of information about their company’s payroll operations via the internet, allowing HR professionals to view historical periods and use reports to summarise data across multiple periods, such as quarters, tax years and calendar years. The HR department at electronics company Samsung UK was involved in the development of Ceridian Online Reporting, and now uses it regularly.

Pauline Friswell, payroll manager at Sam­sung UK, says: “We view payroll summaries, copy payslips, pension reports – all sorts of different information. We used to have everything on paper and filed some reports away without really looking at them. Now we can just see reporting information on-screen. We can print it off if we need to, and Ceridian is archiving everything for us in case we need it for auditing purposes.”

Easy access

Increasingly, companies are accessing a whole host of people-related measurements in a similar way, says Brian Cormican, business development manager for human capital management (HCM) products at Oracle. “One of the biggest trends we’re seeing right now is the need for HCM metrics. If you see your people as a strategic resource, you’ll want to measure them like any other kind of strategic resource, and you’ll need metrics to establish benchmarks and track your progress against them,” he says.

By moving that kind of information – staff turnover for the month, for example, or training courses completed in the latest quarter – to an online HCM product, it can be accessed not only by relevant personnel in the HR department, but also by those in the business who need to know about ‘people issues’ – from the chief executive down to line managers and shift leaders.

It’s a journey that the Sports Council of Wales, a public sector sports development agency, is already making. Using software from HR supplier Snowdrop and its reporting tools partner Business Objects, authorised staff at the council can not only submit personnel data online, but also access a range of reports. These have enabled the HR team to “focus on what really matters”, says HR manager Kerry Chown.

“We’ve got access to all the figures on staff turnover, diversity, spend per person on training, length of time to recruit for various positions – the works,” she adds.

And there’s another major benefit. “It’s much greener,” Millhouse says. “Paper consumption is reduced, because a lot of the forms that were previously available only on paper are now accessible via the web. And, along with the cost savings and efficiencies involved, that can only be another feather in HR’s cap.”

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