Integrating success at local levels

e-HR in action: How Bristol City Council integrated its education
department’s admin with its core HR system

It is difficult to discuss any e-HR initiative without the word
‘integration’ cropping up. Whether it is integration with payroll or
integration with information from a legacy system, each presents its own set of
challenges.

Gill Wilmott, team leader of HR information systems at Bristol City Council
(BCC), who has just spearheaded the authority’s move to integrate its education
department personnel administration into its core HR information system (HRIS),
is an old hand at surmounting such problems.

"It’s just the latest in a long line of challenges that we have
undertaken within the HRIS team and there are plenty more waiting for us,"
she says.

The project took three months and involved 180 schools. It required not only
interfacing the current Workforce HR system, from supplier Intellect Business
Consultants, to the outgoing Schools Information Management System (SIMS), but
also incorporating the Government’s statutory performance indicators for
school-based staff. Added to that, it needed the necessary reporting ability to
show that BCC could demonstrate best value at every level in line with the
Government’s accountability demands on local government.

BCC is one of the biggest users of the Workforce HR system in the country,
with more than 20,000 records and 450 users. It was first implemented seven
years ago and has grown to handle the council’s evolving HR requirements, which
will take in full-blown self-service HR next year.

Wilmott has been involved since the early days. To ensure a smooth
transition for the education department, her team built a dummy structure on
the system based on the various school types. Then, a selection of positions
were created for each location, including a set of standard terms and
conditions in each case.

Using the council’s SecureNet intranet, individual employees were loaded
onto the system on a school-by-school basis, ready for the interface from the
SIMS system to Workforce HR, which was customised for the education department
by Intellect.

"This presented us with perhaps the biggest challenge," explains
Intellect’s managing director Peter Cullum. "The department was used to
the old system and we wanted them to to feel comfortable using the new
one."

Cullum says this type integration is common in implementations in the HR
sector where there is a requirement to link into third-party products, such as
time and attendance systems.

"We want to get to a stage of true integration and that doesn’t mean a
system that updates overnight. True integration means when new data is entered
or changed, it updates on the core HR system," Cullum says.

Wilmott says that some working practices had to change to fine-tune the
integration, and her team worked closely with the education department’s
customer services officers to achieve this.

"We have been able to use the interface for a variety of tasks. It
enables us to take indices [such as weighting tables] from other systems into
Workforce HR automatically, which makes the task of integration much more
straightforward," she says.

The Workforce HR system carries out all aspects of the central HR reporting
function and features e-recruitment and training facilities, and is now
preparing for the self-service initiative.

The day-to-day running of the system is carried out by Antony Weeks and
Kelly Ville, both HR information officers. Weeks is also involved in managing
the division’s intranet site, which will be central in the shift to
self-service, while Ville is closely involved in ensuring consistent training
practice across the council.

The Workforce HR training module will soon go live, which will allow
employees to apply for training courses online. The team also runs a helpdesk
and regular user groups to encourage two-way communication about the system and
practices.

Cullum says having such a team in place is essential to run a project like
this and adds that a new breed of HR professional is emerging who is keen to be
IT savvy.

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