Soft focus

With this year’s Softworld conference and exhibition only a week away here
is a timely reminder of the importance of technology to the strategic

Technology is playing a crucial role in realising the capacity of the HR
function to act as a strategic partner in the achievement of business goals.
The advance of e-business and globalisation has increased demands on HR to
provide integrated and flexible systems available 24 hours a day, seven days a
week to support global business. E-business has accelerated the process of
devolving HR decisions to line managers, thrown together teams built across
virtual networks and time zones and created an environment which is only
possible through connectivity, collaborative working and instant access to

Technology, used wisely, can help meet these demands. First, technology can
relieve HR of much of the routine administrative work that can stifle creativity.
Second, technology can perform previously impossible complex transactions to
create access to new reward systems, such as flexible benefits and global share
schemes, and add new levels of employee understanding to existing systems such
as pensions. One way of meeting the challenge of integration is to use Internet
technology as a common tool.

Developments in HR systems have supported business changes in the following
ways. Along with the automation of administrative tasks is the growing ability
to extend access to a wider group, including employees, applicants, pensioners
and suppliers.

Some companies are venturing into new technologies such as interactive voice
recognition, using kiosks and even mobile phones for access, imaging and
document management.

Windows technology with the use of browsers and kiosks has made systems more
user-friendly, saving time and money on implementation and training for wider
groups. Reporting tools are easier to use, with more real-time data and better
access to history and trend information.

The speed of growth of new technology can often be overwhelming and presents
a challenge to organisations struggling to keep ahead.

It pays to consider very carefully the process of automation to ensure it
delivers efficiency benefits and also who should be responsible for entering
data and the purpose it serves. A key contributor to success is gaining the
buy-in of everyone involved in the process and making sure they understand what
is required of them. Employees, for example need to understand where personal
update is their responsibility.

Specialist applications

These developments have given the HR function the opportunity to enhance the
performance of tasks such as expatriate and pensions administration and also
opened up new possibilities which would previously have been unthinkable due to
administrative workload.

Expatriate management

Expatriate populations are growing together with an increasing focus on the
return on investment. Using technology to handle the routine areas of expatriate
management can release time for HR to concentrate on expert matters such as
selection, career development, repatriation and intercultural adaptability,
thereby lessening the risk of assignment failure.

Pensions administration

The trend from defined benefits towards defined contribution pensions
schemes encourages an active interest from employees in the performance of
their pension funds. Future systems, currently available in the US, allow
employees to track the performance of their pension fund, to switch investments
between funds and model their future pensions. Employers will welcome the
availability of data on the performance of pension funds and financial status.

Flexible benefits

Flexible benefits are increasing in popularity, particularly as a
post-merger harmonisation tool. They tend to improve employee satisfaction and
hence recruitment and retention statistics, while offering cost containment
opportunities. The new packages offer electronic interfaces to providers, tax
computations and configurable reporting. These systems can be operated in-house
or outsourced to providers who may offer additional support such as call
centres and helpdesks.

Learning and performance management

Creating a link between learning and business results is a priority
objective for HR managers who need to justify training budgets. Leading edge
systems help achieve this objective.

These systems can offer a wide user group access to the right learning at
the right time, using competency analysis to identify skill gaps and suggest
delivery methods. Desktop learning can realise significant savings in travel
and accommodation budgets.

Companies are looking for further functionality in linking learning and
development with performance management and reward strategy with the
integration of performance data, 360-degree feedback and job evaluation
methodology. An overall view of an organisation’s capability and progress
against goals is helpful for executive information.

Share scheme administration

As share scheme incentives are increasingly used as a remuneration tool,
current methods of administration are becoming impracticable. Driven by market
pressure, the technology to service global share schemes is already on the
horizon. It will incorporate a wide variety of facilities including tracking,
documentation, report generation and regulatory and tax compliance and will
need to link the whole range of interested parties in different locations and

Implementing technology

The future HR function is likely to incorporate strategic partnerships,
shared services and administration (supplied either through self-service
systems or a service centre.)

Systems can be operated in-house or on an outsourced basis. Activities most
suitable for outsourcing are those which are low risk and which the company is
less able to perform effectively.

Shared service centres can be defined as a centralised group of resources
drawn from one or more functional areas that delivers products and services to
internal business customers. Some companies favour a single central location,
perhaps with satellites, to maximise standardisation while others choose
multiple locations. HR shared service centres can realise significant cost
savings and service improvements and can be used in combination with
outsourcing or as a transitional step towards it.

Using the Internet or a company intranet, employee self-service can be
combined with either outsourcing or shared service centres


Developments in technology represent a vast opportunity for raising the
importance of HR in the organisation and focusing on its strategic role. Risks,
however, can be high and it is vital that the right approach is adopted

By Dierdre Hardy

• Dierdre Hardy, is senior manager for global HRsolutions at
PricewaterhouseCoopers. This is an edited extract from her masterclass session,
"Implementing HR Systems to Deliver Business Improvements" at the
forthcoming Softworld HR & Payroll event, 9-10 February at Wembley
Conference Centre, London.

The event comprises an exhibition, seminars and educational masterclasses
covering the latest developments in HR and payroll technologies. The Softworld
Masterclasses are a series of briefings from independent industry experts on
topics such as selection, implementation and strategic issues.

For details, contact Imark Events on 0208-939 4704. Hotline: 07000 763896,

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