HR directors and vice presidents comprise a software salesman’s nightmare.
There’s clearly a huge market out there – which company has no employees? But
despite this, HR software has failed to set the world alight in the way that,
say, supply chain management systems have revolutionised the manufacturing
industry. Or in the way that call centre and customer relationship management
systems have revolutionised the financial services industry.
the situation is even worse. "There are very few global HR systems,"
says Philip Eames, head of consulting services at London-based Resource
Solutions. Systems that work well within national (or regional) boundaries
simply fall over when faced with new languages, new employment paradigms or new
cultures. Even something so ostensibly similar as recruitment in different
regions appears to be too complex to globalise. There are, adds Eames,
"just too many multi-currency and multi-language issues to contend
can spend millions implementing a global payroll system," warns
London-based John Cusack, general manager for HR services at Centrefile, a
subsidiary of America’s Ceridian Corporation. "People need to stand back
and ask themselves what they are getting out of this." The problem: such
systems certainly capture a lot of information, but understanding and comparing
it is often an exercise in futility, as the influence of local labour markets
fairness, observes Oracle HR product manager, UK-based Colin Addison, it’s not
necessarily the failure of the global HR systems themselves to address these
issues that impedes progress. Multinational companies don’t always standardise
their structures, authorisation processes, competency measurements and
appraisal processes, so it’s not surprising that automating chaos simply
results in automated chaos rather than order.
the bad news. And the good? At last, HR software is starting to go global in a
meaningful way. But not quite in the way you might imagine. Forget giant systems
with the traditional vast functionality; instead, look for so-called
"point solutions" – niche applications that perfectly fit a specific
the humdrum task of maintaining employees’ e-mail addresses and log-in
passwords. Rocket science it ain’t, but huge numbers of companies either fail
to do it properly or turn it into a huge administrative chore that is
frequently out of synchronisation with the rest of the processes involved with
opening and closing employee records.
bigger the company and the more geographically dispersed it is – especially
after mergers or acquisitions – the harder it is to do," says Ingvar
Straume, CEO of Oslo-based software provider TTYL. At the very least, security
problems arise because long-departed employees still have valid e-mail
addresses and passwords. TTYL’s solution: software that interfaces between a
company’s SAP HR system and its e-mail system, keeping the two in step.
self-service systems are another example of a niche application appropriate for
a globalisation project. While not exactly a quantum leap forward in either
their technology or the degree of benefit they provide, they do at least work –
and genuinely do pay back the investment. "Internet gurus won’t regard
what we’ve been doing as whizzy, but in HR terms it certainly is," says
Sean Doughty, HR project manager at Zurich Financial Services, based in
Cheltenham, UK. "HR administrative processes are usually forms-based,
which means that people need to find the right form, fill it in and wait for
their data to be entered into the system."
employees now enter data directly into the company’s SAP system, explains
Doughty, adding that the company also commissioned London-based software consultancy
Pecaso to create an interface program that would allow employees to select
their own flexible benefits package. This had formerly been something of an
administrative nightmare – 12,000 forms to print, send out and input into the
system. "There used to be mountains of paper at the end of the year,"
he explains, pointing to significant savings on overtime payments that used to
be made for these to be processed into the system.
do the commonly expressed fears about the cross-cultural impact of such systems
stand up to scrutiny, adds Bill Parsons, executive vice president of HR
management at Cambridge-based ARM Holdings. ARM, designer and manufacturer of
high-tech semiconductors, is implementing a multi-country HR system using
software from Reading-based PWA. "It just isn’t an issue," he says.
that employee self-service systems are always so well regarded – scratch any HR
director or vice president and you’ll uncover a story they have heard about at
least one underwhelming self-service implementation. Scratch a little deeper,
though, and you might find a common thread. UK software house Meta4, a
subsidiary of a Spanish software company whose software runs what it describes
as the world’s largest payroll (150,000 people in the City of Mexico), believes
that many of the larger enterprise resource planning (ERP)-based HR vendors
have simply shoe-horned older solutions into a "portal-style"
employee self-service system.
SAP’s R/3 was a straight ‘port’ of its earlier R/2 product, this effectively
means you’ve got a portal that stretches back to the mainframe," says
managing director David Stallion. "Instead, software should be designed
from the ground up for today’s technology." (This, of course, is the claim
behind PeopleSoft’s pure-Internet PeopleSoft 8 product; see case study.)
management is another niche solution capturing the global stage, says Steve
Foster, director of KPMG Consulting’s e-HR workforce group. With the world’s
largest organisations scrabbling to attract skilled and able people from a
global pool, software systems that enable them to attract, develop and retain
them are fast becoming a "must-have" item on their HR functions’
shopping lists, he believes.
recruitment. Five years ago, resum‚ scanning was all the rage. Then, when
electronic resum‚s and job-boards such as Monster.com arrived on the scene,
software products such as Personic’s well-regarded workflow solutions started
to become popular, allowing companies to slash the paper trail associated with
processing applications the traditional way. And, thanks to slick processing,
they also allowed them to grab the best candidates before their competitors
did. Except, of course, when job applications crossed national boundaries –
then, the complications of language, currency and cultural issues would
invariably slow things down again.
the arrival of a concept known as candidate supply chain management looks set
to change that. Borrowing from the notion of supply chain management, which has
revolutionised the manufacturing industry, candidate supply chain management
gives companies the ability to link, in real time, all the parties involved in
the recruitment process – candidates, advertisers, professional recruiters and
HR managers – irrespective of where they are in the world. What’s more, each
party can see the same information: not just vacancies and resum‚s, but updates
on the status of individual applications, as well as relevant vacancy-specific
data on things such as location and salary.
the idea behind London-based recruitment software firm Mr Ted, explains CEO and
co-founder J‚r“me Ternynck. "It’s important to be not just multilingual,
but multicultural, complying with legal and social requirements around the
world," he explains, adding that Mr Ted software – customers include such
keen hunters of global talent as KPMG and Accenture (formerly Andersen
Consulting) – currently operates in ten languages. "In other words, it’s
important to have not just French screens and a French recruitment Website, but
also to reflect French recruitment practices." While UK employers often
outsource much of the recruitment process, French firms tend to use outsourcing
simply for response management, he explains.
course, the established players in the market are fighting back with global
versions of their own solutions. Throughout the IT world, the concept of using
Web-based application service provider (ASP) software is becoming fashionable,
and HR software is no different. In theory, the attractions of the ASP model are
obvious: companies "rent" software (as opposed to buying it), making
use of the Internet to access it. So Monster.com, the US-based recruitment
board, has begun making use of the ASP model to sell a corporate version of its
services to companies around the world.
Momentum, which has already been released in the US and is due for release in
Europe later this year, enables companies to search their own database for
applicants, search Monster’s database, post vacancies on their own external
Website and intranet, and also post vacancies on Monster, all from within a
single application. It also allows them to perform the whole process of
screening and processing applications.
this isn’t exactly a new concept – apart from the pay-as-you-go advantage of
ASP software – it puts Monster head to head with established companies such as
Webhire and Personic. Monster’s European director of content, Peter Croasdale,
contends that "there are still a huge number of companies moving out of
the traditional paper era, especially when you look globally, as opposed to
just the US."
study: P&O Nedlloyd
Nedlloyd is one of the world’s largest shipping companies, but has a history of
fractured, bespoke software systems in each of its location, explains HR project
manager Virginia Brotherston. The company is now installing PeopleSoft 8 – the
big attraction of which, adds her boss, UK human resources manager Pamela
Harding, is that it was designed from the ground up for the Internet.
main reason for choosing PeopleSoft 8 was its zero client footprint," says
Harding. "There’s no need to install software on users’ PCs, so we can cut
both deployment and training costs." An ordinary Web browser (Internet
Explorer or Netscape Navigator) is all that is required to access the system.
Despite this, "the implementation timescales were challenging, which
helped us to minimise ‘scope creep’", adds Brotherston. The system went
live in the UK on 8 December 2000, just seven weeks after the implementation
project commenced. Other countries are now following suit.
Mr Ted: www.mrted.com