Choosing the right HR package

A comprehensive review of three HR packages--Favour WinOHS, Greentree Front Office Edition and SapphireOne Payroll 2003.
Written by Steve Turvey and  Staff on

Does your company's human resource management functions need to be automated? Here's what you need to consider, and three packages to help you do it.
Why deploy an HR package? The short answer as to the why is quite simple, it's to capture your employee data in a form that is easy to update and interrogate. Without an electronic system in place, the data is not stored in one easily accessible location but rather in a number of documents distributed around the organisation, some of which may well become misplaced or may have duplicate and/or conflicting data.
What is not so simple however is the scoping of requirements and the actual implementation process; both tend to require more resources than you may first expect.
Don't underestimate the time it will take to install and configure your new software.
It's not uncommon to hear of HR implementation horror stories or even failures. This is, not always an indictment of the software, and can be the fault of the planning process.
Obviously your first question should be, "Is it even worth implementing in a cost and resources sense?", that is have you carried out a proper cost benefits analysis? Quite a few experts will argue that for fewer than 200 staff, depending on your HR requirements, it's quite possible that an Excel spreadsheet may be adequate for the task and also far cheaper to maintain and implement. So before you begin, carry out a proper business cost analysis.
Challenges of HR
So what can derail the HR process? Well for a start your data can be a problem. Few companies correctly estimate the time and resources needed to input data and at times underestimate what can turn out to be a massive task, that is integrity checking and cleaning existing data before the transfer. Remember: garbage in, garbage out! Think about the implications of incorrect data on an employee's tax or super, for example.
Also, most HR systems are proprietary and so do not talk to other systems in the office. Often the software is an international product and if so may require considerable, and expensive reprogramming by the vendor to conform to Australian laws and work practices. And while we are on the subject, how well do your company's work practices dovetail into the HR package? Will you need to make substantial alterations to one or the other, or both?
This may well be the nail in the coffin for some HR systems, if your company has invested considerable time and resources into creating a robust quality system and the HR system requires drastic changes to your procedures for the two to work together; it can be a prohibitively expensive exercise. Critically, what features do you really need? For example it may be really cool to record and analyse staff professional development, but then who is going to input and maintain the data? Add a few of these little gems to your wish list and watch the HR department's staff list grow alarmingly.
However, there is another way to approach the capture of employee data and that is "self service"; employees have the ability to input a lot of their own data. It would not be too difficult to have the employees input any training they have undergone, and filling out leave and expense forms online is definitely at the top of the wish list.
Then of course you have to extend some of the training in the HR system to the staff general population rather than confine the training to the HR staff alone. If you don't do this prepare to put up with "garbage" data, as some staff will be unsure of the input requirements.
Depending on your company requirements, it may well turn out that not all of a HR package will be implemented. In general, the positions data, payroll, and leave modules are installed but the career succession planning, workforce planning, and performance management programs, for example, are left out as too hard or quite simply not enough time and resources to implement.
It is all too easy to be sucked in by sales people blinding you with all the fantastic bells and whistles, however before even approaching an HR vendor, you should review what your company really needs in the HR system and what benefits the company will obtain. Put simply, prioritise the must-haves and don't get too hung up on a string of nice-to-haves-but-can-live-without.
And when it comes to the must-haves, don't be too rigid in the expectation that a single HR package must be used for all of them. In some cases, while the package of choice may well implement a must-have, it may turn be easier to do the particular function with a spreadsheet. So don't be afraid of carrying out some of your HR outside of the HR system if an alternative method is simpler and more cost effective.
When working out your list of must-haves try determining a cost/benefits analysis on each. For example, what is the cost of gathering and maintaining the data and the risk of not gathering the data? Does the benefit of having the information outweigh the cost and effort of setting up the software and maintaining it?
By now, it all sounds a little daunting, but looking on the bright side a properly explored and implemented HR system can give your company a competitive edge with increased productivity and lower on-costs.
The benefits do not however automatically just flow on. Bottom line, if you implement an HR system, the management and reports available will only be useful if you actually use them. Furthermore, a positive ROI will only be achieved if you actually follow up and implement the outcomes of the reports produced by the system.
What's in a HR package?

Most definitions of HR are very broad in their scope and basically include anything that tracks and manages your human resources such as payroll and occupational health and safety (OH&S) as just two examples. We can break it down further as follows:
  1. Payroll. A payroll module, if it is standalone, may include quite a large proportion of the employees' biographical details in line with the HRM module below. Obviously employee remuneration falls in this module along with sick leave, annual leave, long service leave, superannuation, and any other benefits or allowances payable. This module would manage pay rises and bonuses, payroll automation including direct payment into employee bank accounts, and of course generation of group certificates.
  2. HR management. This includes the employees' biographical details such as their job title and classification, place of residence, home phone, age, gender, medical history, and next of kin. Other items that may fall into this category are training and education, skills and competencies, employment history, performance reviews, any disciplinary action, memberships, and professional affiliations. Also generally included is the organisational structure and policies.
  3. Occupational health and safety. OH&S may be able to drill right down to the desk that a particular staff member sits at and the location of each fire extinguisher, for example. All OH&S meetings, audits, issues, and incidents are logged along with any action that may be taken. Quite obviously, any OH&S hazards are identified and recorded along with details of risk assessment, handling and safety procedures, incidents, and relevant safety officer.

1. Favour WinOHS V3.4.5.0

Favour is available as a straight HR package, WinHR or as a feature-rich OH&S package, WinOHS that also includes the functionality of WinHR.
The software does not feature payroll functionality but can integrate with several other vendors products, inclduing WinPay, WageZWindows, Attaché Payroll, Arrow, Arrow SQL, and MYOB.
Depending on the payroll vendor, there may be pre-requisites that you must satisfy to ensure smooth integration. As an example, to integrate with MYOB you need the MYOB ODBC driver version 3.00.1800 or higher installed on the system.
The interface features large buttons and very large and colourful navigation icons in the toolbar. We found the interface one of the easiest to navigate with its very simple and logical structure.
The amount of information that can be fed into the system is quite extensive. Take Staff-Biographical, for example, which includes photos of the staff member, their complete contact details, and a great number of fields that because of their sensitive or personal nature are probably going to be redundant in most organisations. Examples are full visa and passport details-which or course are useful for staff who are required to travel overseas. A more pointed example, it has fields for tracking whether they are a smoker or not, how long they have been smoking, and how many per day. Full details of their next of kin and personal doctor are useful to have on record, but other contentious fields that will probably remain blank are inoculation details-although again useful for those travelling-and ailments. The latter can arguably be useful for instance if the employee is a diabetic, should emergency treatment be required. But just how far do you go with this? And how far do the privacy laws allow you to go, keeping in mind you can only collect data if you have a reasonable need to keep it?
Staff training and performance is well catered for and skill levels can be tracked to provide supervisors with feedback on skill level requirements for a position, the current skill levels of the people in that position, and any gap between the two.
The software tracks performance reviews, but doesn't provide a lot of space for details. However, you have the option of attaching a copy of the review as a Word document. While we're on the topic of attachments, pretty much anywhere you would logically want to attach documents, you can.
Favour WinOHS V3.4.5.0 OH&S functionality is great, with very detailed tracking of hazards, incidents, equipment, and committees. It's quite a simple matter to look up an incident and find who was involved, who witnessed the event, compensation, were any injuries sustained, and how the issue was resolved.
The way the software records your organisational structure can be configured to match your company requirements, not the other way around.
The toolbar includes a number of useful buttons with a surprisingly powerful contacts database and as an adjunct to that, a companies database that lists important contacts in each company. There is also a basic calculator and calendar.
Favour has a very strong set of security options; user access to the package can be localised right down to specific screens, reports, and processes if desired. This makes it possible to set up a range of employee self-serve options, and managers are only able to view and work with records of those employees that report to them.
There are quite a lot of preset reports, both textual and graphical, but if you need a report that the package doesn't have, a custom report can be created relatively simply from any of the package's fields.
Graphical reports are generally of limited use, but the example shown in the screen shot of the staff training costs per day is actually quite useful. The graphs can be tweaked to a surprising amount with varying degrees of 3D effects applied and then rotated. You can delve even deeper and alter the titles, legends, or graph type.
Favour WinOHS Data Features Diagram
Staff - Biographical Details Name, address, pay class, gender, DOB, general contact details
  Additional Hired date, company position, marital status, partner, children, citizenship, passport, and visa details
  Emergency Next of kin details, doctor details, medical, and religious considerations
  Medical Height, weight, blood type, smoker, allergy details, ailment details, inoculation details, disability details
  History Sick leave, annual leave, bereavement leave, jury duty
Staff—Knowledge Education & Training Course details, trainer details, duration, cost details, qualification expiry date, outcome
  Employment Current position description, tracks previous positions
  Performance Performance details, disciplinary details, achievements, skills audit, induction details, exit interview details
  Memberships Can include details of affiliations and memberships including: date joined, expiry date, cost, and general notes
  Skills Skill details including reviews, current level, required level
Staff—Issue General Details of company-issued items such as PC, mobile phones, etc
  Clothing Details of company-issued clothing and protective gear
Staff—Monetary Remuneration Includes history, base salary details including hourly rate and on-costs, any additional components such as superannuation
OHS—Hazards Details Description, category, priority, reporting details, can include attachments
  Actions Brief description of action taken, dates, personnel involved in action, can include notes and attachments
  Incidents Brief details of incidents resulting from hazard
OHS—Incidents Details Detailed description of OHS incidents including date, time, personnel involved, injuries sustained
  Victim Details description of victim(s) including injuries and notes
  Actions Details account of actions taken
  Compensation Details of any compensation arising from the incident
OHS—Equipment Details Description of equipment including purchase dates, location, cost, replacement or refurbishment schedule, supplier details
  History Full history of the equipments usage and maintenance
OHS—Committees Details Location, committee members
  Meetings Details of all meetings complete with attachments such as minutes
  Audits Details of all OHS audits including attachments such as reports
  Issues Details of OHS issues arising from meetings
OHS—Areas Details Location of OHS areas for example, machinery shop or store room and details of responsible OHS staff member
  Guidelines Can include floor plans and hazardous waste handling procedures for the area
Company—Structure Locations Physical and postal addresses, phone and fax details
  Policies Can include mission statement, OHS policy, dress standard, etc; has links to relevant documents locations and Web addresses, if relevant
Company—Positions Positions Positions description, reporting hierarchy, geographic location, incumbent; can also include general notes and attachments
  Skills Skills required to fulfil the role
  Successors List of potential successors and their current skill levels

2. Greentree Front Office Edition V2.1

The Greentree software had the most extensive feature list of the three packages supplied to the Lab. The list of features went well beyond the scope of this roundup with not only a range of HR features such as payroll, HRM, and OH&S, but also full accounting functionality, supply chain management, and customer relationship management. This review is restricted to the three HR components.
The user interface can be a little daunting to the user initially, it's menu based and there are so many menu options that familiarisation will take considerably longer than either Favour or SapphireOne. During testing we found the software has exceedingly robust bounds checking on the fields, for example we tried to save an employee record with the salutation "Mr" and the gender "Female", but the save could not proceed until we had corrected one of the other of the fields. In a nutshell, Greentree is a very powerful and full-featured HR package and is not lacking in payroll features.
The employees' pay can be split amongst any number of accounts and portions can be provided as cash or cheque. Accruals of benefits can be transferred when moving from a sister company, for example.
However, this is not automatic and must be carried out through journal entries. If an employee's award or the hours they work has changed, the changes are automatically reflected in leave accrual and payroll, and while the system allows awards to be backdated, currently the arrears must be arranged through manual journal entries.
The system alerts the HR manager if an attempt is made to include leave in a pay run that exceeds the employee's leave balance, even if the system is configured to allow negative leave balances. However, there is no automated alerting of excessive annual leave accruals, although the system is able to automatically expire sick leave, for example, if it is not accrued over year boundaries.
One-off group certificates are not a problem and should an employee require a group certificate from several years ago, it is a simple matter to provide a reprint. The system does not currently provide employee self service but Greentree intends to release a Web interface for self service later this year.
The HRM implementation is very good and includes tracking for grievances, disciplinary actions, committees, and appraisals with quite flexible data fields that should not be too difficult to dovetail into most companies' procedures. And, in most cases where you might want to record items that the database does not have specific fields for, it's easy to create a new field under the Custom tab. Attachments are broadly catered for. For instance, in the Certification section under CV details, in addition to the type, dates, and general details fields for inputting data, you can also attach a copy of the certification documents.
Greentree Front Office Edition V2.1
Favour arguably has more "ready made" fields for recording a myriad of staff bio details such as blood type, allergies-both useful to know in emergencies-but these can of course be catered to by creating custom fields in Greentree.
After exploring Favour's OH&S functionality, Greentree's OH&S seems quite lean in comparison.
Greentree really only has incident tracking, whereas Favour has dedicated functions for tracking hazards, OH&S equipment, and OH&S committees, and is definitely the superior of the two packages in this regard. And we must say just tracking the incidents is not sufficient for OH&S; you really need to get a handle on hazards and equipment to hopefully reduce the number of incidents that occur, so this is an area where Greentree can definitely improve.
Where Greentree excels is in the maintenance of the system. Its wealth of system maintenance functions can be daunting and will require a good deal of familiarisation, but it provides power HR users with the means to tweak and modify to their hearts' content without needing to approach the vendor. We definitely found Greentree the most powerful in this regard.
Various security categories can be setup in the system, for example the demo database supplied had categories for job cost, sales person, sales manager, Greentree user, and contact and relationships. The system includes a large number of preset reports but they are text only; if graphical reports are needed they must be generated through an ODBC link to Microsoft Excel.
Should you require a report that Greentree doesn't include, all is not lost as there is a Report Writer to create and generate custom reports that can be based on any fields in the database. However, this is not as simple as some of the other products as quite a deep understanding of the database structure is required.

GreenTree Data Features Diagram
Payroll employee maintenance/enquiry Main General details such as name, gender, DOB, address, and postal address, contact numbers
  Defaults Status, branch, pay group, profit centre, standard hours per pay/day, start date, termination date
  Tax config Tax file number, payment summary, payroll tax type
  Payroll Pay, deductions, tax, payments, employer costs, annual leave, sick leave, long service leave accrual rules and maximum overdraw allowances
  Other Next of kin and employee photo
  Transactions Summary of all transactions, pay transactions only and leave entitlements and balances
  Security Authorisation levels and assignments for job costing etc.
  Custom Personal fields as the name suggests can include incidents, and trivial items such as pet dog’s name and birthday
  Notes General notes area
HR employee maintenance/enquiry Main  
  Function details  
  CV details Certification, training, skills, education, prior employment, can include attachments
  Events, security, custom, notes  
HR grievance Main Grievance details including date, circumstances, action taken, resolution, parties to grievance
  Related people Witnesses, personnel officers, investigators, presenters
  Hearing Hearing details such as union rep, appeal and review details
  Events, security, custom, notes  
HR disciplinary Includes the same type of data fields as grievance  
HR committees Main Date formed, status, purpose
  Events, security, custom, notes  
HR appraisal Group Includes, code, description, basis, dates, frequency and general details
HR function Main Position classification maintenance including type of position, responsibility types, education required
  Competency Type and level
  Current employees  
  Prior employees  
  Events, security, custom, notes  
OH&S incident maintenance Main Status, type, date, location, circumstances, comments, injured
  People involved Reported by, caused by, witnesses, personnel officers
  Other people Reported to, investigators, presenters, medical personnel
  Events, security, custom, notes  

3. SapphireOne Payroll 2003 R2

The definition of HR is pretty loose and rubbery, but many people will argue that a payroll-only package may be a better fit in the accounts department rather than HR. On the other hand, your employees will no doubt argue that the most important aspect of the company's human resource management is that they get paid on time.
SapphireOne is a payroll package with very little in the way of additional HR bells and whistles. It is very easy to learn and navigate, with a very clean and simple Windows interface.
Although, while SapphireOne does not specifically include other HR functions to some extent they can be "mimicked" using the package's integrated word processor, spreadsheet, and drawing package. For example documents created in the word processor can be searched for keywords, the spreadsheets can be indexed and searched, and the drawing package could be used to create a floor plan of the office with the location of a particular employee marked-all this could then be attached to their personal details.
The package is quite adept in terms of its payroll handling and can for example split the employee's pay between up to four bank accounts and also cheque and cash if required.
Accrued benefits can easily be transferred with the employee from a sister company, for example. Any change in an employee's award or hours worked is automatically reflected in their leave accruals and pay and, while salary changes can be backdated, this is not an automatic feature and involves a little manual entry. Creation of group certificates is straightforward and one-off certificates can be produced simply be specifying the relevant records.
While most changes to administrative data are updated in real time, changes such as salary and hours are not reflected until the start of the next pay to avoid errors in current open pay runs.
There is no self service feature in the system, so users will be unable to create their leave requests online. Through the security feature, you can provide limited access by locking off various portions of the system, but this would still not provide enough self-serve functionality to justify the effort.
SapphireOne Payroll 2003 R2 The employee details are a little more lean than Greentree for example, but Greentree includes full HR and OHS functionality so by default the payroll inherits a more extensive shared database.
The standard reports supplied with SapphireOne at first glance may appear a little limited and include "simple" text reports and "super" graphical reports, although as with most packages of this type the graphical reports are often of less use than the text reports. However, report parameters can be easily modified by the user to create an almost unlimited range of unique reports. Indeed the query features are quite powerful and easy to use.
It would have been nice to have the software automatically notify the HR staff when, for example, an employee's accrued leave exceeded a preset limit, but this option is not available. Naturally a report can be generated manually to display leave accruals but this is just one more task that the staff must remember to carry out on a regular basis.
SapphireOne Data Features Diagram
Employee inquiry ID, job title, class, department, award, personal details including gender, address, contact numbers, and next of kin contact number
Class inquiry Class ID, class name, notes, list of employees in class
Employee department inquiry
Dept ID, dept name, defaults for gross GL, PAYG GL, net GL, super GL, bank GL and notes
Award entitlements inquiry
Award ID, award name, salary for first “x” years and then extra thereafter, RDO configuration, superannuation configuration, workers’ compensation configuration
Employee remuneration inquiry
Includes the employee selected complete remuneration history and details for each
Allowance inquiry
Allows the configuration of all allowances and includes ID and description, class and package type which further includes tax if applicable, GL ID, method of calculation, and how the allowance is used
Allowance totals inquiry
For the selected employee displays the balance of the selected allowance
General ledger inquiry
Includes the ID, item name and tax code for the selected GL item
Project inquiry
Includes a selected projects ID, name, and department
Tax scale inquiry
For the selected tax type displays active date, scale, notes, and rates

Editor's Choice: Favour WinOHS
Editor's Choice It was a difficult decision, because each package we looked at has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has different capabilities in areas such as HR management, payroll, and occupational health and safety. However, Favour's WinOHS gets the top gong because, even for someone with limited understanding of HR, it's very easy to use and it's obvious what each element of the application does and what it's for. Of course, your choice will depend on what your needs are, where you can justify the cost of automating those functions, and what existing software you already have and will need to integrate with.

How we tested
The testing methodology for the HR packages are based on the following criteria:

  • Interoperability: Will the package easily integrate with your financial software? What transfer formats are supported?
  • Futureproofing: Will the package be able to grow with your business, or will you hit a wall?
  • ROI: What will the software cost and will this be compensated by the time and resources saved?
  • Service: What support is provided as standard and how much will support end up costing you?
    About RMIT IT Test Labs

    RMIT IT Test Labs RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.
    This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine. Click here for subscription information.

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