Your top HR tech priorities for next year revealed

How to make human resources IT work for you
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

How to make human resources IT work for you

Working out your budgets and trying to figure out the tech priorities for your HR department in 2010? Nick Heath has a few suggestions for HR directors as to where to invest that cash on technology to get the most benefits for your team and the rest of the business.

Consider standardising your systems
Take a look at what you do in the HR department and the chances are a number of companies are doing exactly the same thing: processes like payroll and benefits administration or training and recruitment will need to be carried out at any large organisation. As a result, adopting standardised systems for common processes is worth considering for enterprises that are relying on expensive, bespoke IT systems.

There are a couple of ways to get a standardised system: the internal IT department could build a system using off-the-shelf hardware and software. Alternatively, tech suppliers can often provide these systems more cheaply than building them in-house as they already run similar products for many different businesses, so outsourcing some of this development may be an option.

There's plenty of technology out there for HR departments, so where should you be looking first?

If you're starting out then look at SaaS and hosted apps...
Using software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems can help the HR department cut the cost associated with developing and maintaining IT systems. If you are part of a new company or a larger business opening a new office in a new location then you could consider SaaS and other hosted options for your HR systems, according to Alan Hopwood, senior advisor with EquaTerra.

SaaS systems can be deployed very quickly in new ventures and do not require lots of money to develop and roll out, because rather than implementing and supporting the software you are getting access to a hosted piece of software. Being a SaaS customer can also allow you to benefit from the economies of scale mentioned above.

Try and choose a SaaS provider that specialises in handling HR systems. Their knowledge of how the department works will help you choose the right SaaS system and save having to employ a third party consultant to guide your transition to SaaS.

...but look before you leap
The move to SaaS is not without its risks and there are several pitfalls that HR departments should look out for, according to recent advice from EquaTerra's general counsel and HR expert Lowell Williams. If you are moving to a SaaS package make sure that you know how much legacy salary and work location data you will need to archive.

Some SaaS systems are only capable of converting and storing basic salary and performance history. This means that you could find yourself having to pay to run the old internal IT systems alongside just to keep this data, eliminating much of the cost savings that come with switching to SaaS.

This is a problem that is especially relevant to large organisations that have a large amount of legacy data. In general, large organisations with established HR systems will also see less benefit from moving to SaaS because they will not save the costs of system development and deployment that new ventures do.

Also you need to be sure the system that you're transferring to SaaS doesn't require a high degree of customisation. Software-as-a-service systems are based on standardised software that is hosted in the SaaS provider's datacentre. It will be harder to customise a SaaS system to the needs of the HR department than it would be if you were developing a system from scratch, therefore it's best not to move processes that require bespoke systems onto a SaaS system. Failure to consider this can result in unforeseen costs further down the line if the system is unable to meet your needs and you have to revive your former bespoke system.

Do more with social networks
Smart companies are using social networks to attract better staff and improve the skills of their workforce.

Web 2.0 evangelist Don Tapscott believes social networks are invaluable for recruitment and retention. He advocates that managers build links with talented students on social networks in order to attract the brightest new starters out there. Social networks can also be used to create links with a network of talented people, who don't work for the company full time but can be called upon to do jobs when required.

It's also a good way of keeping in touch with people who may have worked for a company before and who may do again.

Social networks can also help new starters get more out of training. For example a private group can be created for new staff on a social network. HR managers and department heads can share useful information with this group before and after training sessions, and it provides a forum for discussion between new starters and their managers.

Blogs and wikis are also being used as a replacement for regular formal training sessions. Tapscott insists that staff at his company nGenera blog on a regular basis in order to promote learning in the company.

And of course, if you are going to be looking at using social networks like Facebook, Twitter and wikis you might want to make sure you have your staff policies on all these new developments up to date.

Go for cast iron self service portals
Self service portals allow staff to look after their own needs within the company and minimise the burden on the HR department. The portals are pages on the company intranet where staff can carry out tasks such as booking holidays or filing expense requests and these are added to company systems automatically, without the need for any manual input or processing by HR staff.

There are several features that should be present in a well-designed service portal.

Information or services that people will need to access on a regular basis, such as expense and holiday request forms, should be easily accessible and clearly labelled.

The self service portals used by staff and managers should also be fully integrated to allow them to share information automatically. For example if an employee books holiday through their self service portal their manager should be able to approve that request using their own self service portal, and the employee's portal should be automatically updated with their manager's holiday approval.

Make sure its mobile
Most people today own mobile phones, with an increasing number of people choosing smartphones that are able to carry out many of the functions of a computer. With this in mind it is important to make sure your company's self service portals are configured so they are just as easy to use on a mobile device on the train as they are sat at a PC in the office.

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