Empowering Employees

It’s the middle of the afternoon as Miranda Jones, project manager, returns home from a meeting with her main customer. The meeting has been successful, the customer is happy with the progress and has asked Miranda to expand the scope of the project. In order to do so, she needs to add two consultants to the team. As she arrives home, she grabs her laptop and logs on to the corporate intranet. She switches to her personal home page, where she finds all elements necessary to quickly accomplish a few managerial tasks. On this page, she studies the time sheets of the consultants who belong to her project group. She finds that one of them has put in a lot of hours during the last week, so she makes a mental note to talk to him and discover the reason for the overtime. She is automatically alerted to the fact that one of her team members has mailed her a request asking for time off. Miranda compares her request to the online time line of the project and sees that this will not pose a problem, so she approves the request.

Next, she fills out a job requisition form to find the two consultants. She keys in a general job description, selects the desired skills and matches the requisition to the corporate resume database. She receives a list of five available consultants that match the request and looks at their details. Two of them fit the description, so she mails them an invitation to meet with her the following day to discuss the project.

Finally, she selects the link to her expense sheet and keys in all the expenses she made during her trip to the customer. When finished, she sends it off to her manager, so it can be approved and the money will be paid out to her account as soon as possible. After reading her mail, she logs off and goes to unpack her suitcase and relax.

From Intranet to Corporate Portal

Although for many companies the above story might read as fiction, using an employee portal to accomplish everyday tasks is a reality. Organisations are discovering the benefit of converting their corporate Intranet into a series of corporate portals linking disparate pages and huge amounts of hard–to-find information. Using technologies that enable real-time access to personalised information, services and applications, employees can accomplish their tasks, when and where they need.

This type of employee empowerment is very important to the modern enterprise. Employees need to make decisions that affect their work and personal lives, and thus need to be provided with access to information that helps them make those decisions. An enterprise portal helps organisations to accomplish this goal, by converting disparate information systems into integrated knowledge systems, which will benefit the organisation from the bottom line up.

A Key Role for Human Resources

Human Resources plays a key role in this transition. Human Resources, traditionally seen as administrating the relationship between employers and employees (like payroll and contract services), is perhaps the most sought-after department in any organisation.

Questions range from “How much vacation time do I have left?” to “How much have I contributed to my retirement fund?” Phone calls and routine inquiries are expensive and take up an inordinate amount of staff time. Employees seeking to change their qualification status and benefits must spend time reviewing and comparing options, seeking explanations from Human Resource professionals, filling out unnecessary paperwork and waiting for a response from HR.

Personalised Access to the Enterprise Portal

In allowing the HR department to shift their focus from administrative support to Employee Relationship Management, technology can play a significant supporting role. An employee portal (sometimes called HR portal) with back-office integration is the part of an enterprise portal that integrates all information about Employee Benefits and Personal Development. Essentially, repetitive information provided by Human Resources is accessible through the portal. Employees receive personalised access to the portal and find information about their benefits. In addition to company information, an organisation can also allow Work/Life events to run in the portal, so employees can register the birth of a child or request time off. Service applications in the portal allow managers and employees to carry out secure transactions on their own behalf, like expense and travel reporting, time sheets, alterations to their life status. They can make their own choices regarding benefits: exchange time for money and vice versa, and in doing so tailor their benefits to fit their individual preferences. The portal holds forms that an employee can use to enter these transactions. When he sends off the form, a workflow is initiated, authorisation takes place, and the transaction is automatically processed in the back office. In the case of Work/Life events, usually there are additional transactions: external parties, like insurance companies, also need to be updated on changes. A portal gives HR professionals, managers and employees integrated, role-based, personalised access to all information they need to accomplish their tasks.

Enhance Efficiency and Productivity

Manual processes are more prone to data-entry error, and are more costly to manage than automated processes. Precious time is often lost, searching for the right documents or information. Time spent printing documents, filling out forms and waiting for management approval can impact on productivity and seriously affect the level of service delivery. After approval on a request, HR professionals often need to enter data from the form into the back office system in order to complete the process.

The use of web-based technologies for automating much of these administrative tasks can enhance the bottom line of your organisation, by lowering transactions costs and creating higher levels of processing efficiency. In addition, self-service supports an organisation’s efforts to contain operating costs, while providing employees with real-time information and services to make them more productive.

Business-Process Integration is Vital for Success

Business-process integration deals with the automation of entire business processes within the organisation, but also with outside parties, like third-party vendors. It uses available data and functionality from existing back-office applications and integrates those with the data and functionality of these other parties. In this way, it becomes invisible as to who performs the business process.

Communicating directly with a back-office system helps automate redundant processing and narrows the possibility of human errors. This increases efficiency and reduces administrative overheads. Integration with a Human Resource Management System (HRMS) is thus vitally important for employee portals. Think of a change of address, for example: when an employee moves, his address needs to be changed in the HRMS of the organisation, and in the system of all parties involved in supplying his benefits, like insurance companies and pension funds. With an integrated portal system, instead of contacting all parties that need to update, the employee need only update his address once, as business logic will ensure that it is automatically sent to all third parties involved.

Benefits: Consistency and Efficiency

Manual processes often involve considerable process variability. One of the most important business benefits is the incorporation of business rules in transaction-processing. Switching to standard processes increases the consistency of HR service-delivery. HR professionals do not always give the same answer to the same question: personal knowledge and experience can have an effect. Yet, if transactions are automated, you create consistency and efficiency – and more profit for your organisation: automation of transactions eliminates repetitive paperwork, electronic approval and routing streamlines organisation, while detailed metrics and reports of HR tasks can be tracked and provided in real-time.

Instant Access to Real-Time Information

Tight integration among applications ensures information is instantly available across the system: since information is entered once and available everywhere, opportunities for data errors are reduced and HR professionals gain time to spend on more strategic issues, such as organisational goals and compensation and benefits programs.

More importantly, key strategic information that has been tracked using paper systems or spreadsheets can be moved online and automated, improving efficiency and business intelligence. Integrated access to HR information can help management make personnel or financial decisions quickly. For example, a skills query allows you not only to scan the resume database to match skills to open positions, but will also give you a means to identify skill shortages in the workforce, enabling you to perform succession-planning.

Portals can offer corporate-wide, self-service access to employee benefits and provide the HR department with fingertip access to important key metrics. They can then quickly derive valuable information and base strategic priorities on more accurate reporting

Measure HR Performance: Introducing Metrics and Reports

When you start delivering streamlined processes in a portal solution, it is vitally important to introduce metrics, so the HR department can start tracking management information about portal activities, processes and results. Most of the time, gathering this information is a manual process, which makes it difficult to establish an integrated view on the performance of the HR department. The more HR activities are automated and moved to a portal, the easier it is to create insightful reports. You can discover how many people are using a certain benefit and what impact that has on the bottom line of your organisation, or calculate the total number of vacation days that employees have bought or sold.

Efficiency and ROI

When streamlining business processes, we have found that efficiency (and ROI) is mostly achieved by the following:

  • Self-service: instead of letting the HR department answer all questions, managers and employees receive consistent answers and streamlined processes from the portal. This reduces enquiries to HR and increases employee satisfaction.
  • Eliminating superfluous human activity (like copying information and distributing it on paper or entering data more than once) reduces cycle times.
  • Enterprise Application Integration (EAI): the integration of back-office systems inside and outside the organisation. Most companies still use legacy systems that cannot be easily upgraded to new, more open systems. EAI allows this data to be accessed and displayed to employees in an integrated way – ensuring optimum efficiency and data integrity.
  • Business Intelligence: the ability to measure HR activities and gain insight on key metrics gives support to management when making decisions on employee issues and determining strategic priorities.