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All Wired Up & Coming To An HR Department Near You
by Nancy Chamberlain Senior Writer

While the one-on-one aspect of human resources will always remain a high priority, technology certainly has its place and will continue to change the HR discipline, often from outside of the company.

Typically the areas of finance and marketing are very quick to acquire the latest technology solutions to enhance their productivity, while HR is among the last. Companies have been doing new-hire and open enrollment paperwork in triplicate for decades, and that routine has not been easy to break. But gradually, perhaps beginning with payroll administration, technology has crept into the area and is becoming increasingly useful and popular.

“Not that long ago the position about technology in HR was that any solution was better than no solution,” says Mike Method, principal, Methods Unlimited, Greensboro, N.C. But with IT professionals given the opportunity to become more educated and introduce new systems within their organizations, there are trends toward a more collaborative approach. “More effective solutions are being investigated and utilized,to everyone’s benefit,” says Method. It is Method’s opinion that through technology solutions, HR data will be better utilized in supporting the operating aspect of the business.

For Scott Scherr, president/CEO of Ultimate Software in Weston, Fla., that collaborative approach must continue to be nurtured. “Companies are really understanding that employees are their human capital, and they not only want to recruit the best but they want to retain them, as well,” says Scherr. With an attitude of an investment in people, the Web has allowed companies to bring recruiting to a new level, often incorporating self-service applications in-house to review and manage benefits and improve internal communications. “HR can communicate to everyone all the time if people have the ability to check in, making for a much more connected employee base. Automation is the key to communication, constantly keeping the employee informed and happy and knowing where they stand,” says Scherr.

Accountability is critical in the area of human resources, and providers are answering the challenge. Particularly in a slackened economy, employers need to optimize the work force, and technology is crucial. “Expectations from executive management are increasing as the functionality of the Web becomes more well-known. As capabilities are available for the HR department to utilize, management will continue to raise the bar of what those individuals are expected to bring in strategic planning and organization,” says John Boylen, marketing manager, Infinium, Bend, Ore.

As technology solutions are becoming more prevalent in the industry, Boylen expects some amount of trade-off between the functionality of the in-house IT professional and the finance department. In many cases, the process of implementing new solutions within HR is better handled off-site, through an application service provider (ASP), when in-house IT personnel are better utilized in other capacities.

And while ASPs are often associated only with small companies, the trend continues beyond that scope as more and more companies bring technology solutions into the human resources department. “Application hosting provides enterprises of all sizes an opportunity to secure application functionality while forgoing significant infrastructure, software and personnel investment,” says Thomas Bednarik, president and CEO of Time Spot, Tempe, Ariz. Many companies will consider ASPs for financial reasons as well as ease of application.

But the key to determining the most appropriate solution is the right provider for the company’s needs. According to Nicole Stata, president/CEO, Deploy Solutions of Westwood, Mass., integration of information systems about people is a primary need. “Technology platforms and application suites that focus on the fit not only from a feature-function perspective but from the perspective of fit within a company’s existing infrastructure is mandatory to realize many potential goals,” says Stata.

The issue becomes particularly complex when working with an ASP. “HR technology will trend toward different layers from more traditional business-to-business implementations to universal HR portals. In other words, the HR Web site is becoming more and more important in the day-to-day operations,” says Stata. The way organizations structure around human capital will continue to evolve dramatically over the next year, in Stata’s opinion.

Certain criteria or guidelines need to be considered when selecting an ASP and knowing the vendors as well as the employee audience will help to ensure a successful fit. “Outsourcing will continue to grow and then decline for HR functions. As a result, ASPs will eventually consist of a few major players,” says Rob Thurston, president, HR Consulting Group, Provo, Utah. “Currently, application service providers are popping up nearly every day to handle this phenomenon, and the problem for most employers evaluating ASPs is their stability,” says Thurston. While many companies would prefer to have the self-service technology handled for them, it’s important to consider whether the provider is stable and experienced. “The ones that survive will be the major providers of best-in-class solutions or ERP suites of products with deep pockets and strong strategic alliances to continually update their software and technology every few years,” says Thurston. A company looking for an outside solution will need to remain very clear on just how much internal effort they intend to commit. After all, less in-house commitment and constant equipment upgrades are usually the foundation of the decision to contract an ASP.

Making a change to an outside solutions provider can be met with resistance. Strong and frequent communication be necessary. Many employees are not comfortable with others having access to information. “An employee’s ability to deal with the people they know and trust, to interact with the system and to understand their own type of benefits will increase the average level of participation negotiated per employee. The higher the participation level, the greater potential for employee satisfaction,” says Thurston.

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