Collectively,HR directors and vice presidents comprise a software salesman’s nightmare.There’s clearly a huge market out there – which company has no employees? Butdespite this, HR software has failed to set the world alight in the way that,say, supply chain management systems have revolutionised the manufacturingindustry. Or in the way that call centre and customer relationship managementsystems have revolutionised the financial services industry.Internationally,the situation is even worse. “There are very few global HR systems,”says Philip Eames, head of consulting services at London-based ResourceSolutions. Systems that work well within national (or regional) boundariessimply fall over when faced with new languages, new employment paradigms or newcultures. Even something so ostensibly similar as recruitment in differentregions appears to be too complex to globalise. There are, adds Eames,”just too many multi-currency and multi-language issues to contendwith”.”Companiescan spend millions implementing a global payroll system,” warnsLondon-based John Cusack, general manager for HR services at Centrefile, asubsidiary of America’s Ceridian Corporation. “People need to stand backand ask themselves what they are getting out of this.” The problem: suchsystems certainly capture a lot of information, but understanding and comparingit is often an exercise in futility, as the influence of local labour marketsdominates.Infairness, observes Oracle HR product manager, UK-based Colin Addison, it’s notnecessarily the failure of the global HR systems themselves to address theseissues that impedes progress. Multinational companies don’t always standardisetheir structures, authorisation processes, competency measurements andappraisal processes, so it’s not surprising that automating chaos simplyresults in automated chaos rather than order.That’sthe bad news. And the good? At last, HR software is starting to go global in ameaningful way. But not quite in the way you might imagine. Forget giant systemswith the traditional vast functionality; instead, look for so-called”point solutions” – niche applications that perfectly fit a specificneed.Takethe humdrum task of maintaining employees’ e-mail addresses and log-inpasswords. Rocket science it ain’t, but huge numbers of companies either failto do it properly or turn it into a huge administrative chore that isfrequently out of synchronisation with the rest of the processes involved withopening and closing employee records.”Thebigger the company and the more geographically dispersed it is – especiallyafter mergers or acquisitions – the harder it is to do,” says IngvarStraume, CEO of Oslo-based software provider TTYL. At the very least, securityproblems arise because long-departed employees still have valid e-mailaddresses and passwords. TTYL’s solution: software that interfaces between acompany’s SAP HR system and its e-mail system, keeping the two in step.Employeeself-service systems are another example of a niche application appropriate fora globalisation project. While not exactly a quantum leap forward in eithertheir technology or the degree of benefit they provide, they do at least work –and genuinely do pay back the investment. “Internet gurus won’t regardwhat we’ve been doing as whizzy, but in HR terms it certainly is,” saysSean Doughty, HR project manager at Zurich Financial Services, based inCheltenham, UK. “HR administrative processes are usually forms-based,which means that people need to find the right form, fill it in and wait fortheir data to be entered into the system.”Zurichemployees now enter data directly into the company’s SAP system, explainsDoughty, adding that the company also commissioned London-based software consultancyPecaso to create an interface program that would allow employees to selecttheir own flexible benefits package. This had formerly been something of anadministrative nightmare – 12,000 forms to print, send out and input into thesystem. “There used to be mountains of paper at the end of the year,”he explains, pointing to significant savings on overtime payments that used tobe made for these to be processed into the system.Nordo the commonly expressed fears about the cross-cultural impact of such systemsstand up to scrutiny, adds Bill Parsons, executive vice president of HRmanagement at Cambridge-based ARM Holdings. ARM, designer and manufacturer ofhigh-tech semiconductors, is implementing a multi-country HR system usingsoftware from Reading-based PWA. “It just isn’t an issue,” he says.Notthat employee self-service systems are always so well regarded – scratch any HRdirector or vice president and you’ll uncover a story they have heard about atleast one underwhelming self-service implementation. Scratch a little deeper,though, and you might find a common thread. UK software house Meta4, asubsidiary of a Spanish software company whose software runs what it describesas the world’s largest payroll (150,000 people in the City of Mexico), believesthat many of the larger enterprise resource planning (ERP)-based HR vendorshave simply shoe-horned older solutions into a “portal-style”employee self-service system.”AsSAP’s R/3 was a straight ‘port’ of its earlier R/2 product, this effectivelymeans you’ve got a portal that stretches back to the mainframe,” saysmanaging director David Stallion. “Instead, software should be designedfrom the ground up for today’s technology.” (This, of course, is the claimbehind PeopleSoft’s pure-Internet PeopleSoft 8 product; see case study.)Talentmanagement is another niche solution capturing the global stage, says SteveFoster, director of KPMG Consulting’s e-HR workforce group. With the world’slargest organisations scrabbling to attract skilled and able people from aglobal pool, software systems that enable them to attract, develop and retainthem are fast becoming a “must-have” item on their HR functions’shopping lists, he believes.Takerecruitment. Five years ago, resum‚ scanning was all the rage. Then, whenelectronic resum‚s and job-boards such as Monster.com arrived on the scene,software products such as Personic’s well-regarded workflow solutions startedto become popular, allowing companies to slash the paper trail associated withprocessing applications the traditional way. And, thanks to slick processing,they also allowed them to grab the best candidates before their competitorsdid. Except, of course, when job applications crossed national boundaries –then, the complications of language, currency and cultural issues wouldinvariably slow things down again.Butthe arrival of a concept known as candidate supply chain management looks setto change that. Borrowing from the notion of supply chain management, which hasrevolutionised the manufacturing industry, candidate supply chain managementgives companies the ability to link, in real time, all the parties involved inthe recruitment process – candidates, advertisers, professional recruiters andHR managers – irrespective of where they are in the world. What’s more, eachparty can see the same information: not just vacancies and resum‚s, but updateson the status of individual applications, as well as relevant vacancy-specificdata on things such as location and salary.That’sthe idea behind London-based recruitment software firm Mr Ted, explains CEO andco-founder J‚r“me Ternynck. “It’s important to be not just multilingual,but multicultural, complying with legal and social requirements around theworld,” he explains, adding that Mr Ted software – customers include suchkeen hunters of global talent as KPMG and Accenture (formerly AndersenConsulting) – currently operates in ten languages. “In other words, it’simportant to have not just French screens and a French recruitment Website, butalso to reflect French recruitment practices.” While UK employers oftenoutsource much of the recruitment process, French firms tend to use outsourcingsimply for response management, he explains.Ofcourse, the established players in the market are fighting back with globalversions of their own solutions. Throughout the IT world, the concept of usingWeb-based application service provider (ASP) software is becoming fashionable,and HR software is no different. In theory, the attractions of the ASP model areobvious: companies “rent” software (as opposed to buying it), makinguse of the Internet to access it. So Monster.com, the US-based recruitmentboard, has begun making use of the ASP model to sell a corporate version of itsservices to companies around the world.MonsterMomentum, which has already been released in the US and is due for release inEurope later this year, enables companies to search their own database forapplicants, search Monster’s database, post vacancies on their own externalWebsite and intranet, and also post vacancies on Monster, all from within asingle application. It also allows them to perform the whole process ofscreening and processing applications.Althoughthis isn’t exactly a new concept – apart from the pay-as-you-go advantage ofASP software – it puts Monster head to head with established companies such asWebhire and Personic. Monster’s European director of content, Peter Croasdale,contends that “there are still a huge number of companies moving out ofthe traditional paper era, especially when you look globally, as opposed tojust the US.”Casestudy: P&O NedlloydP&ONedlloyd is one of the world’s largest shipping companies, but has a history offractured, bespoke software systems in each of its location, explains HR projectmanager Virginia Brotherston. The company is now installing PeopleSoft 8 – thebig attraction of which, adds her boss, UK human resources manager PamelaHarding, is that it was designed from the ground up for the Internet.”Ourmain reason for choosing PeopleSoft 8 was its zero client footprint,” saysHarding. “There’s no need to install software on users’ PCs, so we can cutboth deployment and training costs.” An ordinary Web browser (InternetExplorer or Netscape Navigator) is all that is required to access the system.Despite this, “the implementation timescales were challenging, whichhelped us to minimise ‘scope creep’”, adds Brotherston. The system wentlive in the UK on 8 December 2000, just seven weeks after the implementationproject commenced. Other countries are now following suit.Furtherinformation –Peoplesoft: www.peoplesoft.com–Oracle: www.oracle.com–KPMG: www.kpmg.com–Mr Ted: www.mrted.com–Centrefile: www.centrefile.com–TTYL: www.ttyl.com Comments are closed. 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