Getting On Board

How ''on-boarding'' software speeds up HR tasks and helps workers settle into their jobs faster.

Sean Huurman is not necessarily known as an environmentalist, but he knows how to save a few trees.

In June 2002, Huurman, a managing director at business-consulting firm BearingPoint, was trying to figure out how to carry out a difficult directive from his boss. The task: to swiftly prepare and then post 1,600 offer letters.

Was “Candid Camera” in the house? Hardly. At the time, the Enron scandal was threatening to bring down accounting firm Arthur Andersen, and managers at McLean, Va.-based BearingPoint were eager to pick off some of the talent fleeing the firm. Management felt it was crucial that the offer letters go out — and the acceptances returned — within 48 hours.

Until that point, Huurman says, BearingPoint had a standard way of handling offers of employment: “We printed out letters, sent them out via FedEx with brochures, and asked candidates to send their responses back via FedEx.” But with so many letters to crank out, and with other accounting firms eager to snatch up Andersen partners, Huurman knew he had to try something different.

Ultimately, he decided to automate the entire job-offer process, purchasing software from Recruitmax. The application worked so well that BearingPoint has since rolled it out in other offices. The program is part of an expanding group of products known as on-boarding software. While the term on-boarding is fairly new, the process isn’t. Indeed, all companies have policies and procedures in place to help get a new hire up to speed. Increasingly, though, many of those procedures are being handled electronically.

Where’s the Pub?

The appeal of on-boarding software is obvious. “In the past, on-boarding was more sporadic and haphazard,” notes Katherine Jones, a research director (enterprise applications) at tech consultancy Aberdeen Group. “That meant a new employee would show up on Monday and his office might not be there and his phone might not be hooked up and the laptop might not be there.”

On-boarding software can help eliminate such snafus. Most on-boarding programs address different steps in the hiring process. Some, such as Recruitmax Corporate Edition from the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based Recruitmax, focus on the prehiring and hiring processes. Others, including iRecruitment from Oracle Corp., handle hiring and retention. Says D.J. Chhabra, Oracle’s vice president of global HR MS development: “[The goal] is to drive as much of the employment processing as possible online.”

One vendor, Toronto-based Tercina Inc., has taken an all-in-one approach to on-boarding. Its hosted product, Enboard.com, is a portal that covers the entire posthiring and getting-to-know-you period. “On-boarding is a three-step process,” explains president Mark Kuznicki. “[It involves] provisioning tools and equipment, orientation, and socialization.”

Job candidates at BearingPoint, Huurman says, now receive offer letters online. Prospective hires can then accept or decline instantaneously. If the answer is yes, a new hire is taken right to a welcome page, which features a greeting from the CEO. New employees also go through the first-day orientation online. In addition, they can log onto a “Webinar” that details benefits and other pertinent corporate information. Says Huurman: “All of these things save us a lot of time and money.”

How much money? It’s hard to say, although Huurman reckons BearingPoint reduced its FedEx fees by at least $14 per new employee. In addition, he says the software helps the consulting firm get offer letters out in a more timely fashion. “When we have that critical offer,” he notes, “we know we can turn the documents around in 30 minutes as opposed to taking an entire week.”

The speeding up of HR tasks also helps workers settle into their jobs faster — a huge plus for both employees and employers. According to a Corporate Executive Board poll, 89 percent of new hires surveyed said they didn’t have the level of knowledge or tools necessary to execute their jobs — not good. “There’s a time between when new employees are hired and when they become revenue generating,” notes Tercina’s Kuznicki. “On-boarding reduces that time considerably.”

Of course, on-boarding software can’t do everything. An employee still needs to sign an I-9 before starting a new job. And, as far as anybody knows, the software can’t take a new employee out for a beer after work. Still, on-boarding programs are worth investigating, especially for midsize to large companies keen on keeping worker churn to a minimum. “If everything is in place and everyone is together on the same page,” says Aberdeen’s Jones, “you may be able to keep employees longer because they had a good experience from day one.”

Karen Bannan is a Long Island, N.Y.-based freelance writer.

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