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HR Software: Requiem for a Paperweight

A new wave of Web-enabled software helps companies to streamline HR services -- and size up worker skills.

You don’t have to sell Nancy Crawford on the benefits of Web-enabled human resources software. Last spring, Crawford’s employer, semiconductor equipment manufacturer KLA-Tencor Corp., began deploying a set of browser-based tools from Workscape Inc. (www.workscape.com). The software from the Reston, Virginia-based vendor automates basic HR functions, such as new-hire orientation, benefits enrollment, and compensation.

Workscape also gives KLA-Tencor the open platform the company needs to plug in its own e-HR applications. That automating frees up Crawford, director of global human resources systems at the Milpitas, California-based company, to concentrate on big-picture items, things like employee hiring and retention. “Our objective,” says Crawford, “was to provide Web-based technology to improve our internal global communications, resulting in increased operational efficiencies and cost savings.”

KLA-Tencor is not alone in that pursuit. Lately, HR managers at scores of companies have begun deploying Web-based tools to help remake the human resources function. Such tools are intended to streamline high-volume, low-value processes and, in turn, improve service to workers. Employee self-service applications, for instance, enable workers to file claims electronically, download expense reports, change personal data, and the like.

Getting employees to handle these niggling chores means HR staffers don’t have to. In fact, by embracing self-service applications, businesses are finally beginning to get a handle on the paper chase that has all but buried entire HR departments. “There’s a paradigm shift,” notes Crawford, “from HR workers as paper-pushers to HR workers as consultants and strategic partners with our senior management.”

But the deployment of this new breed of Web-enabled HR software — increasingly referred to as enterprise performance management (EPM) systems — goes well beyond the desire to make consultants out of paper-pushers. With today’s airtight labor market, many companies simply cannot afford to lose valuable employees. Improving human resources services is one way to keep workers happy and on the job.

EPM systems go beyond shiny, happy people, however. Several packages now on the market feature powerful workforce analytics. These tools help HR managers — and other senior executives — monitor the overall skills, expertise, and effectiveness of employees. That knowledge can come in real handy when planning budgets, training programs, and staffing. Says David Link, vice president of the eWorkplace practice at professional services firm The Hunter Group: “For the first time, HR is put in position to be a strategic, value-adding business partner.”

Laurels, Tardy

Also for the first time, CFOs appear eager to shell out money on HR initiatives. According to a recently released survey of 342 companies by The Hunter Group, 82 percent of those polled said their businesses would be running Web-based self-service HR software in 2001. Right now, that figure is around 46 percent.

Many companies in the survey indicated they experienced quick payback on EPM system rollouts, with minimal cost overruns. Generally, respondents said they preferred third-party add-on software to deliver HR self-service. A smaller percentage indicated a preference for HR self-service functionality delivered as part of an ERP system.

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