April 26, 2002, 12:00 AM

Retail web-based self-serve isn’t just for customers, it’s for employees

With manually-processed HR tasks costing companies up to $35 per transaction, retailers are eyeing web-enabled HR self service. But with critical mass needed to justify the IT spend, it’s still mostly the province of retail’s giants.


HR staff at retailers and other companies may spend as much as 70% of their time on simple administrative tasks such as passing out and collecting completed forms from employees-–one reason some forward-looking retailers are now pushing more of those functions out to self-service on the web. “When these HR functions are handled manually with paper forms, by the time they are filled out and passed around for approval and the data entered in the system, it can cost up to $35 per transaction," AMR Research senior analyst Monica Barron tells Internet Retailer. “Think about an average 15 transactions per employee per year, do the math, and you start to see that you’d like to move some of this onto the Internet.”

While the thought of reducing up to $35 per transaction to pennies for routine HR functions such as checking benefits sounds good, retailers have been slower than other industries to implement web-enabled HR self service. A fully functional corporate portal installation and all the hardware, software and support that goes with it can cost upward of $1 million.

Other, less comprehensive, HR-focused software solutions cost considerably less, but they still represent an IT expenditure at a time when limited retail IT budgets are more likely to go toward supply chain and logistics systems, Barron says. In addition, she points out, “You need a critical mass of employees who will use self service to be able to justify the investment. Once you get down into the mid-market, it’s harder to justify.” That’s one reason that, so far, the relatively few retail success stories on self-service HR involve retail giants such as Target Corp. and Kmart Corp.

Among those that do offer Internet-enabled HR self-service, “Some of the best in class have different levels of it. For example, employees would first see if they could find their own answer on the web. If the matter is too complex, they might be able to send an e-mail to HR and receive back either an e-mail answer or a request that they call. It’s similar to what they are trying to do with customer self service,” Barron says. “You can progress through different levels of service, but the more you can move onto the Internet, the less expensive it’s going to be.”


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