May 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

Letting the web do the administrative chores of managing workforces

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The hourly hiring management system cited by Aberdeen would cover the full cycle of recruitment through retention and exit policies. A web-based recruitment application, such as from Unicru Inc., can better pre-screen candidates by automatically checking application forms against pre-set parameters and integrated databases. This process can indicate whether candidates have required skills or other attributes, such as when they can be available to start work, their smoking habits, and whether they have a history of theft.

For retention and exit policies, other software applications can handle tasks such as employee scheduling, access to personal information including productivity goals and retirement benefits, and, upon job terminations, automated alerts to managers regarding the terminated employee’s eligibility for unemployment insurance. These applications, from companies like PeopleSoft Inc. and Datamatics Management Services Inc., can boost employee morale by making workers feel more involved with direct browser-based access to information, and by helping both them and managers better review and manage employee performance goals. “Because a good attendance record and favorable employee reviews can be monitored better, it leads to a more favorable work environment and fosters upward movement of employees,” says Bill Loss, vice president of Datamatics.

There are other niche players also serving the web-based workforce management market. Human Asset Technology, which says it is just starting to serve the retail industry but cannot yet name any clients, is focusing on performance management. Charlie Palmer, co-founder and co-CEO, says his performance management software analyzes gaps between employee competency levels and pre-set goals, provides automated e-mail alerts to employees and managers about scheduled goal completion, and recommends training or work experiences that could help fill gaps. The system works on data entered by managers regarding goals and by employees regarding when and how they completed tasks. But the system can also integrate with back-end software systems to show an employee’s work history, Palmer adds.

Portals to HR

Even Microsoft Corp. is developing a niche in HR applications. It recently acquired PlaceWare, whose web conferencing technology is used by retailers such as Gap Inc. for e-learning programs. PlaceWare enables two or more people in distant locations to view the same documents, PowerPoint displays or other files simultaneously.

Because new niche HR software products tend to be web-based and built with open architecture, integrating them with related software should be easy, Jones says. This could add to their value as, for example, a recruitment system shares data on an employee’s skills with the goals-setting information in a performance management system. “Ideally all of these things will be integrated,” Jones says.

As in all web-based software, web-based workforce management can be deployed most quickly as a hosted application, as is the case with Wolfgang Puck, because it needs only a browser to get connected.

Still another method of making HR applications available is through corporate portals, an option used by retailers such as Kmart Corp., Burger King franchisee AmeriKing Inc., and Hy-Vee Inc., a food and drug retailer with 216 stores under the Hy-Vee and DrugTown brands. Each of these retailers is using corporate portals from Plumtree Software Inc. The portals, or intranets based on Internet technology operating behind a corporate firewall, can be divided into several portlets, which are portal sections designated for specific applications, one of the most common being HR applications. “HR is one of the biggest users of portals,” says Leslie Lin, Plumtree product marketing manager.

Hy-Vee, with 46,000 employees, makes several HR applications available through a Plumtree portal, including job postings and application forms, job performance review forms, personnel directories and a corporate calendar.

AmeriKing provides in its portal several HR directories, including physician directories and employee profiles. It also allows employees to access the portal to change their personal information, automatically updating back-end systems such as payroll and employee benefits administration. In addition, its portal includes a training section where employees can access course materials and scheduling. Along with other applications on its portal, including schedules of marketing promotions, AmeriKing has saved $3 million over the past three years in the cost of paper, telephone calls and time spent by HR administrators, Lin says.

Getting buy-in

At Kmart, 250,000 employees can access the corporate PeopleSoft HR system through the portal from their desktop computers, store kiosks and, eventually, cash registers. Requests for HR assistance, such as changes to medical coverage, are processed now within days instead of weeks, the company says.

Plumtree portals, derived from out-of-the-box software, can typically be installed on a company’s servers in a day, though a complete rollout may take longer as a company’s departments figure out which applications they want to deploy. Plumtree’s customers generally spend about a week meeting with HR department managers and other executives to determine what a portal will present and employee access policies, Lin says.

“HR is one of the few business applications that affect everyone in an organization, so it’s important to get input from key individuals to make sure you get buy-in from everyone,” Datamatics’ Loss says. “A payroll administrator’s needs may differ from a vice president of HR, whose needs may differ from someone in operations, so it’s important to get them involved early.”

“I could wait for the payroll department to enter a new employee’s full information or I could enter his name and basic information right away into an HR application to immediately track his attendance,” Loss says. “Then when they make the payroll, his information is already in the integrated system. So he can start right away but we don’t have to enter his information twice.”

At Wolfgang Puck, Campanella is considering linking data from his web-based employee scheduling application with the company’s time and attendance program, providing for easier and automated updates of workers’ records. Wolfgang Puck may extend the system to cover salaried managers as well. This can open up a whole new range of benefits, Campanella says.

No looking back

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