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Human Resources

HR Software Options Can Be Overwhelming

How technology increases flexibility and security, and reduces administrative tasks.
University Business, May 2005

Today's university human resources (HR) personnel need immediate access to a variety of information. While there are probably hundreds of computer software programs that can store and access data about employees, they are not all equal. The flexibility, ease, and security that a good software program provides is critical in today's fast-paced environment. A good HR program can reduce the department's administrative tasks, leaving more time for other projects.

While many HR professionals appreciate the convenience and efficiency provided by their software programs, Anne Ciolek, payroll manager at St. Bonaventure University (N.Y.), states her appreciation clearly.

"If I didn't have my Datatel software, I probably wouldn't be able to do my job," she says.

Datatel helps Ciolek process payroll for approximately 169 faculty members in addition to the students and others who are employed there. She runs more than $20 million in salaries yearly through Datatel, and also prints W-2 forms and quarterly employment and payroll reports.

Datatel's HR module also helps personnel at St. Bonaventure keep track of employees throughout their entire employment, from hire date to retirement. Employees can also gain access to their own data online, without having to contact an HR or payroll employee. They can update records, access benefits information, check payroll records, and more. St. Bonaventure utilizes Datatel software campus-wide, so administration, HR/payroll, financial aid, and registration are all integrated. If an address is changed at one department, it is automatically updated on all records.

St. Bonaventure used to outsource its payroll services, but found that option too costly. Datatel provided a simple, yet comprehensive solution that doesn't overwhelm the university's small technical services department nor HR and payroll employees.

Kathy Page, HR director at Roanoke College (Va.), has used Datatel since 1998, when it was incorporated campus-wide.

"It enables us to store all the information we need about the employee, payroll functions, and to formulate total costs, payroll budget, and benefit and salary costs," explains Page. "Each module can stand alone, but we have an entire package, so that makes it more functional for the entire campus."

Another aspect of Datatel's usefulness is its ability to automate the job applicant tracking process. This function helps decrease the amount of time spent sorting through applications and directing applicants through the evaluation and hiring process.

"The workflow software helps us move our decision-making processing quicker. It helps eliminate paper somewhat and allows people to approve decisions online," states Peter Chung, director of HR services at Lethbridge Community College in Alberta, Canada. "For example, when discussing why we should or should not hire a certain individual, we can put all the details in a database to help us make a decision."

From a user's standpoint, Datatel is "pretty simplistic," according to Ciolek, who also appreciates the company's willingness to help with any problems or questions that she has.

The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) took a different path when it came to purchasing integrated software. The school decided to establish one central website or portal and abolish all subsites. In addition to that undertaking, it also was determined to post all information in "plain English" for easy access by anyone. The result was Blink (short for Business Link).

"The number one audience for our website is all staff, but we are more concerned about the new employee who has questions about how we operate. That's who we engineered the site for," explains Steve Relyea, vice chancellor for Business Affairs at UCSD. "We used a third-party product [Vignette] that is used by large corporations that have a huge volume of website traffic, to customize Blink for our use."

UCSD hired a writer to revise all of its website content into simple and straightforward language. Although the project was completed more than five years ago, it continues to make university HR employees' jobs easier.

"Everyone tell us that the amount of work needed is greatly reduced, for HR transactions, accounting transactions, and Blink also helps our mobile workforce be productive no matter where they are, since they have online access to all essential information," says Relyea. The Blink system also has a single entry point for authentication and access, eliminating various steps for employees and thus saving time.

Blink has helped the school reduce overhead costs and makes its own staff more productive since it provides university and employee policies, benefits and other crucial information online, for easy access by university personnel.

PeopleSoft Inc., a popular enterprise software solution used heavily by colleges and universities, not to mention government and industry, was purchased by Oracle in January, leaving many of its users to wonder how their service will be affected by the sale. The new Oracle-PeopleSoft will continue providing software solutions for management, fundraising, HR, financial and administration functions in higher education as well as other industries. Services such as admission status, registration, loan application, and class scheduling, are available online to students, while university/college employee data is also maintained online.

Meeting Maker Inc. provides collaborative time-management solutions for colleges and universities. The company's products help them better manage scheduling tasks. Meeting Maker products are used by academic institutions to schedule meetings, schedule and track the utilization of equipment and classrooms, provide information on classroom availability so maintenance can make repairs, post and publicize events calendars. But they are also used by HR departments to schedule trainings and arrange for the resources needed for these trainings. They enable users to schedule meetings with individuals or groups, view the available times of their colleagues, reserve needed resources and more.

SciQuest specializes in on-demand solutions that help universities gain greater control over their spending, through content-driven spending management solutions. Many IHEs are finding that their existing procurement solutions are not delivering the anticipated return on investment for their organization, a core challenge of enabling a critical mass of key suppliers.

The University of Pennsylvania integrated SciQuest's Spend Director with its existing Oracle iProcurement software, and enabled nearly 1,800 users to access the university's strategic contract supplier's online catalogs in key commodity groups. The university's procurement department has estimated that within the first month it realized about $2.1 million in product savings alone.

Colleges and universities are increasingly turning to data integration to help them make the best use of funds, better understand and serve students, and best deploy instructional and other resources. Informatica, a maker of data integration solutions, provides universities with a flexible and cost-effective data integration platform for information sharing.

Indiana University has successfully deployed the Informatica PowerCenter data integration platform, resulting in greater visibility into its admissions, students and employees. By consolidating historical and operational data from across the university's eight campuses, PowerCenter has helped more than 5,300 administrative and academic employees to better support student-recruitment and retention efforts, as well as improve operational efficiencies across the organization.

Data integration software is being used by colleges and universities around the country to streamline students' financial, academic, and operational information. The Ascential Software Corporation (which announced in mid-March that it would be acquired by IBM) provides data integration software to higher education realm, in order to create systems that provide on-demand information to the school's educators, managers, and administrators, enabling them to more effectively acquire, educate and retain learners.

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), a non-profit organization founded by the higher education community, is reducing time and costs by streamlining the student degree and enrollment verification process for colleges and universities, students and alumni, lending institutions, employers and other organizations.

Today, more than 2,700 public and private colleges, representing some 91 percent of the nation's enrollment, participate in the NSC by providing regular student record updates on all of their currently enrolled students. Student loan providers, employers, student credit issuers, student health insurance providers, the federal government and others access the NSC's registry over 100 million times annually to conduct electronic student record verifications. The comprehensive electronic registry of student records provides a single, highly automated point-of-contact for timely, accurate verification of student enrollment and degree data.

These software options provide just a glimpse at what is available in HR software and student management and university administration software. It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the options and choices, but the best way to make the right choice is by talking to others at schools of similar size to see what works for them.

Laura Gater ( is a freelance writer based in Indiana. She often writes on human resource issues for a variety of business and medical trade magazines.