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Human Resources

HR Technology: Today and Tomorrow

Update on ERP systems, information systems, and more in campus HR offices
University Business, Jul 2010

So many choices, so many decisions. Campus HR professionals face decisions about how to enhance their technology systems to streamline business processes. Purchase new software or tweak existing HR modules? Help vendors build a compatible interface for a program or design it in-house?

The list of decisions is long, the number of options longer. Besides introducing new software and HR modules for enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs) or Human Resource Information Systems (HRISs), vendors are partnering with each other to create compatible software and encouraging institutions to look at system features they never knew they had.

SunGard Higher Education recently enhanced its Banner HR system by releasing the Effort Reporting and Labor Redistribution module. It's an effort certification system that helps institutions monitor how much time employees spend on federal research grants. Since personnel costs typically represent the largest expense charged to federal grants or awards, the government requires that IHEs receiving federal funds establish a process for obtaining effort certifications for employees whose salaries are paid under research grants. This system generates a report based on payroll history tables that calculates the amount of time reported by staff per grant.

Florida Atlantic University, which supports 5,000 employees, went live with the module in April, says Edwin Bemmel, director of research accounting. "Not only was the cost significantly less compared to buying a separate piece of software, but because it's integrated into our ERP system, it made it more easy to implement," he says, adding that his office worked closely with HR to implement the module. "One of the features I really love is, when you've gone through the process of certifying your efforts, it locks the record. You can unlock it, but not without my office being involved."

An automated payroll system slashes the time it takes for new employees to receive their first paycheck almost in half.

A few years ago, SunGard and PeopleAdmin partnered to integrate PeopleAdmin's Applicant Tracking product into SunGard's Banner HR. The system was implemented by Miami University (Ohio), says Kate Stoss, director of compensation, employment, and technology. Its three programs—an applicant tracking system, a position description module, and a performance management module—interact with each other. Stoss's department worked with the vendors to build the program's interface so that it would be compatible with the school's HRIS, Banner. But even if it wasn't compatible, Stoss says she still would have purchased it due to its features and reasonable pricing, and that as a separate system that contained confidential employee information, HR would be the only department that could access it.

HR now controls what data its roughly 9,000 employees see. For example, employees can only view job applications pertaining to their department; password-protected guest-user accounts allow members of hiring teams access. This eliminates the labor-intensive task of copying them, then forwarding to hiring departments.

In the fall, the same system will be used to track the hiring of approximately 2,000 student employees. "This will give us a lot of flexibility and make us more efficient," Stoss says. "Before, when everything was paper-based, things got lost. We would need one full-time employee to keep up with the volume of resumes."

At some institutions, the idea of separate systems would never fly. Compatible software is "extremely important" at the University of Utah since its in-house technical resources are limited, says Loretta Harper, chief HR officer at the school that employs approximately 18,000 workers.

While the HR department uses Oracle's PeopleSoft as its HRIS, she says the company doesn't offer an applicant tracking system for staff and faculty, so the department is purchasing compatible software from another vendor. "My preference would have been to use an applicant tracking module [by PeopleSoft]," she says, since software programs created by other vendors are not fully compatible and typically require staff training.

Her office recently added two new electronic forms developed by Gideon Taylor: an I-9, or immigration form; and a personnel action form, used to change employment status. Then administrators shopped in-house—purchasing a new system called RosterTech, developed by the university's technology commercialization office, that streamlines course registration, training, and record keeping.

In the future, faculty and employee evaluations will be offered in real time.

Future wishes include automating benefit enrollment forms, she adds. "We've got to streamline and stop all of this labor-intensive stuff."

Other institutions rank user-friendliness over compatibility. In 2006, Oklahoma City Community College began using PeopleAdmin as its applicant tracking software with its ERP [by Datatel] instead of Datatel's new module. "It wasn't important for us to choose a [compatible system]," explains Larry Robertson, director of compensation and HR systems at OCCC, which supports 1,100 employees. "[PeopleAdmin] was more user-friendly. We've now gone to a web version, which is a much better interface."

Datatel is working with PeopleAdmin to create an interface to its ERP. Robertson hopes to see it before year's end, since it could help in launching a new workflow process involving a personnel action form created in-house. With a simpler interface, he says, employees only need to click "submit" to electronically move the form on to the next employee for approval.

Plans are underway to implement SAP BusinessObjects to automate reporting functions and create a portal so employees can access workflow items. HR leaders worked with Datatel to create web-based time entry, an automated payroll system for nonexempt employees, saving staff nearly four workdays each month and slashing the time for new employees to receive their first paycheck almost in half, from roughly seven weeks to four weeks.

Duke HR administrators have slashed expenses since implementing a web-based SAP employee self-service module two years ago, says Todd Orr, assistant vice president of administrative systems. Employees can, for example, view pay stubs or change their direct deposit information. With the module supporting open enrollment, he says the school saves $200,000 annually by not having to outsource.

HR is also benefiting from a program it already owns. Duke's IT department built iForms for SAP's new HR module, Human Capital Management. iForms helps manage faculty appointments, tenure, and promotions. "By building on top of what SAP delivered to meet our particular needs," says Orr, the department was able to eliminate three legacy systems not integrated with the SAP system.

HR administrators should watch for new industry software or additional HR modules that help manage faculty contacts, process grants and research contracts, and oversee talent management, says Dave Becker, vice president of product management and strategy for finance and HR solutions at SunGard Higher Education. The company recently launched The Commons, an online customer community to be released as part of its HRIS baseline product. Built on the edu1world platform—a global web network for higher education professionals—it can be used to discuss and share best practices, tips for modifying ERPs, or tricks for product enhancements, Becker says.

As for trends he is seeing, some HR departments have begun re-evaluating the features of their current systems. "They're literally taking out their implementation guide, blowing the dust off the cover, and seeing how their business needs of today can be addressed by the system's features," he says. "A lot of HR directors are new—they just don't know what they have."

Up until now, HR departments haven't taken advantage of system upgrades or modules, says Malcolm Woodfield, director of global business development in the higher education and research industry business unit at SAP. He has noticed customers seeing if the functionality of their back-office systems can be extended to the front office. "It's not a question of developing or adding solutions, but doing more with what they have," he notes.

One example is The University of Mississippi, which is using SAP's ERP HCM module to help monitor faculty research, teaching, activities, and performance. He says schools are now extending talent management beyond administrators or employees to teaching staff.

In the future, Woodfield believes the focus will move toward front-office applications and real-time access to data. Faculty and employee evaluations will be offered in real time rather than as an annual transaction. Even sensitive personnel data may be accessed via cloud-based technology once it becomes more secure. "Increasingly, HR systems won't be purely transactional, but more about value, efficiency, and productivity," he says. "[Universities] are looking for more than simply the ability to hire and pay people — [they're looking] for ways to make the most of their investment in human capital."

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who specializes in covering HR issues.