Using a Road Map for HR Technology

To reach your business destination, every journey needs a plan.

By Bill Roberts Jan 1, 2010
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January CoverLike most companies, Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc. in Atlanta cut costs during the recession. The cuts had an impact on its HR technology plans. Unlike many companies, however, Turner had an HR technology road map that made it easier to decide what technology projects to postpone.

Turner, with about 11,000 employees, has had HR technology road maps for a number of years and the plan didn’t change, says Karen Bennett, SPHR, senior vice president of HR. "We just slowed the timing a little in response to the smaller budget." Now that the economy is showing signs of rebounding, hiring is likely to follow and technology budgets are loosening. This is an appropriate time for HR executives to determine the technology their organizations need to support talent management and other HR processes and to lay out plans.

Setting the Direction

If, like Turner, your company already has a technology road map, you can quickly take stock, identify the business goals that remain pertinent, revise the road map and resume the journey. If you do not have an HR technology road map, develop one now.

Like any good HR technology road map, Turner’s plan shows:

  • Where HR is headed over the next two to three years.
  • The business processes supported.
  • The objectives to be met.
  • The technology necessary, their interrelationships and the sequence required for launching each component.
  • Human resources available and required for the rollouts.
  • Other pertinent details.

It does not lay out each and every step for all projects. Instead, it provides a high-level view.

"The road map sets a direction," Bennett says. "It takes into account your business strategy. You also need to establish the sequencing of things that need to happen to end up there. It has mile markers and time schedules. But, you want to deliver what is right and what people expect. That is more important than a specific date, within reason."

The road map indicates the optimal time of year to launch certain applications—rolling out automated open enrollment processes before that period begins on the calendar, for example. The road map also shows when internal staff for projects is likely to be available and where outside contractors may be needed. And, it visually shows all planned projects, laying them out end to end in the order they must be tackled.

"You build the road map with the end in mind," Bennett says. "You plan what needs to go first, then what that leads to next and where you want to end up."

Using the road map, Bennett’s team made fact-based decisions about where to slow down and where to continue apace during the recession. For example, manager self-service (MSS) applications originally scheduled for late 2009 were pushed back to early 2010. According to the road map, MSS was less interdependent with other projects than other applications and required more outside contractors to complete. In contrast, Turner continued with a talent management suite. The road map showed that the suite had interrelated pieces that could not be moved forward without each other, and mostly internal staff was doing the work.

"Turner started using a road map about five years ago when it began to build an employee portal on its intranet. "We now revise our road map every 18 to 24 months," Bennett explains.

Taking Detours

According to consultants, the recession took a toll on HR technology plans. "Budgets were drastically cut or totally eliminated," says George DiGrandi, CEO of JGI, a Rochelle Park, N.J.-based consulting firm for HR and other technologies. But now, "HR and technology executives are starting to think about their needs again."

DiGrandi says road maps need to include at least three key elements:

  • The business and HR processes in place.
  • The technology the organization already owns.
  • The business goals and objectives.

In budget-strained times, the in-house technology inventory can be crucial, DiGrandi says. One of his clients illustrates the point.

Pre-recession, Tim Detary, vice president of HR for the Milwaukee-based U.S. division of Extendicare Health Services Inc., planned to roll out Oracle’s human resource information system (HRIS) module because it suited his needs and the division already used Oracle financials for 174 long-term-care nursing homes with nearly 22,000 workers.

Post-recession, "The Oracle project is dead," he says.

Soon after he joined the company in 2006, Detary and the chief information officer developed a road map to show executives where Extendicare needed to adopt technology for talent management and other HR processes to support business goals, especially in recruiting and retaining talent in a high-turnover business. The road map included the Oracle HRIS.

Detary has a CEO who understands that his main assets are talent—nearly 70 percent of costs are labor—and that technology-enabled HR processes are imperative for running the kind of business the CEO wants to build. Detary had executive support for his road map until the grim realities of recession hit.

Losing Oracle was a major roadblock. But because Detary had a road map, he knew his destination, he had a thorough picture of technologies the company owns, and he could start considering detours.

Extendicare has used Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) for its U.S. payroll for years. Before Detary joined the company, it had paid for ADP modules in compensation planning, recruitment, retention and succession planning but had never rolled them out. Detary and his team, assisted by JGI, examined what it would take to launch the ADP modules and how well they would accomplish the goals indicated in the road map.

Detary now understands the budget impact of making the ADP modules operational and knows they will get at least some of the job done. He made his pitch for 2010 and is waiting to hear from his executive committee. His expectations are modest: "I won’t get all the ADP modules in 2010, but maybe recruitment and retention, and then the next year I can build on that."

A Living Document

Business executives and other HR stakeholders should always be involved in the creation of any HR technology road map, and the map must reflect changing priorities.

"You start with the business imperatives and where the business is going," says Robert Staeheli, principal in Mercer LLC’s HR effectiveness practice, based in Washington, D.C. Road map developers "first need a good understanding of the future-state vision."

"If this downturn caused any fundamental shift in business, and if those shifts caused any fundamental shift in the HR service-delivery model, then addressing those shifts has to be a priority," Staeheli says.

That’s one way the road map is used at Cox Enterprises Inc. in Atlanta, which operates newspapers, television and radio stations, broadband communications, and automotive services companies. Cox Enterprises, now with 66,000 employees, grew through acquisition, leaving it with disparate HR and payroll processes and systems.

Connie Duffey, assistant vice president of HR and a board member of the International Association for Human Resources Information Management, wants employees at the diverse businesses to buy in: "We want to make sure our road map supports the Cox subsidiaries and their strategic needs," she says. "The road map is a tool to communicate and obtain feedback from the subsidiaries to make sure we’re doing what they need."

HR leaders used to consider Cox Enterprises’ technology plans one year at a time, but they recently developed a two- to three-year road map that includes extending their PeopleSoft platform to most divisions by the end of 2010, Duffey says.

Staeheli and DiGrandi agree that a road map with an outlook of two to three years is optimal and that a plan with a longer time frame is unrealistic because conditions and the technology are hard to predict.

Due to the recession, Cox Enterprises slowed some technology projects, including applications for employee and manager self-service and performance management. Now as the economy starts to rebound, the road map is helping set new priorities. "You have all these requests coming," Duffey says. "How do you look at those and say, ‘Yes, that is where we are going’?

"We have a whole slate of projects for the coming year, but we’re not spending a lot of additional money," she continues. "It will be more like 2009, consolidating systems and building out the functionality that we already have."

The recession actually helped make clear the need for certain technologies. "Manager and employee self-service [ESS] have had varying success in our subsidiaries. However, the economy has created a demand for efficiencies through self-service and HR technology," Duffey says. "Business managers are now more open than they were previously to adopting ESS because they can see the cost savings.

"The road map will be a living document. As the business changes, we need to review, improve and communicate strategy more than once a year."

End and Starting Point

Having a road map does not commit an HR organization to a lock-step approach. Instead, it helps executives determine where they have flexibility, what needs to be done sooner and what can wait.

Think about how you work with a dentist to bring your teeth up to par. "Developing the road map is like going to the dentist and saying: ‘Tell me everything that needs to be fixed,’ " says Dan Vander Hey, senior consultant for HR technology at Watson Wyatt Worldwide Inc. in Arlington, Va. Across three to five years, "I’ll have a game plan—or road map—of where I’m going."

Despite the recession, and by its own forecasts, Kelly Services Inc., based in Troy, Mich., expects a worldwide shortage of workers to hit full tilt by 2013. The game plan at the global staffing agency, with about 10,000 employees and 700,000 temporary placements each year, is to get ahead with a talent management suite from Cornerstone OnDemand. David Crump, director of compensation and HR information management, says Kelly began to roll out the suite in 2008, based on a road map it created in 2007.

As a result of the recession, "We had to slow down a bit, but the slowing down of the timeline has not been viewed as necessarily a hindrance because many of our places were still trying to develop the HR processes," Crump explains.

Kelly uses Oracle HRIS for North American operations, and its road map includes separate HR management systems for the Asia and the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regions. Those regions lag North America anyway, so the HR technology team postponed the schedule by three months in Asia and six months in EMEA. Cornerstone will follow the HRIS rollouts in those regions.

"We kept Cornerstone as our priority," Crump says. "We knew there was a lot of data gathering and development that we had to be ready for when the economy does turn."

A road map needs a destination and a starting point, Crump says. "Starting with a long-term business strategy, we ask, ‘How do we develop HR strategy that supports it?’ And from that, ‘If this is where HR needs to be, how do we support that with technology?’ "

His team formally revises the road map once a year, usually just before the budget process begins.

"Each year we revisit the road map and make sure we are giving value. That is what helps us to be viewed as a business partner," Crump says. "We don’t lose focus because the road map keeps us focused."

The author, technology contributing editor for HR Magazine, is a freelance writer based in Prunedale, Calif.

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