HR Technology

By Bill Roberts Aug 1, 2004
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HR Magazine, August 2004New casino uses technology to recruit and empower workersand keep customers coming back.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the newest casino in Atlantic City, N.J., was less than a year old when management decided to renovate the front desk area. Why? Because the bellhops told them to.

The luggage storage area was quite a distance from the front desk, causing delays in fetching bags for departing customers. Some suitcases were damaged because the bellhops had to schlep them around too many corners. Several customers lodged complaints, which eventually found their way to management. But the problem was first identified via the employee portal on the corporate network, where HR routinely conducts online surveys of workers (called associates), including a 45-day checkup for new hires.

“Associate satisfaction is a leading indicator of customer satisfaction. We’ve been able to correlate that,” says Cassie Fireman, vice president of talent, who is responsible for HR and customer satisfaction at Borgata.

In addition to having an HR executive who is responsible for customer satisfaction—a rare combination—Borgata appears to have accomplished something else so rare that most companies only pay it lip service: With the help of technology, Borgata executives have connected worker performance to the bottom line. And they’ve done it with a polyglot workforce that is not highly educated and has scant computer experience.

“At the Borgata, guest satisfaction equals workforce performance equals corporate performance,” says Jason Averbook, director of global product marketing for PeopleSoft Corp. of Pleasanton, Calif., which supplied Borgata’s HR management system (HRMS) and portal software. “There are 16 other casinos in Atlantic City, so players have a lot of options. The success of these casinos is based on guest satisfaction: Do they keep coming back? Labor is the key. Borgata understands the value of the workforce.”

Given the way Borgata ties employee satisfaction to corporate performance, Averbook thinks Fireman and her 23-person HR team may have achieved something that is only a dream for most HR professionals: job security. “This is how HR doesn’t get outsourced,” he says. “She is creating value for every shareholder every day.”

Online Recruiting

The technology would have been useless without a new mindset. In an industry not noted for empowering workers, Borgata executives decided worker empowerment would be an essential ingredient to the successful launch and operation of their casino, a joint venture between Boyd Gaming Corp. and MGM Mirage, both based in Las Vegas. They were determined to find ways to empower employees because they believed it would lead to worker satisfaction, which translates into corporate success, says Fireman.

When Fireman joined the team in 2001, she had numerous discussions with CEO Bob Bogner on the goals of the talent department, especially its role in improving employee satisfaction. HR at Borgata, she says, “is much more engaged in the business operation than most HR departments. We wanted to do some things from an empowerment perspective for the employee and the manager by putting tools in their hands and letting them function in an HR capacity.”

The gaming industry also is not known for using technology, but Borgata executives deemed HR software to be an essential tool for achieving worker empowerment. In a town full of veteran casino workers with many job options, Borgata even used empowerment through technology to bolster the recruitment campaign, whose slogan is “Work someplace different.”

When Fireman began to look at HR software, some segments of corporate America were beginning to adopt portals, manager self-service (MSS) and employee self-service (ESS). She gave passing thought to developing a system in-house, but decided on the HRMS from PeopleSoft because it offered the portal, ESS and MSS software Borgata would need. The company also adopted PeopleSoft’s financial and payroll software.

Averbook says Borgata had a huge advantage over most adopters: It started from scratch, unencumbered by legacy software and old ways of doing things. “They took a holistic approach to human capital management from day one,” he says. “Other organizations adopt bits and pieces and later try to glue things together.”

The implementation, begun in the summer of 2002, was staged in phases to bring up applications as they were needed. After installing the HRMS database, Borgata turned on online recruiting applications and MSS for hiring. These tools were used when 5,000 employees were hired in the five months leading up to Borgata’s opening in July 2003. By January 2003, Fireman had hired 50 managers—including gaming supervisors, restaurant managers and housekeeping supervisors—trained them on the software and then set them to the task of hiring the other employees.

A Tale of Two Portals

The initial implementation included two portals. A portal is a gateway to the Internet that offers content, links and services to guide the users to information they need. One Borgata portal was designed to help the small management team recruit employees, and the other to inform the public about Borgata and its job offerings.

The casino construction was not complete when Borgata began its recruiting efforts, so the recruiting team took offices in the Atlantic City Convention Center. Outside, they set up a trailer with 30 kiosks where would-be workers could access the portal, look at jobs information, indicate their level of interest and submit an electronic application. They could even schedule an interview with one of the recruiting managers.

Fireman also got the public library system to use the Borgata employment web site as its starter page on the library network so job candidates could apply online from any library in town. The recruiting team screened more than 70,000 applicants for an eventual workforce of 5,000, including 700 managers.

John Forelli, director of administrative systems, joined the Borgata information technology (IT) staff to work on HR software projects in March 2002. They ran PeopleSoft on computers at a PeopleSoft lab in nearby Tea Neck, N.J., until the casino’s computer room was ready. PeopleSoft’s directory and security features let Borgata establish roles-based access to the portals for employees, job candidates and interested folks who were not ready to apply.

The public portal was heavily customized. The hard part was designing an interface for people who had never used a computer. Fireman credits the close collaboration within the combined IT-HR implementation team—about 10 people in all—for the successful results.

Online recruiting was essential, Forelli says. For example, had Borgata not given job candidates the ability to schedule their interviews online, “we would have needed an army of operators calling these people to schedule interviews.”

Compare this with the old way of doing things. In 1993, Fireman ran hiring for the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. She had to hire a large number of temporary recruiters, whose jobs ended after the hiring was done. And it was an entirely manual process heavy on paper. “By comparison, we used very little paper in Atlantic City,” she says.

Around-the-Clock Operations

Once the casino opened, Borgata executives wanted to use PeopleSoft for MSS and ESS to handle a variety of tasks, from simple 401(k) management to the employee review process to online training to survey and data collection that helps improve associate satisfaction and performance—and thereby customer satisfaction. MSS and ESS are used extensively now to run an around-the-clock, seven-days-a-week operation.

During the recruitment phase, the implementation team began to roll out the simplest ESS applications, such as changing names, addresses and beneficiaries. They also launched several MSS applications, including worker recognition, disciplinary notices and various online training. They started with the simpler applications, then moved on to the more complex ones.

Only 500 Borgata employees have a PC on their desk, and few workers had experience with computers when they applied for employment. The company set up about two dozen kiosks and PCs at several locations, including in an employee lounge, in the employee cafeteria, and even a couple behind the scenes in the gaming and front desk areas. With a single password and user name, each worker can access the employee or manager portal, depending on their role. They also get access to an e-mail account and the Internet. Fireman says Borgata encourages workers to use the Internet for appropriate personal reasons, such as banking and vacation planning.

Most people entering the workforce have some exposure to computers these days, even if it is just their bank’s ATM, Forelli says. “To a large degree, we find people are using this technology in elementary school, high school and college,” he adds.

Still, Borgata’s workforce is not high- tech. “You have to make it [the interface] easy for them [to use] and give them some degree of training,” says Fireman. Her staff provides basic training to each new employee. There’s also job-specific training in the departments. Managers receive extensive training on the systems and processes they need to manage employees. Some employees learn more quickly than others, she adds, but none have been let go because they couldn’t learn the systems.

Whatever the educational level of workers, Fireman believes it is a mistake to underestimate their capabilities with technology. Workers are more than willing to help each other. “I [often] see a housekeeper showing another housekeeper how to log on or a dealer showing someone outside his department how to get to the Internet,” she says.

Technology To Benefit People

Charleen Ripley, a 20-year casino worker, manages a shift of 400 employees in one of the gaming areas. Using technology was new and welcomed. “I like the efficiency,” she says. “You can go right on [the portal] and take care of the documentation for the employee rather than call HR or some other department. We can facilitate [HR] processes much quicker.” Ripley says she’s still learning and enjoys periodic training, including recent training in employee evaluations.

As with most major HR software implementations, Borgata’s portal is an ongoing effort. The implementation team is rolling out more online training now. Another project will offer some ESS applications in six languages. The workforce includes recent immigrants for whom English is a second language. Native tongues include Spanish, several Asian languages and several dialects from the Indian subcontinent. “All our associates can navigate the portal adequately in English,” Fireman says. “We just think expanding this to other languages would increase the utilization.”

Averbook says PeopleSoft can be configured in 16 languages, and new ones are added each year.

However, the Borgata team will have to do more than simply flip the configuration switches, Forelli says. About 20 percent of the software is custom work that will have to be separately translated.

Fireman says it is too soon to calculate any return on investment, but pushing all the processes on to the portal speeds up HR reaction time to requests, problems and other issues. One of the biggest benefits is the way her HR staff can collect data about employee performance and satisfaction, then turn that data into actionable items.

Still, she says, technology doesn’t solve every problem. “You can’t take the people element out of people,” Fireman says. “There are always people who need face-to-face advice, and you need to be available to talk to them. Technology can’t be the driving force. People and compassion need to be the driving force.”

Bill Roberts, technology contributing editor for HR Magazine, is a freelance writer based in Los Altos, Calif., who covers business, technology and management issues.

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