HR Magazine - September 2000: Software Reviews

By Jim Meade & John Day Sep 1, 2000
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HR Magazine,   July 2000 Vol. 45, No. 9

OPEN4 Links Payroll, HRIS;

​Simple, Strong Team Ratings

You work for an HR department, not payroll or systems. You know enough about computers to want to do your own queries and not be dependent on those other departments. You’re not a programmer, though, so ease of use really matters.

OPEN4 Human Resource Information System from BMH Inc. in Addison, Texas, is an industrial-strength HR information system that can be closely integrated with payroll if you wish. Yet this former mainframe program is Windows-based and is as easy to use as Word, Excel or other common desktop programs.

Retrieve Detailed Data

To use OPEN4, you select the program from the Windows start menu, put in your password, then double click the icon for the program you want to use (such as People, Query, Report Writer, Benefits, Compensation, etc.)

To use People, a standard employee and applicant tracking application, you click to select an employee and get a snapshot of basic information about that person.

A list on the left displays the HR information you can retrieve, such as the employee’s absences, benefits, deductions, earnings, skills and more. The program comes with 42 employee topics, and you can add your own.

For reports, you choose OPEN4 Report Writer from the opening screen, then select any of the 150 standard reports that come with the program, such as “Absentee Analysis,” “Benefit Enrollment Report” and “EEO New Hires by EEO Group,” as well as reports that show the strong payroll application of OPEN4.

For routine questions, you can use the query function to get such information as an employee’s next scheduled review date or even a person’s preferred nickname.

Strong on Payroll

This program’s creators know both HR and payroll inside and out, and you can do just about anything you might want to do with your HR and payroll data.

For instance, if you have OPEN4 Payroll as well as HRIS, you can readily track the full history of an employee’s hours, earnings, deposits and taxes. The program also offers detailed capabilities for handling reporting on an alphabet soup of government requirements including safety and health laws, COBRA, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Refreshingly, given that many integrated payroll-HRIS packages are hard to use, OPEN4 is a simple point-and-click program.

“What I like is that it is so user-friendly,” says Susan Dillard, HRIS manager for Schlumberger RMS North America in Tallassee, Ala. “If you have a non-technical user, you can sit down with them, and in about an hour they can fully use OPEN4.”

Remarkable Flexibility

The program’s overall flexibility is unusual. You are free to customize the look of your screens, the menu choices and much else. “[OPEN4] has so much more flexibility than what we were using,” says Bryan Harris, comptroller with Outdoor Research Inc. in Seattle. “Before, we could not run queries easily and we could not get the reports we wanted without going through a programming process.”

Help files, which open in an Internet Explorer window, are thorough yet easy to understand.

Support is outstanding, users say. “You can always get a live person, by e-mail or phone,” says Harris. “And they know what they’re talking about.”

If you have separate software for organizational charting, you can export data from OPEN4 to your org chart program.

Finally, security is exceptional. Each user has a security profile and sees only the capabilities his profile allows him to see.

Is It Right for You?

You may want to consider whether this powerful, flexible, easy-to-use program is right for your company.

With its broad capabilities, this product is probably better suited to mid-sized or large companies than to those with fewer than 100 employees because small firms might not need all the available functionality.

Integration with OPEN4’s own payroll module is so tight that you may have to think twice before integrating OPEN4 HRIS with another payroll program or using it as a stand-alone program (although the program allows you to do either.)

You might see this program’s ties with payroll as either a positive or a negative. You might ask yourself at times, “Yes, I can find out everything I ever wanted to know about payroll in this HRIS module. But did I ever want to know this much?”

Finally, I found that this Windows program cannot entirely hide its roots in the rigorous, at times inflexible, world of the mainframe. For instance, when I wanted to back out of a dialog box where I was “just looking” I would get the error message “This procedure has an open transaction. Abort the transaction?”

Worth a Look

This is leading-edge HRIS for the ordinary HR person. You don’t have to be a programmer, and you don’t have to turn to IT or your payroll department to accomplish what you want. Particularly if you want integrated payroll and HRIS, OPEN4 appears to be a “must see.”

Advanced Teamware president Mike Perrault readily admits that his firm’s flagship application, TeamView/360, isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s only effective when team members are ready to hear honest feedback from other team members on their performance, communications skills and effectiveness at working toward a common goal. The software allows each team member to rate the other members.

Another Advanced Teamware product, TeamWorks/360, focuses on the team as a whole, rather than on individual team members. Each member rates the team’s performance, then internal or external customers rate the team’s performance.

Potential users should note that Advanced Teamware plans to move away from providing packaged software and eventually will provide these products only over the Internet.

Evaluating Behaviors, Effectiveness

Team members log in to Team-View/360 by entering a group password and an individual password. Instructions are hardly necessary, but the welcome screen provides them anyway.

Once logged in, members are presented with a list of team members and asked to begin the evaluation process by rating themselves on each of 31 behaviors, such as “adapting to change” or “meeting deadlines.”

The mechanics are simple. Members simply click on the button corresponding to the number they wish to enter. While it’s possible to agonize over a rating for a particular behavior, most team members should be able to complete a self-evaluation in 20 minutes or less.

After submitting their self-evaluations, members are invited to evaluate the other members of the team, one at a time. The software keeps track of who has evaluated whom until all of the evaluations are completed.

The system then produces a 20-plus-page Individual Effectiveness Profile (IEP) for each team member.

The IEP explains in conversational language how the scores were calculated and how to interpret the attached graphs.

A summary graph shows the member how his or her self-rating compares with the views of the other team members and with the overall team average in seven performance areas—problem solving, planning, controlling, managing one’s own work, managing relationships with others, leading and communicating.

Subsequent graphs provide additional detail on each of the seven areas. Problem solving, for example, consists of recognizing trends, generating ideas and evaluating and acting on ideas.

In addition to the graphs, the IEP lists the five areas in which the member contributes most to the success of the team and the five in which the member’s performance was least effective. Finally, the report guides the member in preparing a personal effectiveness plan.

TeamWorks/360 is similar except that each member completes just one evaluation on the team’s performance. The resulting report compares the team’s self-perception with customers’ overall perception of the team.

TeamView/360 provides an opportunity and a vehicle for individual coaching while TeamWorks/360 leads to group discussion. Experienced users recommend that a trained facilitator help team members interpret the results or facilitate group discussion. About a dozen organizational development specialists have been trained and certified by Advanced Teamware.

Fast and Simple

Frankly, I was surprised that evaluations that were so fast and easy to complete could yield a report as comprehensive and useful as the IEP. The personal effectiveness plan outline is a good reminder of the power of written goals, and the IEP makes planning easier by identifying strengths to polish and weaknesses to improve.

These two packages could use a little tweaking. TeamView/360 currently lacks the ability to capture written comments and neither product integrates coaching information with reports. Coaching information is available in the TeamView manual, but it would be even more helpful if it was immediately available during the reviews, at a time when team members may be most open to assistance.

Perrault says that some customers have requested a “figure skating-style breakout” of scores in each report, so employees can see who rated them and how. Perrault has resisted that enhancement for fear that team members would lose sight of the overall rating and, instead, fret over which of their colleagues gave them a low rating.

TeamView/360, TeamWorks/360 and other products from Advanced Teamware appear to be an excellent value, especially for organizations that strive for optimum performance and maintain a climate for open communications. Other tools available from Advanced Teamware include Advanced/360, for organizations that wish to build custom systems, and LeaderView, for enhancing managers’ effectiveness.

Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, associate editor for HR Magazine.

Editor’s Note: Inclusion in this column does not necessarily imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

Jim Meade, based in Fairfield, Iowa, is an author and HR software consultant specializing in software selection. He is currently preparing The 2001 Guide to HR Software with Harcourt Professional Publishing. E-mail him at:

John Day is a freelance writer based in Decatur, Ga. He contributes regularly to several technology trade publications.

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