When Bryan Olson, the chief human resources officer for the law firm K&L Gates in Boston, was looking for a way to improve the user experience and mobile capabilities of his PeopleSoft 9.1 human resource information system (HRIS), he knew his options were limited.
Replacing the core HR system was cost-prohibitive, and a standard upgrade wouldn't deliver the kind of customized mobile features he needed.
So Olson turned to InFlight Corporation, an Easthampton, Mass.-based company that specializes in modernizing and mobilizing existing HR systems, for help. InFlight is among a new breed of technology vendors that help companies extend the life of legacy systems that haven't kept pace with market innovations, especially in areas like providing mobile-enabled, self-service HR applications.
These technologies work by providing an affordable new front end or "interface layer" to current HR systems, leaving the existing customizations, security protocols and system-of-record data of an underlying HRIS or applicant tracking system (ATS) undisturbed. Providers use standards-based web technologies rather than proprietary tools to connect with HR vendor systems, allowing customers to modify these new applications on their own, if desired. An additional benefit is that users of the technology don't need developers or professional services to code new integrations.
"We wanted to install top-notch self-service tools in a way that was seamlessly integrated with our existing HR systems," Olson said. His goals were to reduce reliance on paper forms, limit support calls to an HR service center, and provide line managers and employees with a convenient new way to conduct their HR business. Improving the user-friendliness of the law firm's HRIS as well as its SharePoint human resources intranet portal was part of an effort to upgrade the company's HR technologies to a consumer-grade level.
"The self-service tools needed to be easy to use and accessible on all mobile devices," he said.
Integrators are typically validated partners to HRIS providers like Oracle and have to meet a stringent set of requirements to qualify for the partnership.
HRIS vendors also realize benefits from the relationship. In Oracle's case, for example, its customers might believe they need to migrate from an older version of PeopleSoft to get the user experience or mobility enhancements they desire. InFlight allows those customers to remain on PeopleSoft by adding features that the modern workforce demands.
"If it's a facelift that you seek, it doesn't make sense to go in for a … transplant," said James La Brash, the managing director of InFlight, in describing the value of his firm's services. "Customers who do not want to move away from their current HRIS can create a substantially improved user experience and new mobile-enabled self-service tools without a huge investment."
Melissa Dorey, manager for HR innovation at Telstra, a telecommunications company in Melbourne, Australia, also wanted to retrofit her company's existing HRIS from SAP SuccessFactors with new features. So Dorey employed vendor Kony to "wrap" an enhanced user interface and new self-service functionality around the HRIS.
"We were receiving thousands of calls a year to our HR service center from employees about basic information like pay, leave balances and more," Dorey said. "We wanted more of our people working in the field or in retail stores to be able to access that information through self-service options on mobile devices, since many don't have access to desktops or laptops."
Kony's product integrated seamlessly with the HRIS to add new mobile capabilities on top of the existing platform, Dorey said, and Telstra employees have embraced the convenience and user-friendliness of the new self-service tools.
"Employees can be at home or in the field and do things like check their co-workers' vacation schedules and then send a time-off request to their managers, who can respond on the go from their own mobile devices," she said.
What Does It Cost?
What should HRIS leaders expect to pay for these integrators' products? As one example, vendor Capriza charges companies between $10 and $20 per user per month to place its mobile-enabled solutions on top of their existing HR systems, said Lance Walter, Capriza's chief marketing officer.
When the city of Boston turned to InFlight to boost the user experience and self-service tools of its existing PeopleSoft HRIS, the costs of InFlight's solutions played a big role in the decision, said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city's chief information officer who oversees HRIS functions.
"If you're doing a major upgrade of an ERP system, you're typically looking at an eight-figure expenditure," Franklin-Hodge said. "We didn't think even that level of investment would get us the kind of usability and mobile support we wanted for our HRIS in terms of self-service use by line managers and employees."
Instead, the city spent a "relatively modest six-figure amount" for InFlight's web applications, Franklin-Hodge said. "We were impressed that such a reasonable expense could facilitate the substantially improved user experience and other positive outcomes we experienced."
Dave Zielinski is a business journalist in Minneapolis specializing in HR technology, talent acquisition and leadership development issues.