The wisdom of Socrates

The wisdom of Socrates

Pam Derringer reports on how the automation of paper-heavy HR processes can revolutionize compensation planning and workflow for managers

General Motors’ 190,000 US employees don’t have to pick up a phone or a piece of paper to get someone to change their address or emergency contact information; they can do it themselves. Through the end of August, GM employees directly initiated 14,000 emergency contact updates and 26,000 address changes online, saving GM’s HR department 7,766 hours of needless paper shuffling. And that’s just in the first eight months of the year!

An early adopter in the portal movement, GM was quick to grasp its potential for automating HR and improving companywide communication. It launched its Socrates portal back in 2001. Despite the economy slowdown that followed, most large corporations have since recognized the value of portals in HR automation and followed suit. Now employers are taking automation a step farther by beefing up online portals with benefits information personalized for individual employees, enabling them to make benefits or investment decisions with less reliance on printed materials, according to Daryl Ashley, vice president of strategy and solutions for Workscape, the transaction engine of GM’s portal. “Managers can have online access to corporate compensation or employment manuals, built-in comp rules and corporate and market pay data and process reviews right from home,” he says.
In addition to compensation planning, companies also are extending HR automation to workforce management tasks such as transfers, promotions and performance reviews.
Many companies are installing these workforce management and compensation planning applications now for the first time, says Ashley. Although the ROI can be hard to measure, some studies conclude that the savings can be significant by minimizing compensation errors and, in turn, improving productivity.

Three years down the road, GM’s companywide usage of its portal is still a work in progress, with hourly plant employees slower to change over from paper transactions to the online portal. And every plant doesn’t have a kiosk yet. However, GM is planning some road shows to demonstrate the portal at different plants, which is expected to boost participation, according to Shannon DiPietro, GM’s director of global human resources, IT and HR operations. “Overall, people have really embraced [the portal],” DiPietro says.

GM’s annual open enrollment period for benefits is now done 100 percent online, as is the workflow routing process for salaried employee compensation. Instead of signing physical pieces of paper, the supervisor talks to the employee about his/her performance and raise, then sends the document electronically to the employee, who signs and returns it online. In addition, compensation planning and budgeting is faster and simpler via the portal. Instead of a roomful of people with calculators and tab runs, the entire process of finalizing recommendations, obtaining corporate approvals and, then, notifying employees, is all accomplished via the portal.

“We used to have lots of people holding documents and time was wasted,” comments Michelle Murphy, GM’s manager of electronic HR and portal activities. “This is now one-stop shopping,” whether the issue is adoption, child care, education assistance, leaves of absence, retirement savings, health insurance or even training opportunities. And it’s all accessed through the portal and has the same look-and-feel, regardless of the actual site from which the benefits information is obtained, she says. Employees can also find out about training opportunities and sign up for them through the portal, she added. Another very popular feature of GM’s portal is its Peoplefinder, an online listing of employees by name and department, along with photos and company phone numbers. The Peoplefinder helps employees identify colleagues whom they have never met prior to a group meeting, and is used in compensation planning, DiPietro says. “The Peoplefinder allows our managers to keep up-to-date and it helps our organization [seem] small.”

With employees now able to get information at their fingertips, the portal has driven efficiencies throughout the organization and changed employees’ attitudes, increasing job satisfaction, according to DiPietro. “At first, people were hesitant but now they are excited and want to know what’s coming next. Now that we have given employees the ability to do their own self-service transactions, they are viewing us more like consultants. It’s become accepted, just like [ATM] cards. And it has freed us to focus on strategic thinking instead of shuffling paper.”

For Saint-Gobain Crystals, a decentralized global network of 30 plants with 2,000 employees, the rationale for adding a portal several years ago was simply to begin the process of updating the company’s old technology without a specific goal in mind, explained IT Director Rick Gardner. Unlike GM, which built its own portal, Saint-Gobain went to an outside vendor and chose Plumtree Software, which can integrate data from different applications and servers into a single enterprise system.

“We had different ERP systems, different networks and weak links between them and Plumtree had a good strategy for coping with our situation,” Gardner says. “And it was also the market leader.”
Saint-Gobain rolled out the portal in its Worcester, MA, plant as a showcase to elicit interest in the other plants, all of which are operated independently, and the project was “very successful,” he says. With the exception of two or three facilities, all the crystal division plants have now installed portals.

“One guy runs 20 businesses for us with five different ERP systems and Plumtree can put them all on one screen,” continues Gardner. “Portals can link to many different data sources and combine them together. The portal becomes the common framework to plug into and everyone knows how to use it.”

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