It’s that time of the year — the 21st annual Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey is upon us. This is probably the most comprehensive survey for HR users, covering virtually all aspects of HR technology use, from the traditional integrated HR/ERP systems to the latest emerging technologies and innovations.
Some of the most important questions you may have are answered in the survey results, such as:
- What are the latest trends in HR technology
- Who are the leading vendors
- Best of Breed vs. single-source integrated solution
- What systems are my peers and competitors using
- What systems are my peers and competitors considering in the next 12 months
- What systems provide the greatest efficiencies and ROI
- Where the most/least money is spent
- By vertical market, how strategic is the HR organization perceived
- Who is upgrading and who is not, and why
- Data privacy & confidentiality issues
- How and where analytics is being used
- Much more…
The following post first appeared in 2014.
“A good manager doesn’t try to eliminate conflict,” says Robert Townsend, author of the bestseller Up the Organization, and co-author of Reinventing Leadership. “He tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people.”
As an HR professional in an enterprise organization, you have a choice in how your team — and, therefore, your entire organization — handles all of the conflicts that arise from employee complaints, grievances, and concerns.
In my business, responding to RFIs, RFQs and RFPs are a part of my daily work life. If you want to win the business, you must accept these requests as a mandatory function during the sales cycle.
20 years ago, questionnaires focused almost entirely on the business application up for bid; features, functions, bells, whistles, and the like. Technology questions primarily centered around the technology platform – Windows, Solaris, SQL Server, Oracle, web vs. client-server, etc.
In today’s cyber security threat world, IT has essentially commandeered the process, and now RFPs are often heavily weighted on security questions. Frankly, many recent RFPs that have crossed my desk barely touch on the relevant and in-demand application features, in favor of addressing IT Security issues. In a few cases, it has been hard to find the actual application questions buried in one of many Excel tabs (worksheets).
Is your HR organization performing at peak efficiency levels? Do you understand how your peers are managing their firms; companies with the same issues and challenges you face? They can only expose new and potentially productive ideas.
How can you broaden your knowledge of industry trends and cutting edge business tools? The answer is in the HR industry’s most comprehensive annual survey, the Sierra–Cedar 2016–2017 HR Systems Survey, 19th Annual Edition.
In partnership with Sierra-Cedar, LBi Software invites you to participate. The survey is now available at www.Sierra-Cedar.com/hrssv45 until the deadline on July 1, 2016. All responses are confidential and only used in aggregate results.
How efficient is your HR organization? Is there room for improvement (there always is, right)? Just as importantly, how well run is your group compared to others in your industry, or in the market in general?
Whether or not you believe your HR organization is performing at peak efficiency levels, understanding how your peers are managing their firms, companies with the same issues and challenges you face, can only expose new and potentially productive ideas.
Since you are not likely to call on your competition to compare notes, how can you broaden your knowledge of industry trends and cutting edge business tools? The answer is in the HR industry’s most comprehensive annual survey, the Sierra–Cedar 2015–2016 HR Systems Survey, 18th Annual Edition.
In partnership with Sierra-Cedar, LBi invites you to participate. The survey is now available at www.Sierra-Cedar.com/hrssv45 until the deadline on June 30, 2015. All responses are confidential and only used in aggregate results.
Recently, two new clients opted to implement LBi HR Help Desk without, at least initially, the Employee Self-Service Portal feature. Though the great majority of clients do deploy the Self-Service Portal, there are still a number of clients that choose to continue with phone and email case requests.
LBi HR Help Desk does provide features that help automate call-ins and email initiated tickets. For instance, HR Help Desk supports Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Computer Telephony Integration (CTI). With IVR/CTI technology, calls into HR can automatically be routed to the appropriate agent, and instantly open the employee HR Help Desk Masterfile screen ready to verify and engage the caller. More advanced telephony integration can be implemented where employees can generate cases via the touchtone system, similar to phone-based banking, though this option is less common.
The expectations of HR continue to grow — to be more of a strategic player in the organization as well as to provide increasingly user-friendly services to employees. HR could use a little HR help from some friends.
Among those friends is an automated HR case management system, built specifically for HR departments to improve HR service delivery and provide HR self-service. This kind of solution can be just the kind of HR help that HR needs today.
First, however, you want to make sure your HR case management solution is designed specifically for HR departments. A system built for IT’s needs and repurposed for HR will fall short of the mark in several ways. You can read more about why that is in our blog post “HR Delivery Excellence Demands HR-dedicated Case Management: True Temper Tools Would Agree” and dig even deeper into the topic in our white paper “Case Management: The Backbone of Excellence in HR Service Delivery.”
A centralized and automated HR case management system can be a huge asset in managing talent better for companies of any size — even overcoming the shortcomings of many larger and more comprehensive HR technology, information, and talent management systems.
Consider, for example, how an HR help desk can solve the challenge of gathering and maintaining critical employee information in a single location rather than having it spread across disparate databases and in paper files. In fact, there being a central, secure repository of data and records — without replacing current and separate systems — is one of the significant advantages of an HR case management system.
When an HR help desk or case management system is incorporated into a comprehensive talent management strategy, any organization can take advantage of full life-cycle support for employees, ultimately contributing to measurable performance gains. The best HR case management systems, like LBi HR HelpDesk, are designed to work seamlessly with a company’s HRIS software as well as their leading talent management applications.
Unified HR case management overcomes the potentially costly and time-consuming challenge of having critical employee information spread across disjointed databases and traditional paper files. …Read More
The importance of efficient, accessible employee self-service portals and HR self-service systems continues to grow — especially with the continuing influence of several key trends in workplace behavior and expectations, as well as in personal lifestyles.
Among the most significant of those trends driving the demand for more sophisticated employee self-service applications are:
- Greater need for flexible work hours
- Growing acceptance of remote working options
- Increased use of SaaS-based applications and programs, as well as other types of cloud-based HR solutions
- The boom in tablet- and smartphone-based platforms for workplace systems
- The continuing tsunami of “mobile everything, everywhere” communication
Flexible working hours
The continued expansion of businesses across time zones and into international markets is also driving a greater need for flexible working options in every area of the organization. In response, HR technology needs to play a major role in keeping remote employees engaged. A compelling employee self-service portal empowers employees, boosts engagement, and saves HR immense amounts of time. …Read More
Guests at our HR Tech booth had fun playing Plinko for a guaranteed prize (vibration speakers, ear buds, USBs, water bottles…) and a chance at four Chromebooks and four Kindles.
The hottest prize at the booth was the vibration speaker — a cool gadget that magnifies the sound of your smartphone via vibration (no bluetooth); we had a lot of fun giving those demonstrations.
Our booth theme was HR HelpDesk Rated “E” for Everyone – HR HelpDesk, our innovative Case Management software, comes in four versions for organizations of varying sizes.
The E also stands for:
- Employee Engagement
- Efficient Case Management
- Easy Sign up – no credit card required for free trials
- Encompassing Pricing
- And any other “E” word our marketing people could come up with.
We also generated some buzz on twitter at #EforEveryone.
With more than 25 years of experience creating and delivering intuitive technology solutions that simplify HR administration, we’ve learned that regardless of the number of employees in an organization, HR wants more than just technology that works. They want innovative solutions with robust capabilities that their employees can access anywhere, backed by quality support. LBi offers all this and more, with a tiered, pay-as-you-go pricing model for organizations of all sizes.
To learn more about how cloud-based case management can change HR administration in your organization, keep reading. Our technology is rated “E” for everyone — find out why.
For more than 25 years, we have focused on developing and providing solutions that make the complex world of HR administration simpler and easier. In that time, we have learned a lot, including these two important things:
- Today’s companies want robust and flexible HR software with great service and support.
- The best technology is simply the best technology — and shouldn’t be limiting for companies large or small.
In other words, powerful programs shouldn’t be reserved for enterprise-level businesses, and agility shouldn’t be limited to small and midsize businesses.
Our automated HR case management software prevents employee issues from falling through the cracks or becoming bigger problems down the road. It complements talent management software to identify potentially costly patterns of personnel issues, reduce risk, and maximize HR productivity by reducing help calls by up to 75 percent.
Simply put, we have put the power in the hands of each employee — whether you have 50 or 50,000 people in your organization.
The best thing about computer technology is instant access to information any time, anywhere. Smart phones and tablet computers are a godsend in today’s fast moving world. Don’t agree? Just ask Siri or Skyvi (Google’s version of Siri). Now you can find a movie, a restaurant, a gas station, plumber, or anything else you need with just a few taps of the screen.
Pew Research estimates 58% of American adults have a smart phone, and 42% have a tablet computer. Clearly smart device owners understand the power at their fingertips and are realizing significant productivity gains, at least in the category of personal time management. So it stands to reason that mobile information access would provide similar benefits in the workplace, right? For instance, an HR self-service app that delivers virtually instant answers to all of a worker’s employment-related questions, right on their PC, phone or tablet? Well, this is true…if the content is comprehensive and the search tool is simple to use.
The combination of case management and self-service technology gives employees the power to answer their own questions and take care of many of their own HR and benefits tasks at a time of their choosing and from their own desks — or even from home. Employees are increasingly expecting their online interactions at work to be as easy and personalized as their online consumer experiences. Online workplace applications — including HR programs — are now considered table stakes for businesses of all sizes to reach and support their employees.
This means that by implementing these solutions, the company is also giving time and resources back to HR. Fewer HR hours need to be allocated to answering employee questions and managing routine paperwork. And that means more time and resources to focus on strategic business tasks and planning.
Studies show that the right self-service system, like that in LBi HR HelpDesk Pro and ProPlus, can accurately address and resolve 80 percent of all employee inquiries. This is particularly significant for SMB organizations that are still operating with a traditional HR department and a manual case management system or resolution process.
Wikipedia describes at-will employment laws as follows:
“At-will employment is a term used in U.S. labor law for contractual relationships in which an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason (that is, without having to establish “just cause” for termination), and without warning…[and] an employee may be similarly entitled to leave his or her job without reason or warning.”
Like many well-meaning HR policies, at-will laws in practice may be a double edged sword. On the surface at-will regulations appear to be beneficial for the employer and employee, though with some negative implications.
An employee can quit with no advanced notice, freeing the departing worker to “jump ship” Friday afternoon ready for the next new career move the following Monday without skipping a beat professionally. After all, it is the employer’s prerogative to immediately dismiss the resigning employee whether or not they offered the traditional two week notice. If this were to occur, the employee could potentially have a costly time gap between the old and new job. So why provide any notice at all?
HR departments in small to medium sized organizations share the same employee issues that occur in large enterprises; the only difference being the volume of problems HR is confronted with. Labor disputes, morale problems, productivity issues, compensation inequality and more, are the bane of HR departments both large and small.
As one well known technology company proudly articulates, “There’s an app for that”. And there is. But until now case management software solutions explicitly developed to address the privacy and confidentiality requirements of HR have been out of reach for the SMB market due to the generally higher cost factor. Lower cost IT help desk and sales/support focused CRM systems, even Excel spreadsheets and simple email public folders, have long been considered “good enough” for smaller HR departments, and for some companies that is certainly true.
However, what happens when that emailed ticket declaring an employee’s sexual harassment accusation is inadvertently (or intentionally) BCC’d or forwarded to unauthorized eyes? This breach of confidentiality can be extremely costly for any sized organization.
We’re not here to say HR technology has ignored the small and midsize business market. If we did, we’d be cut to ribbons in a heartbeat. A Google search I just did for “HR technology for SMB” returned 29.7 million results. HR technology vendors have targeted the SMB user with cloud-based software to handle everything from recruiting and onboarding to performance management, time and attendance, career development and compensation.
Until now, however, no one has offered the SMB market a fully featured HR case management solution the way SMB companies really want to buy software — which means going beyond offering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). That’s become table stakes.
Doing more for SMB buyers starts with offering free trials, just as SMB users expect from all kinds of other SaaS products. So LBi is offering LBi HR HelpDesk to the SMB market with free trials — including a free-forever trial for companies with fewer than 100 employees on the system.
Life is full of sad realities. One is that the SMB market has been vastly underserved by the HR technology industry. There’s one very simple reason: Despite the glut of cloud-based HR software, HR technology vendors have until now largely failed to sell products the way small and midsize businesses want to buy them. (For the record, we’re talking about companies with 2,000 or fewer employees.)
For starters, the HR technology industry has traditionally failed to let the SMB user “try it before you buy it.” They certainly haven’t wooed the SMB buyer with free trials like they offer to the enterprise customer. We concede that until now, we at LBi Software have been as guilty of this as our competitors, especially when it comes to our flagship solution, the HR case manager and call-tracking workflow system, LBi HR HelpDesk.
That’s a shame. HR leaders in the SMB market until now have never been given the opportunity to determine, without pressure or hassle, whether an HR technology solution could really benefit them (assuming, of course, other motivating factors also fall into place — factors like pricing and having an easy purchasing process).
Call us crazy, but we think HR buyers in the SMB (small and midsize business) market have been overlooked for too long. We believe HR technology vendors — including LBi — have failed to sell products the way SMB users want to buy them.
We think we’ve set things right.
LBi Software is proud to offer the SMB buyer HR HelpDesk, a fully featured yet affordable HR case management and call-tracking workflow solution. Of course, the powerful and robust enterprise edition of LBi HR HelpDesk is a highly configurable system that offers complete integration with HR, ERP, and email systems; advanced document management; options for on-premise hosting and licensing, or hosting on a dedicated server (for maximum security); single-sign on; corporate branding, and more.
But now we’re giving HR leaders in organizations with up to 2,000 employees the opportunity to launch a cloud-based version of LBi HR HelpDesk as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and start using it right away. And we’re doing that in a way that’s hassle-free — consumer-friendly access with no obligation to buy and a simple, one-step purchasing process.
LBi Software is pleased to announce that it has completed an expansion of its headquarters to over 10,000 square feet at 7600 Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury, NY. LBI Software also recently reached the 50 employee mark. In the last 18 months LBi has grown by over 30%! This expansion is to support the upcoming new offering of our flagship solution LBi HR HelpDesk.
The office expansion included new offices, new workstations to support 3 monitors per developer, meeting rooms, video games and a Ping Pong table.
View the slideshow:
Discover how Human Resources Help Desk analytics can transform your organization. On June 3rd LBi Software will host a webinar demonstrating the power of HR Help Desk Analytics and Big Data.
The benefits of implementing an HR Help Desk and Employee Self Service Knowledge Base solution are many, including fewer calls into HR, consistent adherence to corporate business policies, greater employee satisfaction, and more.
However, a robust, well-designed and mature solution can provide even greater value through powerful analytics.
Before starting down the path of developing an RFP, it’s crucial to understand the ultimate goal of the journey. Not all RFPs are released with the objective of finding the best and most robust HR case management solution for a company’s needs. Other business goals for an RFP include:
- Finding the lowest-cost solution to meet the most nominal requirements
- Surveying the marketplace and gathering information for a future purchase
- Collecting ideas and information for building a system in-house
If the above is your reason for considering the RFP process, then please don’t.
A 2001 Gallup poll found that Americans who are obese or have chronic health problems cost their employers an estimated $153 billion per year in lost productivity. As the prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic health conditions continued to rise from 1999 to 2010 (and beyond), employers are looking for ways to keep their employees physically fit. The best employee wellness initiatives are those that motivate without harming morale.
Promoting Healthy Body Weight
Obese and overweight individuals are more likely to take sick days, require more doctor visits and experience difficulty performing efficiently at work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An effective strategy to encourage weight management is to have a friendly interoffice competition. For example, departments might compete against one another to see which can log the most exercise minutes, steps walked per day or pounds lost (following a group weigh-in, so as not to put pressure on an individual). Tying performance to monthly rewards such as an office party, financial benefit, or flex time is a great way to increase motivation.
Is work-life balance a myth? No, it just has different meaning and implications for different cultures. In the United States there is a trend towards encouraging employees to find a healthy medium between work hours and personal time. There is a widely held belief here that a happy employee is a productive employee. In some industries, employees are required to take all of their allotted paid time off. Others sometimes discourage long vacations greater than one week at a time. But today we are recognized as the most productive nation on Earth, though that belief is rapidly changing.
What about other countries and cultures? Certainly workers in China, South Korea, Japan and India, as well as other countries, are considered very productive. However, in those cultures generally work comes first, and sometimes to the exclusion of family and personal life. Disconcerting stories such as those coming from the Chinese factory Foxconn, are all too common. At Foxconn, employees often work seven days a week, eat in common cafeterias, and live in crowded dorms, though they rarely complain. On the contrary, many employees there are proud to work hard and strive for a solid middle class existence, which otherwise might be unattainable.
In these cultures, children are taught from an early age that hard work and personal achievement is the root of success and happiness. Anything less is considered shaming to the family. In school, “A” is the new “B”. Nothing less than “A+” is acceptable. Just look at the winners in the annual Intel Science and Siemens Competitions. They are consistently represented by a disproportionately large number of foreign born or first generation American students, often from Asian and Indian countries. It is truly hard to argue with success.
We live and conduct business in an increasingly litigious society. We all know that. At the same time, businesses are increasingly in the crosshairs of various state and federal agencies responsible for enforcing everything from fair hiring practices to safety in the workplace.
An HR help desk is the antithesis of the old way of responding to government audits and legal action. Then, managers and administrators had to almost manually piece together disconnected sources and chains of communication related to a grievance – emails, phone messages, printed forms and other sources.
An automated HR help desk, by comparison, offers an audit trail for every case, including all of its related documents and communications. A quality system also has the level of security to ensure privacy and confidentiality in the HR environment.
Whether 2013 was your most successful year yet or one you would like to forget, it should be seen as a learning opportunity for 2014. As a small business owner and captain of your own ship, it’s natural to make mistakes, but with the right tools, you can easily avoid common pitfalls and blunders like sloppy record keeping and spending too much time on social media.
1. Filing Messy Last Minute Taxes
If your 2013 taxes are proving to be complicated and cumbersome because you left everything to the last minute, take a few steps to make tax time easier in 2014. Third party Payroll Services organize all of your payroll records throughout the year. Instead of slogging through a year’s worth of records and manually transferring numbers, just click a few times, and your payroll software will download the relevant numbers and forms to your tax software.
Combine a program like this with an organizational app like Shoeboxed, which allows you to easily file receipts and track expenses. This app ensures that you never miss a write-off, and it has the power to effectively lower your tax burden. With the right tools in place, filing taxes in April 2015 should be a breeze.
The benefits of implementing an HR Help Desk and Employee Self Service Knowledge Base solution are many, including fewer calls into HR, consistent adherence to corporate policies, greater employee satisfaction, and many more. However, a robust, well-designed and mature solution can provide even greater value through powerful analytics that use key performance indicators. Key performance indicators, or KPI’s, define factors HR needs to benchmark and monitor.
Traditional HR systems do not track patterns of employee morale issues, the impact of personnel disputes on overall performance, management style inconsistencies, and other, often subliminal, employee related problems that can negatively affect corporate productivity.
The percentage of employees that are contingent is quickly growing. Currently 18% of the total work force is contingent. Some are predicting this to rise to 50% of the Fortune 500 workforce! HR software and HR software vendors must be prepared to support this growing contingent workforce. Furthermore, this contingent workforce needs to be just as engaged as traditional full-time employees. We need to get the most from our employees whether they are permanent or contingent.
Contingent workers are not permanent employees and they know it. Depending on their contract or agreement with the firm, continued employment is always in question, as is the ability to move to a higher, more permanent position.
A contingent workforce may provide many benefits to the organization, such as helping to fill temporarily needed positions during uncertain times of unpredictable growth. But once those workers are in place they need to be properly managed. It is critical to understand that the disposition of contract workers is much different than the attitudes of regular full-time employees. Are they loyal to the company? Can they be trusted with confidential information? Are they at least as productive as regular workers?
Today’s business systems create mountains of data. HR systems are no exception. Nor is the HR organization immune from leadership’s growing demand to mine that data and transform it into analytics that can help drive business decisions.
In his May 2011 review of a weeklong conference, Impact 2011: Building the Borderless Workplace, Josh Bersin wrote, “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the focus on HR measurement, metrics and analytics throughout the conference.”
In fact, developing and applying measurement strategies that “ensure efficiency, effectiveness and business alignment” is among the 10 best practices of “high-impact HR organizations,” according to research by Bersin & Associates (now Bersin by Deloitte). These HR organizations provide data that illustrates “clear connections between the efforts of both the HR function and individual people.”
The features of an automated HR Case Management System – from resolving cases faster and easier, to empowering self-service – can help create and heighten employee engagement.
For example, an HR case management system designed to serve HR keeps a record, instantly available, of every employee transaction. With just a couple of clicks, an HR team member has access to the entire history of a case. The employee doesn’t need to restart the process if he or she needs to follow up on a case. It’s obviously more efficient for HR, and it’s also an effective tool for heightening employee engagement. It shows employees that the company cares enough to handle their concerns quickly and knowledgeably – it brings consumer-like service to the world of HR.
It’s true that an HR case management solution is only one piece of a comprehensive HRIS solution. HR case management lives under the big umbrella of software solutions that help streamline the whole spectrum of HR management system functions, from benefits administration, to time and attendance, to performance reviews and succession planning.
Yet all of the pieces within an HRIS share two overarching goals: to help HR professionals manage their workforce more efficiently and to empower employees. Just as with a full-platform HR management system (HRMS), you also want an HR case management solution that will increase HR productivity by automating administrative processes and supporting HR on a strategic level.
Help Desk systems have become mainstream solutions in virtually every aspect of business operations, including Customer Support, Salesforce Automation, IT Support, HR Support, and more. Though there are many similarities in these applications, it is a keen understanding of the inherent differences that can make or break a successful deployment. Selecting a product that falls short of expectations in just one or two key areas can lead to time delays, as well as wasted (and potentially very costly) financial and personnel investment.
Never has this been truer than in selection and deployment of a new HR system, particularly HR Help Desk. For instance, a lack of privacy features in the help desk system can breach confidentiality agreements, potentially risking expensive and time consuming legal actions.
A well designed HR system, built explicitly for HR, will plug all of the security holes that may exist in some non-HR centric applications. We invite you to take this simple test below and score your current system against the best solutions, such as LBi HR Help Desk 5.0.
Give yourself 5 points for every question you can unequivocally answer “Yes”.
Recent research from British law firm EMW paints a distressing picture of employee data theft. EMW found that cloud computing makes it easier for employees to take enterprise data when they leave, and that court cases over theft of business information increased 56 percent from 2011 to 2012. Adopting “bring your own device”, or BYOD, in your business can leave you vulnerable to employee data theft when staff move on. Accept this, then take steps to minimize your risk.
What’s at Stake if an Employee Walks
When an employee leaves, he carries with him knowledge of your products, services and workflow. Employee laptops and phones will have enterprise and client emails, strategic information, work documents and other data. Since employees may leave for a variety of reasons, every policy should take this into account. Employees who transfer to another office or take a medical leave may need to keep business information, while those who resign, are laid off, or are fired should not keep data.
The days are gone when a company could control its brand either as an employer or a market solution. Gone also are the days when nearly everything a potential candidate or buyer knew about a company came directly from its public affairs office, from stories the company urged its employees and existing clients to disseminate, or from articles that appeared in the business media.
That was before the days of the Internet and social media, before we had the myriad channels through which an organization’s image could be trumpeted – or soiled. “Brand ambassadors, or employee evangelists, are becoming an increasingly common way for brands to leverage their biggest asset – their workforce, of course – to reach new markets, generate buzz, and put a real face on the company,” journalist Eric Markowitz wrote in Inc. Magazine. “They can be tweeters, bloggers, Facebookers – or they could just be the people you send to corporate events.”
Recently I closed one of the biggest contracts of my career. The last key piece that sold it was “our employees”. During one of the sales meetings the prospect’s CFO said something profound – “after all, it is not so much about choosing Company A over Company B as it is with being comfortable with the people from Company A”. The CFO liked the team that presented the solution but he wanted to be assured that the team that will execute it was just as good. So I sent him the name and bio of everyone who would be assigned to the project. We then followed that up with an in-person presentation of all the team members. The next day we got the contract.
Phone, email, text, instant message (IM), in person? Unfortunately, many younger workers have grown up in a world where face-to-face (or even phone) communications are not deemed necessary in order to interact effectively with others. The nuances of verbal communications have given way to graphical emoticons and cryptic acronyms. Why bother interpreting visual or audible cues when there is a Smiley face for that?
Have we forgotten about the importance of body language and vocal inflections? In the animal kingdom virtually all creatures converse, not with the written word, but rather by sight and sound. And they apparently are quite successful at it. If sophisticated communications within species through visual and audible means is the product of millions of years of evolution, what does that say about humans and texting? Is this really the next phase in our evolution… or not?
Almost every organization has a formal, written Mission Statement. These statements have at least two primary purposes — to clearly state long-term corporate goals, and to generally set the guiding principles by which employees conduct themselves internally and with their customers.
Mission Statements are top-down mandates that every employee must follow in their daily professional lives. Often it is the responsibility of HR and middle management to monitor (formally or otherwise) their employees to ensure adherence to corporate policies, including those broad principles detailed in the Mission Statement. So how can “the mission” be efficiently monitored day to day, week to week, and beyond, particularly in larger organizations?
One of the top sports stories in the news lately has been the issue of player bullying in the NFL. Recently, a rookie player for the Miami Dolphins, a 312 lb., 6’5″ tackle, suddenly resigned due to accusations of bullying by another player, foregoing a high six figure salary. Certainly not your typical target, how is it even possible that the allegations (including physical, verbal and mental abuse) could be true? Who in their right mind would bully a 6’5″ giant? Except maybe another 6′ 300 lb. giant.
But that’s not the real story here. Several of the accused player’s teammates and many other NFL players are defending the accused, primarily on the basis that this is a common and accepted practice in the league, particularly with rookie players. Think of it as harmless “initiation” or “hazing”. In the eyes of many within the NFL community, these alleged actions were simply a means of toughening up the victim, preparing him for the rigors of the sport. And since the victim ultimately could not take the abuse and subsequently resigned from the team, the team and league are now at a better place – after all it’s about survival of the fittest. For the NFL, this story is far from reaching its conclusion.
This past summer three of my favorite TV shows ended: Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Burn Notice. Each one was very successful yet only one remained on top until the very end. Why is that? Did the others lose their way or just ride out the series like a cash cow?
As far as the reasons behind the failures of Dexter and Burn Notice, they are a matter of personal opinion. Dexter clearly had jumped the shark and, given the series plot, it got less real with each additional microscope slide. As for Burn Notice, in my opinion, it tried to be like the competition and turned from a fun campy A-Team-like show to a lame spy thriller.
“The right tool for the right job.”
That’s been the advertising slogan for True Temper tools since at least 1907, when the Cleveland-based company was called American Fork & Hoe. The catchphrase is just as true today as it was then, and not only when it comes to forks and hoes.
Without the right technology for the right job, it’s highly unlikely any mission will achieve its optimal outcome. Sure, the job might get done. But at what cost? What will be left out or left behind? How much better could the job have been done with the right tools – with the benefit of software and a system, for example, uniquely designed to accomplish that particular job?
Guests at LBi Software’s HR Tech booth participated in a game to try to solve the puzzle of HR Technology:
Each player would add a piece to the puzzle and try to guess the message. The first correct puzzle guess won a Microsoft Surface and each correct guess after that was put in a drawing for a second Microsoft Surface. Participants would also win a prize for just playing: Kindles, iPod Nanos, ear buds, Amazon gift cards, 8GB flash drives and water bottles.
IT Help Desk solutions are feature rich and generally lower in cost than those developed specifically for HR; but consider the mission critical role of a help desk solution in HR, and the inherent risk of confidentiality breaches from less secure solutions, and the choice seems clear.
IT Help Desk systems generally don’t need to be concerned with employee privacy and information security. They are designed to handle the management of technical computer and telephony issues, software problems, etc. Routing of confidential cases (i.e., harassment or manager dispute cases) strictly to authorized personnel (and out of the eyes of others) is simply not a necessary function for IT. Read 7 Employer Actions that Can Increase Likelihood of a Lawsuit for insights on the importance of HR maintaining proper documentation while handling employee disputes.
The use of HR technology to heighten employee engagement is still evolving. In some respects – and despite so much that’s been written about it – applying the features of HR and HCM technology to boost employee engagement is still in its infancy. But in other regards, the trend is already starting to become passé.
The practice of tapping into existing legacy HCM systems to drive employee engagement will soon be outdated. Here’s how Brandon Hall Group and The Starr Conspiracy put it in their recent white paper, The Future of HCM: 7 Trends That Every HCM Provider Needs to Know: “There’s one certainty within this uncertainty. These legacy HCM systems will all eventually go away forever. HCM players have taken novel steps to hasten the progress of this slow death.”
As with every other aspect of human capital management today, success increasingly depends on engaging employees. And that means HR must give employees consumer-like online experiences in their work life as much as possible.
Why? Two overarching reasons:
- HR has gradually and increasingly taken a page from marketing’s playbook. Savvy HR leaders today know the value of actively soliciting feedback about – and keeping abreast of – employees’ needs, wants, preferences, and concerns; developing relevant and actionable data from that knowledge; and responding accordingly.
- Also like their colleagues in marketing, forward-thinking HR leaders are aware of – and responding to – the shifts in employee demographics, social networking, mobile computing and connectivity, and online consumerism. Just like consumers, employees want increasingly to be informed, connected, and empowered.
HR technology that supports this trend – while balancing it all with privacy and security – fosters a more engaged, more productive workforce. An HR case management system that features an engaging employee portal, an accessible user interface, and unconditional security offers one big step toward treating employees as consumers. The results: a more engaged and more productive workforce.
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, one fellow asks another: “How did you go bankrupt?” The man answers, “Gradually, and then suddenly.”
The same could be said of many of the most volatile, hot-potato situations you face as an HR leader. Even flare-ups that appear to come out of the blue — a breach of company policy that puts the organization’s brand at risk, a seemingly sudden lack of productivity in one sales department — are really just the straws that broke the camel’s back.
“A good manager doesn’t try to eliminate conflict,” says Robert Townsend, author of the bestseller Up the Organization, and co-author of Reinventing Leadership. “He tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people.”
As an HR professional in an enterprise organization, you have a choice in how your team — and, as a result, your entire organization — handles all of the conflicts that arise from employee complaints, grievances, and concerns.
Science fiction author Ray Bradbury wrote, “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”
A similar argument can be made for almost any enterprise organization, and particularly for their HR departments.
Without a library of your organization’s employee-relevant documents, forms, policies, benefits information, and similar items, you run the risk of seeing the same HR problems repeated over and over, and you have no clear path for preventing similar problems in the future.
Corporate life is full of risks of all shapes and sizes. The playing field is riddled with hazards that range from employee lawsuits stemming from a manager’s misconduct to federal sanctions and fines for failing to comply with the reporting guidelines of Sarbanes-Oxley.
LBi HR HelpDesk can mitigate risk for the organization across these areas and more. For starters, the system creates a complete and accurate audit trail of all communications between an employee and HR. Managers and administrators no longer need to go in after the fact and manually recreate timelines or piece together communications from disconnected sources related to a grievance.
Other features of LBi HR HelpDesk that reduce risk and protect the reputation of the organization include:
- Recording all inquiries and related communications throughout the history of each case
- Storing all documents and communications related to a case in one place
- Providing confidentiality for involved employees and security of all communications and documents
Recent enhancements to LBi HR HelpDesk further help reduce corporate risk. Version 5.0, released in December, tracks communications beyond just the employee initiating a case and the HR representative handling it. Dialogues can also be tracked between the HR representative and whomever he or she reaches out to for advice or support on the case.
This functionality gives HR a full picture, at a glance, of all communications related to any individual case. This can be a significant benefit when a case is put in the spotlight or may become part of a legal action.
The variety and detail of ad hoc reports that users can create in LBi HR HelpDesk (expanded in Version 5.0) can also help lessen risk by giving HR greater insight into the flow of cases, the time required to resolve cases, areas in the organization that have had a higher-than-average rate of grievances, and other standards that can identify potential areas for improvement or action before they escalate.
At the end of the day, users of LBi HR HelpDesk can leverage myriad features that give insight across the breadth of HR processes and throughout the organization to help minimize the risk of litigation, noncompliance and oversights.
We dig, dig, dig, the whole day through
To dig, dig, dig is what we like to do
It ain’t no trick to get rich quick
If you dig, dig, dig with a shovel or a pick
So sang the dwarfs in the 1937 Disney classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Sneezy and the guys happily dug every day where “a million diamonds shine.” HR has a very similar opportunity today.
HR leaders can tap into a rich mine of shiny jewels, uncovering wonderful nuggets of revealing data anytime, every day. All HR needs is a fully featured HR case management system — aka an HR help desk — that includes robust metrics, flexible reporting options and a dashboard that yields easy-to-access reports.
In fact, an automated HR help desk is a double-win for HR. First, it contains valuable data that can help HR play a more strategic role in any organization. Then, if you’ve done your homework, your case management system will include the necessary tools to help you turn that data into actionable analytics.
One might say that LBi HR HelpDesk, for example, is a gold mine that comes complete with all the equipment HR needs to dig deep and transform that data into insights that will help drive business decisions.
That, in fact, is exactly what HR is being asked to do a lot more of today. And as with many things in life, the good stuff lies beneath the surface; the most valuable HR data is often not the easiest to capture.
In the words of Naomi Bloom, managing partner at Bloom & Wallace, a consulting firm specializing in the application of HR technology: “When it comes to metrics, the easiest to do are very rarely the most valuable!”
We’re biased, of course. But LBi HR HelpDesk does the heavy lifting for you. It allows HR to efficiently and systematically collect data and evaluate what it means. It helps you get down-to-earth, business-aligned insight to make suggestions for changes in policies and processes to improve productivity and performance.
If you’d like to learn other ways an automated HR help desk can help HR up its game, see our white paper “Five Top HR Challenges and How an Automated HR Case Management Solution Can Beat Them .”
Who knows? You, too, may uncover “a thousand rubies, sometimes more.”
Image source: The Ink and Pixel Club
Today’s HR systems are capable of creating mountains of data, which begs the question: What are you supposed to do with all of it? What should you do with the tsunami of facts and figures, streams of employee records, and seemingly bottomless online file cabinets filled with digital documentation of every transaction between employees and HR?
The C-suite knows what it wants you to do. It wants HR to transform all of that data into something else entirely — into analytics that will help improve performance.
What is HR? Magical? It can be.
Robert Heinlein, the prolific and influential author (Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and many more) said, “One man’s ‘magic’ is another man’s engineering.”
We totally agree with Heinlein, but we look at it from the other side of the prism. We believe one person’s engineering is another person’s magic.
The precision engineering that goes into developing a high-quality, fully featured HR case management system makes magic for HR. An HR help desk that has robust analytics, flexible reporting, the ability to create a knowledge base on the fly, and the capability to serve up actionable analyses from an executive dashboard can, in fact, magically transform HR data into analytics that can lead to higher workplace performance.
That’s not only what the C-suite wants; it’s exactly what top-flight HR organizations have begun doing. Research from Bersin by Deloitte finds that one of the 10 best practices of “high-impact HR organizations” is that they develop and apply measurement strategies that “ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and business alignment, [and illustrate] clear connections between the efforts of both the HR function and individual people.”
For example, LBi HR HelpDesk can pool all of its data into a data warehouse or “data mart” — a virtual repository of employee concerns and grievances across the company. This data allows executives to quantify the degree to which various employee issues are affecting productivity and performance. For example, a drop in production in a specific region, business unit, or even under a single manager can be correlated back to an increase in labor-related disputes handled by HR related to that region, business unit, or manager.
To learn more about how an automated HR help desk can help HR transform data into better workplace performance and up its strategic game, download our white paper “Stay Competitive: Use Your HR Help Desk to Drive and Measure Employee Engagement.”
Image source: The Globe and Mail
The answer: Just by implementing it, you’ll cut your costs.
Unlike the budget sequester, however, an automated HR case management system is highly unlikely to stir debate over whether you should have taken a different path.
One proven advantage of a fully featured, automated HR case management system is that it will reduce HR department expenses. Period.
At the very least, quality HR help desks let HR quickly and easily centralize and manage huge amounts of information from various systems across the organization. (The new term for this in the digital age, by the way, is “information curation.”) A system with the right features can then take that information and, on the fly, create a searchable, automated knowledge base. Information delivery across the entire organization suddenly becomes a whole lot more consistent. Front-line employees and managers can go directly to the knowledge base to find answers about everything from safety policies to their medical insurance benefits.
The benefit is obvious: greater and more efficient HR service delivery, which means lower HR costs.
Industry research, in fact, says that an effectively deployed HR help desk can reduce unnecessary calls to HR by as much as 75 percent. HR Management magazine has cited a Gartner report that says HR organizations spend as much as 80 percent of their time dealing with administrative duties and questions from employees and managers. With an automated HR help desk, HR team members have more time to spend on work that is more strategic, and fewer HR team members are needed to field employee calls.
In addition, how about the savings you gain if your HR help desk offers automated, online access for employees anytime, from nearly any Internet browser, and on almost any device? The least expensive way to deliver HR service is electronically, such as through web self-service, email, and online chat.
If all of that is true (and all of it is), riddle us this: Why, according to the Shared Services Institute in 2010, had only 56 percent of large organizations deployed an automated case management system? Why had only 40 percent implemented an automated knowledge base as part of their HR services system? And why are the most resource-intensive communication channels — such as telephone calls to HR and call centers — still the preferred methods for HR service interaction?
It doesn’t need to be that way.
To learn more about how an automated HR help desk can help HR reduce costs and up its game, download our white paper “Five Top HR Challenges and How an Automated HR Case Management Solution Can Beat Them.”
Image source: Bill Hood
We’re pretty sure that in Lincoln, the new blockbuster movie about the sixteenth president of the United States, actor Daniel Day-Lewis never voices these words of wisdom attributed to Honest Abe: “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”
That’s LBi in a nutshell. We’re passionate about our work, dedicated to our vision and committed to our clients. We strive to be worthy of recognition. But receiving recognition is not why we do what we do.
On the other hand, like most any other business, when recognition comes our way, we’ll accept it — particularly when it comes from a source we respect. So on Valentine’s Day, we were happy to see we were featured in a post by Robin Schooling, SPHR, on her blog, HR Schoolhouse.
Schooling’s the vice president of human resources for the Louisiana Lottery Corp., an influential blogger and a social media expert. She’s also very involved in SHRM at the state and national levels. Her Feb. 14 post, Your HR Help for When They’re Joined at the Hip, speaks directly to one of the fundamental benefits of LBi HR HelpDesk. As Schooling writes, it gives HR powerful tools for “managing employee relations and service issues on a grand scale.”
Schooling’s post talks about the time she was in corporate HR and got a call from a frantic hiring manager. Five of the manager’s employees had just walked into her office, handed over individual letters of resignation, and “turned on their collective heels and walked out the door.”
As Schooling says, LBi HR HelpDesk has the power to help HR detect employee concerns and discontent before they can escalate and affect performance to that level.
“What are the trends?” Schooling asks in her post. “Are there potential looming issues that may arise based on what’s going on? That is what HR practitioners need to analyze.”
It precisely defines a key benefit of LBi HR HelpDesk. And we’ll gladly accept recognition for that.
Time and Attendance automation not only benefits hourly workforces, but white collar environments, as well.
The benefits of automating time and attendance processing in businesses with hourly employees are obvious and many. From guaranteeing accurate calculations to reducing time theft to eliminating paper records, time accounting systems like LBi Time and Attendance are proven to reduce overall payroll expenses by as much as 8%, according to studies by the American Payroll Association (APA).
However, there is a misconception that such systems are far less beneficial when managing payroll processing in organizations with primarily exempt employees. Exempt employees don’t punch a clock and generally are not mandated to work a standard 8 hour daily schedule. Indeed, many exempt employees work far more hours for the same pay. Therefore, payroll processing for these employees is primarily based on tracking exceptions, such as managing vacation and sick time. So where are the potential savings to be realized? Hard and soft dollar savings are certainly there.
In companies with larger workforces, timesheets are typically collected, reviewed and approved by department managers prior to being sent to the payroll department for final processing. The department head is frequently responsible for timesheet accuracy, while Payroll simply aggregates and transmits the data to the payroll system. Even with checks and balances in place it is entirely possible that errors (both unintentional and otherwise) can occur, potentially resulting in the company paying for unearned time off or time not actually worked.
For instance, managers are not always consistent in their employee time management responsibilities. One manager might be lenient in permitting employees to come in very late or leave early, or even record an unearned day off as a worked day. Other managers are known to “robo-sign” time sheets, simply trusting their employees without checking accuracy. Even though exempt employees are permitted more flexibility in managing their schedules than hourly employees, abuses can and do occur, and can cost the organization significantly if not checked. In some organizations these inconsistencies can lead to costly Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) disputes.
Another issue is the complexity in tracking Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policies. Employees seeking FMLA leave must have worked at least a certain number of hours in the previous 12 months in order to be eligible for this time off. If not tracked properly, companies could potentially provide employees with unearned FMLA time, which costs the organization in lost productivity. Additionally, the paperwork involved in processing the request (and subsequent return of the employee) must be managed properly or the organization could face costly legal problems. Comprehensive time and attendance systems can manage the entire FMLA process, ensuring employees receive the time off they are entitled to and all paperwork is processed according to the law.
In project oriented companies, workforce management systems can increase project/task reporting accuracy while speeding up data entry and processing. These systems can ensure that employees can only report time on projects for which they are assigned, and tasks that are applicable to the specific project, minimizing the need to make corrections later. This data can be integrated with both the company’s payroll and project management systems to eliminate manual keypunching.
Typical time and attendance system deployments in organizations with exempt employees include time collection devices (i.e., badge and biometric clocks), primarily used to track workers that are on premises and therefore officially working for the day. “On Premises” reporting helps companies identify employees that are physically in the building if an emergency occurs, and can prevent legal problems if an employee claims a work related injury while not actually on-site. Additionally, though the actual in/out “punches” are not used for payroll processing, they are certainly beneficial when tracking patterns of attendance. Just by knowing the company is tracking this time, employees are encouraged to be on time consistently.
Unquestionably, automating time and attendance in ANY company will ultimately increase payroll accuracy, speed up processing, and minimize abuse, while vastly improving reporting, analytics and records keeping. Finally, employees will know that they are responsible for their performance under the watchful eyes of the company. In the end, both parties will benefit through greater productivity and cost savings.
Providing employees with choices while keeping their confidentiality
Consider the evolution of terms referring to the traditional HR department. Initially there was the “Personnel Department”, which simply referenced employees as people. Next came “Human Resources”, further defining employees, albeit subtly, as business assets. The current term in vogue is “Human Capital Management”, essentially redefining people as revenue and profit generating business assets.
Unfortunately, though this transition of terms more accurately describes the role of employees in organizations today, it also tends to take the “personal” out of “personnel”. HR software business solutions have the potential to further reduce the close interaction between employees and HR staff. Just as interactive voice response systems virtually eliminate the need for customer contact with live support agents, so can automated HR support systems.
Automated HR Help Desk solutions are designed to minimize direct 1:1 personal contact with HR, which is both good and bad.
- Good – saves money, time, and frees up HR for other tasks.
- Bad – less personal contact with HR, potentially risking employee satisfaction issues.
However, solutions like LBi HR HelpDesk include a feature that allows employees to request their case resolution via phone, in person, email, etc., which provides the ability to create cases online but receive a response in person or other preferred level of contact. LBi HR HelpDesk also includes features that allow cases to be marked confidential and have them routed to specific representatives trained to handle special cases. Providing the ability to discretely submit a potentially embarrassing case such as a manager dispute or harassment accusation specifically to authorized senior HR personnel, and have the resolution process equally as discrete, truly supports the “Human Factor” in automated systems.
In organizations lacking an automated Help Desk system, employees are generally forced to make initial contact with one or more HR representatives whom ultimately may need to escalate their case to senior or properly trained personnel. This added level of contact risks employee privacy. Sometimes, just physically walking into the HR office can raise unwanted questions and curiosity among company staff.
In many help desk cases, such as simple PTO requests or tuition reimbursement questions, automated systems will speed responses to the employee, thereby saving valuable HR personnel time. Less unnecessary burden on the HR staff again supports the “Human Factor”.
The bottom line is the best automated systems provide employees with the greatest personal choice in selecting their preferred method of contact with HR, ultimately increasing employee satisfaction while providing the confidential interaction with HR that they deserve. From HR’s point of view, valuable administrative staff time is freed up to manage more strategic tasks. Not only is the “Human Factor” alive and well in the best Automated Help Desk solutions, it is the primary purpose for deploying such business systems. Systems such as LBi HR HelpDesk increase employee satisfaction and improve overall HR operations, ultimately driving improved performance within the whole organization.
Identifying potential critical HR issues to effectively manage your workforce
The corporate HR function has gone through many changes with the adoption of new technologies and ERP software solutions. The influx of high tech solutions has created a virtual HR environment and has enabled companies to build databases of company and employee data. While data mining is new to the HR environment, the practice of data mining has been successfully employed in more traditional corporate areas for trending business activities and fine tuning business processes. With the adoption of Automated HR Helpdesk solutions, the opportunity to fine tune the HR function through data mining and the analysis of helpdesk data has arrived.
HR Helpdesk Overview
The Automated HR helpdesk solutions available in the marketplace, like LBi HR HelpDesk, extend the access and reach of HR by utilizing existing technologies to create a virtual HR environment. Employees can enter the system through the corporate portal and perform a variety of tasks including:
- Searching HR guides
- Reviewing common problem databases
- Submitting questions and problems to HR
- Checking status on open questions
- Checking on resolved issues
Employee queries can be resolved by a generalist or routed to a specialist as required. The employee also has the option of searching within the helpdesk databases for answers and similar situations raised by other employees. The HR helpdesk software is fully integrated to the HR systems, and utilizes corporate systems such as e-mail and voice systems to communicate in a secure environment.
LBi HR HelpDesk will also perform automatic escalations of unresolved cases and will maintain a complete case history for each employee.
Data Analysis of Helpdesk Traffic
Data Mining is relatively new in the data analysis field but is readily gaining acceptance in the world of business analytics. It allows for the analysis of data to extract patterns from a larger set of data. With data mining techniques we can go beyond the tracking of policy and guideline concerns and search for patterns showing repeated issues with specific employees or managers. Companies can find patterns that would not have become apparent in a manual system.
Analysis of the accumulated data from the HR helpdesk activity can help to highlight trends and patterns where employees experience difficulty in understanding policies or in understanding how benefits are applied. Armed with this new information, the company can then decide on how to address the issue, clarify the policies and avoid the confusion going forward.
These techniques combined with the helpdesk data can help assess the impact of new or modified company processes such as implementing Six Sigma or lean manufacturing disciplines. While employees may not report concerns to their line managers, there may be patterns in the data that can lead back to these changes. Stress felt by employees can be both a satisfaction issue and a retention problem for the company.
According to the EEOC, there were over 32,000 reported incidents of workplace harassment which cost businesses $98,500,000 in settlement costs. Data Mining of helpdesk data can highlight potential issues, provide direction in seeking appropriate solutions, and assist in the timely response to these situations. Additionally, Data Mining can help evaluate corporate policies and their impact on specific employee demographics. For instance, are men complaining more than women about specific policies? Is there a prevalence of religious issues?
Employee satisfaction can be gauged from data in helpdesk surveys and through data patterns revealed in the analysis. A good helpdesk solution will provide for employee surveys to gauge the effectiveness of the helpdesk and the HR process.
Summary and Conclusion
Helpdesk solutions, like LBi HR HelpDesk, extend the reach and accessibility of the HR department. Additionally, the data accumulated and stored can be used as a basis for highlighting potential problems and concerns. Analyzing the data and the trending of employees’ queries and concerns can highlight corporate policies that are confusing, complex or poorly written.
Reviewing the volume of queries by area and drilling down into specific issues can help identify potential problems and address these issues to reduce the traffic into the HR helpdesk. Issues that are identified can then be reviewed by management and may be addressed with a clarifying memo, additional training or other actions as required.
With time and experience in leveraging the available data, correlating information from the various HR systems with other critical Key Performance Indicators (i.e. corporate revenue/profitability performance, customer satisfaction, employee retention and turnover), becomes a viable possibility.
In the end, there is a true relationship between performance in every discrete area of any organization, from Finance to HR to Manufacturing to Sales, etc. Employee performance in any one business unit may ultimately impact performance in every other department. A comprehensive HR Help Desk solution with intelligent analytics capability will help identify potential critical issues in each department and become the centerpiece of a total solution to effectively managing your workforce.
Cloud Computing is a general term used for delivering hosted services over the Internet. What’s different about Cloud service as compared to traditional hosting is that it is sold on demand, typically by the minute or the hour; it is elastic — a user can have as much or as little of a service as they want at any given time; and the service is fully managed by the provider. A Cloud can be private or public. A public Cloud sells services to anyone on the Internet. A private (virtual private) Cloud is a proprietary network or a data center that supplies hosted services to a limited number of people. When a service provider uses public Cloud resources to create their private Cloud, the result is called a virtual private Cloud. Whatever type used, the goal of Cloud computing is to provide easy, scalable access to computing resources and IT services.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a collection of various hosted network services. LBi uses two of the services offered – Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3).
EC2 is a web service that provides resizable computing capacity in the Cloud. It is designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers. LBi uses EC2 to host all of its websites, as well as several applications. EC2 allows you to run virtual servers (called instances) in the Cloud. You can run as many servers as you want and Amazon invoices based on hours of use and bandwidth. LBi has also used EC2 to load test versions of its products. For example, LBi HR HelpDesk was installed on one instance and a load testing program was run on another instance. The benefit of using EC2 is that it provides more bandwidth and processing power than running the test in LBi’s offices. An additional benefit of hosting something in the Cloud is that the website/data is now stored out of the office in a backed-up/redundant environment. This helps to prevent the catastrophic loss of data from something such as a fire in the company’s data center.
In addition to EC2, LBi also utilizes S3. This service is essentially a virtual hard drive in the sky. S3 is used to back up our EC2 databases every 3 hours, and files are backed up from S3 back to LBi as an additional safeguard.
Almost two years ago, we began all our hosting through EC2. This was done after a successful, issue-free, year long test using EC2 to host our corporate and Appraisal Application sites. By using these services, we can be sure our sites are secure, resilient and reliable. We can also ensure that they provide us with the ability to scale our applications to any size business, small or massive. LBi also uses cloud computing for demonstrating our applications. Using cloud computing, the application is available for prospects to evaluate at their convenience.
LBi also utilizes EC2 to deliver its SaaS (Software as a Service) Cloud option. As of 2010, LBi Software began to deliver its HR HelpDesk and Time and Attendance products as SaaS. LBi Software offers two SaaS hosting options: 1. Dedicated Server Environment (hosted on a physical dedicated server) and 2. Cloud Computing Environment (utilizing Amazons EC2).
Sites LBi is hosting on EC2
Appraisal application that LBi developed for a local real estate appraisal company
Dutch Property Management
LBi designed and hosts Dutch Property Management’s corporate site
LBi HR HelpDesk
LBi’s HR Case Management and help desk product. LBi hosts its SaaS Cloud offering on EC2
LBi Time and Attendance
LBi’s time and attendance tracking product. LBi hosts its SaaS Cloud offering on EC2
LBi Software Corporate Site
LBi’s corporate brochureware site including a download portal for downloading patches and demos
LBi Technical Support
Website for LBi’s PC and Network support offering
LBi designed and hosts Richard Security’s Corporate Site
Suntec Forest Homeowners Website
LBi designed and hosts Suntec Forest Homeowners bulletin board site
In order to safeguard our clients’ material LBi has a process of maintaining redundant backups. The disaster recovery server for all these sites is located at LBi. The database for each site is real-time replicated from EC2 to LBi’s Disaster Recovery server. The Disaster Recovery server is in turn backed up every night. In addition, the entire hosted site is backed up every three hours (increased to 1 hour for critical apps) from EC2 to S3. This process insures that no data is ever lost.
Today, firms require hosting companies to have generator backup, redundant ISPs and in many cases co-locations. When a site is down there is a potential loss of revenue. Through the use of Cloud Computing, smaller companies such as LBi Software can offer its customers this type of premium hosting at a lower cost. For example, one weekend this past July an air conditioner malfunctioned, spiking the temperature in LBi’s Corporate Server room. Technicians had to bring down the servers in the room for six hours. Since all hosting was in the cloud there was no disruption of service to any of LBi’s clients.
The value of enterprise business intelligence is greatly enhanced when information from various sources is combined in a meaningful way.
What is ETL?
ETL, or Extract, Transform and Load, eases the combination of heterogeneous sources into a unified central repository. Usually this repository is a data warehouse or mart which will support enterprise business intelligence.
Extract – read data from multiple source systems into a single format. This process extracts the data from each native system and saves it to one target location. That source data may be any number of database formats, flat files, or document repositories. Usually, the goal is to extract the entire unmodified source system data, though certain checks and filters may be performed here to ensure the data meets an expected layout or to selectively remove data (e.g. potentially confidential information).
Transform – in this step, the data from the various systems is made consistent and linked. Some of the key operations here are:
- Standardization – data is mapped to a consistent set of lookup values (e.g. US, USA, United States and blank/null – all mapped to the standard ISO country code)
- Cleansing – perform validity checks and either remove or modify problem data
- Surrogate keys – new key values applied to similar data from different source systems prevent key collisions in the future and provide a cross reference across these systems
- Transposing – organizes data to optimize reporting. Many source systems are optimized for transactional performance but the warehouse will be primarily used for reporting. Often this involves denormalizing and re-organizing into a dimensional model.
Load – the transformed data is now written out to a warehouse/mart. The load process will usually preserve prior data. In some instances existing warehouse data is never removed, just marked as inactive. This provides full auditing and supports historical reporting.
There are a number of commercial and open source ETL tools available to assist in any ETL process. Some of the prominent ones are:
- Business Objects Data Integrator
- Informatica PowerCenter
- IBM InfoSphere DataStage
- Oracle Warehouse Builder / Data Integrator
- Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services
- Pentaho Data Integration (Open Source)
- Jasper ETL (Open Source)
These tools provide a number of functions to facilitate the ETL workflow. The variety of source data types are handled automatically. A transformation engine makes it easy to create reusable scripts to handle the data mapping. Scheduling and error handling are also built in.
It is particularly advantageous to use an ETL tool in the following situations:
- When there are many source systems to be integrated
- When source systems are in different formats
- When this process needs to be run repeatedly (e.g. daily, hourly, real time)
- To take advantage of pre-built warehouses/marts. Many of these exist for popular platforms such as PeopleSoft, SAP, JD Edwards.
There are also times where the overhead and cost of setting up an ETL tool might not make sense. In these situations some combination of stored procedures, custom coding and off the shelf packages may make more sense. Scenarios of this type include:
- One time conversion of data
- A limited number of source systems that share key identifiers
As illustrated here, a typical ETL workflow will move the data through a few distinct phases. This allows each phase to be better defined and eases troubleshooting.
Source > Extract > Stage – this phase extracts all the appropriate data from each source system. The extract copies only data that has changed in the source system since its last run. The stage library contains all source information in a similar structure to how it appears in the source systems. All extracted information will remain in stage until it is successfully processed by the transform.
Stage > Transform > Warehouse – the data from stage is transformed into a warehouse. In this example this step includes some of the base transformations as well as the load of data into a single warehouse. In this phase, surrogate keys are added where needed, lookup value mappings are applied and related information from multiple source systems is combined into a single structure. Any errors encountered here are reported and the problem data remains in stage until corrected. No information is removed from the warehouse and all data there is tagged with effective, update and end timestamps.
Warehouse > Load > Mart – the current effective date from the warehouse is loaded to the mart to support analysis. While this is the final load of the process, this step also includes a transform of the data to an optimized dimensional form for reporting and analysis.
Business intelligence in the enterprise is greatly enhanced by unified data. ETL can be an important tool when combining heterogeneous sources into one cohesive central repository.
The Year End process can be a complicated, highly visible one. LBi has created guidelines to smoothly manage this daunting process.
In a company’s Human Resources and Payroll area, there are a number of particularly time consuming processes that occur at the end of each year. These Year End processes are critical and can include:
- Imputed Income calculations
- Deferred Income processing
- Applying tax updates
- End of year bonuses
- Merit increases
- First payroll of the new year
- W2s and 1099s
- State Filings
Typically a team is created to manage the process. LBi has managed this process for several clients and has come up with a project methodology that helps the process run smoothly.
The first step in this methodology is the creation of a checklist. The Year End (YE) process begins by establishing task schedules and priorities. This enables the team to understand both the scope and the scheduling of events and is an essential first step in YE planning and project management. The checklist is used throughout the YE process to ensure that no critical steps are overlooked. After verification by the project stakeholders, the completed checklist is then used to build the Year End Calendar.
The YE Calendar of events expands the tasks in the checklist and incorporates dates and responsibilities. It is then used as a template for complete documentation.
The next step is to perform the required legal and regulatory changes as published by PeopleSoft or other HCM system, or requested by the company, to keep everything in compliance. These items are then added to the Checklist and Calendar.
The final step is to create a comprehensive inventory of all processes, customizations and ad-hoc reports. We identify all special queries required for “data cleanup” and balance adjustments. It is critical to include these ad-hoc reports and processes and productionalize them, as they are typically needed each year. We then assemble all the documentation and testing plans and results for SOX compliance and audit readiness.
There are four key steps in LBi’s Year End methodology:
1. Year End Checklist
2. Year End Calendar
3. Regulatory Updates
By following these steps, the seemingly daunting Year End process becomes a manageable project.