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Dave Foxall 4 Key Factors for Employee Self-Service Software Selection

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 By Dave Foxall

Employee Self-Service (ESS) Software—What to Consider

Employee self-service (ESS) software is rapidly becoming a standard feature in most organizations' HR system repertoire. In fact, CedarCrestone's 2011-12 "HR Systems Survey" highlights that Employee Self-Service automation has hit "majority adoption" (fuelled in large part due to relatively low costs and quick time-to-value); and in organizations with 10K+ employees, ESS software adoption sits at fully 82%. Further, new research from Towers Watson's (2011-2012 "New Horizons, No Boundaries") finds that more than a third (37%) of organizations are in the process of implementing new (or leveraging existing) self-service systems for the coming year. Yet, only 11% of organizations position Employee Self-Service technology as one of their top three HR service delivery issues for the coming year—a fact that has some interesting implications for Employee Self Service software selection.

In particular, when it comes to ESS automation, the usual HR software selection questions should be asked. What are the business benefits, associated costs, technical requirements, deployment risks, etc.? Yet, certain other standard issues such as integration with other systems, deployment options (i.e. SaaS vs. on-premises), and data security are likely to already be resolved due to the fact that ESS software typically belongs to a wider application suite such as an HMRS "system of record", Time & Attendance software, or Performance Management solution. As such, organizations tend to unwittingly discount the features of ESS software, and the role those capabilities play as necessary and key decision criterion in the software selection process. Here's our list of the top Employee Self Service software-specific factors to take into account.

Employee Self Service Software Selection Factor #1: Functionality

To start, organizations need to ask the question of what functions can Employee Self-Service software offer employees and how exactly will that benefit both them and the organization? Basic Employee Self-Service automation can be nothing more than a "read only" viewing of personal records; allowing the individual to notify HR of any errors or updates. However, to truly leverage self-service capabilities, employees must be enabled and empowered to perform tasks previously carried out by HR administration. For example, the aforementioned Towers Watson report notes, that "while ESS personal data tools such as those for viewing pay stubs, changing personal data, and viewing vacation/sick time usage are well established, we are [also] seeing plans for substantial (18% to 20%) growth for setting up and making changes to direct deposit, viewing total compensation (and benefit statements), and updating education/certifications." As ESS software features continue to expand, so do the potential benefits; a fact that any organization should be considering in terms of functionality for both current needs and future potential.

ESS Software Selection Factor #2: Ease of Use

Of course, useful HR features are no guarantee of adoption by a workforce. These days, most employees will have a certain degree of competence as users of computers; however, ESS software design needs to appeal to employees by taking advantage of familiar interfaces (like social technologies) and intuitive navigation. Indeed, as an IBM white paper stresses, automated ESS solutions "must be easy to navigate, or users will circumvent the portal and tie up support staff". Further, effective and easy-to-use employee self-service portals allow for staff to be guided through the activities required to accomplish the work without tying up valuable HR or IT expertise.

ESS Software Selection Factor #3: Employee Engagement

Most organizations have by now "come around" to the benefits of Employee Self-Service software, but not all—at least not yet. Indeed, as CedarCrestone's above research comments, over the next three years "More organizations in late-adopter industries—including public administration, higher education, and even healthcare—that are not yet adopting self service will begin to do so", oftentimes in direct response to key executive prodding. However, a C-suite commitment is not always a sign of a favorable response from the wider workforce. In order to manage the introduction well, some early exploration (through surveys, focus groups, social media, etc.) of employee views is not only appropriate, it's also downright necessary. How the workforce perceives not only the concept of ESS, but also HR and IT in the workplace will likely influence the level and type of support needed to ensure acceptance—an element that is impossible to gauge without taking the pulse of the organization's employees.

ESS Software Selection Factor #4: HR Focus

One of the simpler assumptions for Employee Self-Service software is that the more employees deal with basic HR functions via technology, the more HR staff (and by proxy, costs) can be reduced. In fact, from a purely administrative vantage point, CedarCrestone's survey finds that self-service and automation enables a consistent 20-25% HR staff reduction. The reality however tends to be a bit more complex. Indeed, CedarCrestone found that in some cases, the more technology an organization deployed, the more resources were needed from the HR group—a diametrically opposed finding. Regardless of the hard data on this issue though, it should be noted that a push for ESS software reflects a shift in HR focus, away from base-level administration to providing support for higher value functions within the organization.

The Employee Self Service Software Selection Bottom Line

In one sense the bottom line for many HR software selection projects is cost—a decision that should be reflective of both direct costs, indirect costs, and allocations that the organization values. However, with ESS, perhaps the bottom line is actually a question of "what next?" and – more importantly – "can the process we have today, support what we need tomorrow?" HR is increasingly being called upon to deliver strategic value, and aside from the benefits that ESS technology has for employees, this software also provides the system that allows for that strategic focus. As such, organizations should seriously consider the 4 above factors when looking at HR software selection; recognizing that ESS software is not just a small element with limited utility, but rather a critical piece for strategic and forward-thinking organizations. End

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From a purely administrative vantage point, CedarCrestone's survey finds that self-service and automation enables a consistent 20-25% HR staff reduction. The reality however tends to be a bit more complex.


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