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Dave Foxall The 6 Measures of ESS Software Success

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 By Dave Foxall

Understanding the Strategic Benefits of Employee Self-Service Software

With self-service largely seen as a feature of modern life (e.g. online banking, online travel reservations, buying gasoline, etc.), it's no surprise that employee self-service (ESS) software is now seen as a normal element of the workplace as well. In fact, according to CedarCrestone's 2011–2012 HR Systems Survey, "[ESS] application adoption has more than hit majority adoption and so attention is moving elsewhere". Yet, these adoption rates and familiarity with self-service writ large fail to speak to whether organizations are realizing any benefits from said HR software. Is the ESS software's functionality actually producing the anticipated results? Does Employee Self-Service technology actually deliver an acceptable return-on-investment (ROI)? In a nutshell, is the selected ESS application working?

In order to answer these questions, organizations must be intimately in tune with the indicators and metrics to measure the ESS software's success—embedding within the original business case a clear distinction between actual current state and desired future state (allowing progress from one to the other to be accurately tracked following implementation over defined periods of time). The following ESS benefits offer an indication of where measurement efforts should be focused and should be reviewed and discussed prior to implementation and optimally before Employee Self Service software selection.

Employee Self Service Software Measure #1: Improved access to HR services

One primary benefit for employees is that employee self service software can provide basic (and increasingly, not-so-basic) HR services on demand; often through a web browser portal or mobile device that can be utilized 24/7. This flexible access not only offers efficiency savings, but in most situations it also enhances the user experience (UX) by providing value-added feature-sets. For example, ESS application functionality is often a fundamental aspect of e-benefits applications. What this means in terms of UX is that the employee, via the web portal, can retrieve enrollment information, and discuss/decide on the best package at their convenience—a capability typically not offered by work-bound systems.

  • Measurement tip – Track remote usage to establish take-up of flexible access.

ESS Software Measure #2: Rapid response times

Submission of inquiries, leave requests, shift bids, payroll questions and so on, can be made electronically and then left to the HR system to either respond automatically, forward to a designated resource or or prompt an approvals process. While some of these capabilities are reserved for more advanced Employee Self-Service software solutions; regardless, the consequent elimination of manual data entry, and utilization of automatic workflows, can create much faster replies than a person-to-person or paper-based system. Additionally, electronic links to relevant outside agencies (such as the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify system for new hires) provide the benefits of speeding up processing times.

  • Measurement tip – Select sample inquiry types and processes and compare response times and the length of work process cycles to similar requests made using pre-ESS software procedures.

ESS Software Measure #3: Reduction of the HR administrative burden

Although there is not always a proportional reduction in HR headcount following ESS application implementation, organizations should certainly see a reduction in time spent on administrative tasks. In fact, a recent Towers Watson report, New Horizons, No Boundaries 2011-12, found that, "77% of respondents report that the HR generalist and specialist transactional workload has declined — without affecting employee workloads … as a result of ESS tools."

  • Measurement tip – Compare HR workload by volume, type, and channel to accurately compare pre- and post-ESS technology states.

ESS Software Measure #4: Improved data quality

As a Bersin & Associates article states in reference to one of the most basic ESS functions, "the best and most logical way to have accurate data in a system is to have data maintenance occur at the point of the event, and owned by the person who is most knowledgeable of the event." In other words, each employee becomes responsible for the accuracy of their own personal data within the system.

  • Measurement tip – Compare the number of incomplete records held before and after Employee Self-Service software implementation.

ESS Software Measure #5: Raised levels of employee engagement

Working ESS application functionality offers employees a greater perceived control over their information; including how and when they access certain HR services. In turn, this can lead to an increased involvement in the business and a greater degree of trust in the service and data being accessed.

  • Measurement tip – Partner already-existing employee engagement questions with survey queries on ESS system satisfaction. For example, consider the following questions:
    How user-friendly is the system?
    Do employees understand how to access the system?
    Are employees confident in the security of their personal data?
    How does the new ESS process compare with the old?

ESS Software Measure #6: Resource/Cost reduction

E-forms, e-signatures, and the increased conducting of HR services via electronic means should, in principle, mean a significant step in the direction of the paperless office. However, it should be noted that CedarCrestone's 2011-12 HR Systems Survey found that although self-service does increase "paperlessness", the "green" benefits tend to lag behind the ESS software adoption rate.

In addition to resource reduction, the above benefits should also result in either lower costs, or in greater productivity within current costs. That said, the timeline for measurable savings (post-implementation) will largely depend on a number of variables, including: organizational culture, attitudes towards the new HR software solution, and the level of ESS technology that is introduced.

  • Measurement tip – Monitor the impact on paper usage and volume of paper waste (both confidential and regular).
  • Measurement tip – Close monitoring of HR budgets and a proper cost-benefit analysis taking in the TCO of the software, the cost of people's time, external costs should demonstrate sustained savings.

ESS Software Success – The Bottom Line

The use of Employee Self-Service technology is typically a beginning rather than an end in itself—serving as a method for introducing further tactical gains into the organization. Indeed, even as these measures are being evaluated, organizations should be looking to the future as well; both in terms of what their needs will be and what will be available. For instance, with Manager Self-Service (MSS) software, and the increasing emergence of HR mobile applications and social media capabilities, it's clear that these types of HR technology are moving into the broader human capital management (HCM) arena—handing over some of the historically-held HR-department control and responsibility. As a Ceridian article states, "In the end, self-service helps employees and managers build a more self-sufficient work environment…[and] a self-sufficient work environment is more productive for employers". End

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As Bersin & Associates states in reference to one of the most basic ESS application functions, "the best and most logical way to have accurate data in a system is to have data maintenance occur at the point of the event, and owned by the person who is most knowledgeable of the event.


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