InContext Magazine

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Freeing human resources from the paper trap

Eliminating paper means HR can spend more time focusing on the needs of the organization and its employees.

Fact: The average hourly wage for a human resources employee in the United States is $35 an hour. In HR costs alone, your business loses $1 for every minute spent locating and modifying employee documents.

Unlike transactional, financial operations (such as accounts payable and accounts receivable), human resources operations require document management that goes far beyond the reconciling of numeric figures. Every employee within your organization has their own unique, persistent paper trail that encompasses several functions, such as payroll/tax data, benefits data, insurance data, disciplinary records and so on. In a paper-driven environment, this creates a burden in terms of locating files in a timely manner, expanding physical storage space as the number of past and present employees increases (especially during times of organic or acquisition-based growth), maintaining a consistent naming and filing system, and ensuring sensitive data is secure. If your business is engaged across multiple countries and legal jurisdictions, issues of efficient, secure management of employee data are compounded.

Many analysts agree that efficiency in business operations can be gained through centralization. HR is no different in this regard. By consolidating data access through electronic, cross-functional means, enterprise content management (ECM) systems build upon this efficiency, eliminating paper from the equation. Converting to a digital workflow makes vital data readily accessible, while eliminating the needed space and potential liability of maintaining file cabinets. Furthermore, the proliferation of mobile electronic devices enables personnel to both submit and retrieve data from any location, adding visibility and efficiency without reliance on physical delivery of hard documents.

Electronic personnel files yield savings, convenience

Henk Veerbeek, an operations manager for Capgemini Netherlands, stresses this point as it pertains to his experiences with ECM technology.  “Any of our 6,400 employees can access their complete personnel file from anywhere through our secure web portal, and HR managers can view all the files for their employees,” says Veerbeek. “This provides a great amount of convenience, and all users need is an internet connection. Sometimes an employee’s file would be lost or would arrive incomplete when there was a transfer; now, the employee and the HR team at the new office have instant access to the full file, and there’s no delay or risk of document loss.”

Claudia Post, an ECM user in Veerbeek’s operation, adds, “we estimated that in 10 years’ time, we will save about €7.1 million (USD $9.2 million)” by using this system.

It becomes quite simple for authorized users to access an employee’s electronic file, as they simply click on the employee’s name and any needed documentation is immediately available.

Before moving to ECM, “it could take five minutes to flip through a personnel file for a particular document,” says Jayme Schultheis, HR Director at Heartland Dental Care. “Now, I instantly get straight to the document I need.”

“Users can access information right when they’re talking to a store manager or other requestor,” says Robin Murphy, HR Systems Administrator at Maurices, a Minnesota-based clothing retailer.  “We don’t have to call back anymore; we have the information at our fingertips.”

Speaking to the visibility benefits of ECM, Cindy Tolle, Systems Support Specialist at Centra Health, adds that “because we’re in healthcare, auditors come in to check accreditations and license renewals.  For the last few audits, we’ve been able to give the auditors access and they have everything at their fingertips.  We’ve gotten great responses from our outside auditors because everything is in one place, and we aren’t flipping through files.”

Minor disruption, major benefits

While ECM technology has a substantial, immediate impact on HR, users will find that very little is demanded from them in terms of adapting to change. According to Alan Curriston, Senior Programmer Analyst at Asante Health System, “people are amazed that after a 10-minute training session, they know how to use it. It makes things move faster and documents are always where they’re supposed to be. (The system) allows people to get piles of paper off their desks. Employees focus on their work, instead of trying to figure out what to do with too much paper.”

The value of minimizing paper use is echoed by Beth Fox, Senior Analyst/Program Manager at Genesis Health System, who notes that “employees don’t get out of their chairs to print or fax documents, and we avoid the cost and potential security risk of producing multiple hard copies.”

Indeed, issues of control and liability are of paramount importance to the HR role, as employee files include confidential information  that could easily be used for fraudulent purposes if not controlled properly. Information that has been migrated into an ECM system—whether it pertains to a current employee or the archives of prior personnel—is subject to safeguards and controls established by management, control that cannot be as easily assured when paper forms are floating about.

Less interaction = More time to hunt

In addition to electronic efficiency within the human resources department itself, businesses are beginning to achieve further value through the adoption of employee portal solutions—applications that eliminate the need to interact with HR entirely. Where security protocols permit, the employees themselves can access their own employee files, including tax withholdings, benefits information and other information, and make needed adjustments independently, instantly verifying the changes desired while not requiring HR personnel to take time from their own routines to receive the request, look up the employees’ forms, make the change and return a confirmation message.

Portals benefit both sides of your operation, while contributing to your overall goal of optimal productivity. An employee handling their own paperwork enables HR to focus their efforts on recruiting and performance management; instead of paying your employees a dollar a minute to sort out HR issues between each other, that dollar is spent on finding the right new hire for your organization.

As with more transaction-oriented (financial) business processes, ECM technology has the ability to completely transform HR operations for the better. In the words of William Carter, Vice President of IT for Houston Community College, it “started out as a nice system to have, and quickly developed into a mission-critical piece of our system.”