Change is never easy, but CapitaLand’s VP of HR, Steven Tan, shares how the company managed to move its HR function online. By Sabrina Zolkifi.

When Steven Tan, VP of human resources at CapitaLand, started at the company the HR administrative function was done almost entirely manually.

Previously, information was compiled on spreadsheets and Tan recalls the structure being decentralised and “a nightmare”.

“Every time they needed information, it took me two weeks,” Tan says.

“It was very time consuming, and by the time the information came back, the information was already old.”

It was then that Tan proposed the company consolidate the process, not just in its Singapore office but across all countries CapitaLand operated in. While it was “a long journey as well as an expensive task” he shares that it was a worthwhile investment.

However, the transition was initially not a very smooth one for Tan and his team.

After working for about a year and a half with an HRIS vendor, Tan realised the partnership was not working out as well as he had hoped.
“It was one of the more recognised partners, but as we progressed, we realised their skills sets were not adequate enough. After we implemented the first phase in Singapore, we had to make the hard choice to change, and that was when we got Oracle to come in,” Tan says.

The reason the partnership with the first vendor did not pan out well was because while the company was familiar with the product, “they needed to be told how to work together and how to translate what us as the user wanted into the system”.

“When the Oracle consultants came in and provided that guidance, they made it very clear to the users how the system works. One of the key things was the project manager was knowledgeable, and he understood our needs and how the system works in order to complement the needs of the company.”

CapitaLand first start implementing the HRIS system in its Singapore office in Q3 2009, and the initial process officially went live in 2009 with just a basic database.

“In July 2010, we went live with Singapore for payroll, leave and all the self-service systems. In 2011, we went live with Malaysia, and in 2012, we went live with China. It’s been a long journey, and along the way, besides the three main countries where we have the full works, in the other countries like India, Japan and Vietnam we also implemented HR administration systems.”

Following the success of the transactional modules, CapitaLand implemented more strategic systems last year and this year, which managed e-learning, recruitment, compensation and career planning.

However, while external processes were in place, Tan and his team still had the internal challenge of convincing employees the changes were for the best.

One of the hiccups the team had to overcome was the perception that an HRIS would be an additional cost to the company, and one that did not add value.

“Some users or some HR colleagues may also have the mindset that if you take away this administrative role, they’ll be out of a job. You need to change their mindset and help them realise their role has to evolve into a different way of doing things,” Tan says.

In doing so, Tan says these employees are able to “work with the business itself to find out how to plug in the gaps, to hire the right people, and get involved in the people and the business”.

“That’s why, in Singapore, we also implemented a shared services model, where I consolidated all the administrative functions into shared services so it leaves the business unit to address the business issues.”

There was also the issue of employee training, as the changes took place across several countries.

Tan says when it comes to things like IT training, it is important and more effective done face-to-face.
“Overseas employees will come here from the training, and once they’ve completed the training, they will go back and train the rest. For China and Malaysia, we made an exception because they had more users, so we went to the location to train them,” Tan shares.

“When it comes to IT training, a lot of time, you need that face-to-face and hands on experience before you can let them try it out on their own.”

He placed a lot of focus on training the core team as well, and made sure they were familiar and comfortable with the system.

“As we progressed and started implementing the system, in a way to familiarise themselves with the system, we used a tool that Oracle has to educate the people. What this tool does is it captures the steps you need to take, and what the trainer does is to also key in the instructions at each step so the users know what they are doing.

“It helps the end users get trained and familiarises them with the system. At the end of the day they can also refresh their learning by going back to the tool.”

The company also took on a different approach when it came to the strategic modules, as it was more complex than the administrative ones.

They find it more cumbersome and that the system is making them do more work. That mindset change is still in transition.
Tan uses the example of moving performance appraisals onto the HRIS. Traditionally, employees and managers would set KPIs at the start of the year, and then reconvene at the end of the year to access their accomplishments.

“For them, it’s a very simple process. But once it’s on the system, it becomes very regimented because the system is set up in such a way that we have to push and encourage people to do that, and then to have that conversation with employees at the end of the year.

“We only started last year, so it’s still in the process of getting them to buy in. At this point in time, people are still trying to get used to it.”

Another challenge CapitaLand faced was because a majority of employees from its hospitality division are blue-collar, they may have the misconception that the new software requires them to be on a computer.

“Along the way we also tell them that because it’s web-based system, they don’t require a desktop – it can be access anywhere using a mobile device. I think there was still some resistance, but by and large, most people bought into the idea and that it was a way moving forward.”