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Case study: Dentsu Aegis Network Southeast Asia

What happens when you have to implement a new HR technology platform from scratch? Akankasha Dewan talks to Ujjwal Sarao, regional talent management director of Dentsu Aegis Network Southeast Asia, on her experiences in launching an onboarding and performance management system.

At a primary level, it is perhaps difficult to imagine the human resources function as one that is heavily involved with information technology (IT) solutions. After all, the human element of human resources easily demands an impression away from the digital and mechanical connotations associated with such technology.

But such connotations don’t imply HR and IT can’t go hand-in-hand.

“Technology has recently started playing a very big role in helping HR,” says Ujjwal Sarao, regional talent management director of Dentsu Aegis Network, Southeast Asia.

“Earlier, HR technology platforms weren’t very common. Now, HR practitioners have realised that not only will such technologies make their lives easier, but make their systems and processes much more efficient. Technology improves operational efficiency within the division and the past couple of years have seen that.”

And it was precisely because of such advantages accompanying HR technology that Sarao and her team in Dentsu combined their HR processes with digital platforms.

We embarked on a journey to set our talent management strategy in place. We wanted to be an agency where the best people in the industry want to work in.
“We built a strategy right from the beginning of this process – right from where we will acquire talent, engage them and develop them. In all of this, we realised HR technology is going to play a very important role.

“We’re now using our HR technology partner to help us make talent management solutions.”

Such planning led to the conception of Entrée, a talent onboarding platform for all new joiners at Dentsu where they are given access to information before joining the network.

“For our industry, onboarding hasn’t been done consistently. People do it in their own different way in different countries. For me, onboarding is a moment of truth – it is the first point of contact with the organisation you are going to work with,” she explains.

“We said this interaction has to be very smooth and informative, and make you feel you are joining the right organisation. So we built this onboarding programme which is the first of its kind in Dentsu Aegis Network Southeast Asia.

“It is an onboarding platform which reaches the new employee 2-3 weeks before he joins, and informs him about the organisation, its leadership team, what it does, along with filling in their own personal information.”

Consistency was one of the greatest advantages of implementing the digital platform; an advantage greatly valued by Sarao because of the haphazard nature of her industry.

“Dentsu is an entrepreneurial kind of organisation. Most agencies around the world are working in a very independent kind of way, which is good, because it rewards people’s independence and creativity. But the downside is, it is a very siloed kind of approach,” she says.

“So in every country, we have three agencies and all three agencies work differently, which works for them, because they each are unique to their respective clients.”

Sarao and her team realised if they wished to be more collaborative and have one unified Dentsu, they had to connect its people through talent management platforms.

“On the face of it, the agency has to be unique because that’s what the client wants. But at the back end of it, talent management platforms can actually unite people and still make you feel part of one network even though the front end is different,” she says.

Active since the first week of March, Sarao reports positive feedback about the onboarding programme.

“The good thing is the process is consistent now, and all the countries and all the agencies in SEA are using it. It is managed by the HR people and all joiners now have a consistent joining experience.”

Challenges did ensue, however, when designing the programme. Various approaches and requirements had to be kept in mind, for example, when deciding the approach to take with the technological platform in question.

“When making a platform, either you can use an integrated solution, or you can use best-in-class or best-in-breed. And we went with the latter,” she says.

“The difference is that with an integrated solution, you work with a large technological partner, and they work with you for all the functionalities.”

Using one vendor for all of the company’s requirements did seem easy, but she warns of the various challenges accompanying such a decision.

“The challenge with using integrated solutions is that the ease of implementation isn’t there anymore. It takes a lot of time to implement such integrated solutions.

It takes a lot of people in-house to work with your partner and implement it internally and additionally, the cost is high. And then you get locked in with just one vendor for everything.
However, Sarao explains that with the best-in-breed option, HR practitioners get the flexibility to work with different vendors for different functionalities.

“We have chosen a smaller technological partner and what you can do is that you can customise the content on exactly the way you want it to be.

“We are trying to fit it to our needs, we’re trying to design a solution which is relevant to us. It is easy to use, it’s modular, so it’s quicker to use in terms of execution time, and the cost is low because you’re only paying for one module. And you don’t get locked in with one vendor.”

Following the success of Entrée, Dentsu has also recently launched Review, a performance management programme.

This programme has been designed to help employees chart their career with their managers. It provides them with tools to formulate their ambitions and create a plan to realise them. By giving them targets, employees can track their progress in their professional journey.

“The next one we’re thinking of is the learning and development module and if we want to change our technological partner, we can easily look at another vendor.”

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