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Case Study: Elsevier

Elsevier made a huge leap from traditional data tracking to HRIS two years ago, but has the risk paid off? Sabrina Zolkifi finds out.

Prior to getting on the HRIS bandwagon, the HR team at Elsevier were still using traditional methods for tracking administrative HR functions such as compensation and leave.

The process of managing HR with spreadsheets was tough, as it made extracting employee data a time consuming and complicated process.

It was then that Gerry Tan, the HRIS lead for Elsevier APAC, said the company decided to engage a services provider to help manage its data.

“We knew HRIS would release us from doing manual work in terms of tracking employee operations. Back then, we wouldn’t know how many days leave an employee has taken unless we referred back to the spreadsheet,” Tan says.

They also decided to adopt HRIS to keep up with companies who were latching on to SAAS (software as a service).

Tan says Elsevier implemented the Peoplesoft software about two years ago in the APAC region, following in the footsteps of its European and American counterparts.

Keeping with the times

Currently, Elsevier’s HRIS provides employee self services functions which allow staff to update personal particulars and also track job information changes like supervisor changes, promotion, pay rate changes and employee transfers of any department. It also helps with absence management and performance development processes.

Elsevier decided to roll this out in two batches, targeting its larger employee bases – such as India, Japan and Singapore – first.

We rolled it out to the bigger countries first to make sure it worked and to understand how the system will go about. Once it was stabilised, we pushed it to smaller countries like Taiwan and Korea.
But with all things that involve change management, Tan and his team faced challenges in the implementation of the HRIS programme.

“There were two types of challenges, and the first was around data.”

With the decision made to utilise HRIS, the team was faced with the task of migrating off of the company’s APAC data over to the Peoplesoft platform – an activity that took the HR team a year and a half.

However, the team engaged the services of another vendor, InfoSys, who helped collate the data and move it over to the new platform.

“Every country had their own different idea of how they wanted to move into the system, and even simple reports were hard to generate and move, so it was actually quite tough to standardise everything.”

Therefore, Tan’s team placed a lot of emphasis on auditing the employee data regularly in the initial stages of implementation to ensure the risk of mistakes was minimised.

Overcoming the hurdles

He then came up with an exercise called Project Revisione, which was an auditing system that checked all the information moving into the new platform.

“This project was really a simple spreadsheet, but even then, we were able to make sure the numbers were tallying,” Tan says, adding this auditing project took no longer than 10 minutes per session.

“In the initial stages, HR was running audits once a week, but at a later stage when everything was stabilised, they were able to run it once a month.”

The second biggest hurdle Tan’s team faced was with regards to change management. In particular, Tan says despite some of the new features such as manager and employee self-services which gave the staff more ownership and empowerment, some had difficulties understanding why the responsibility now fell on them to manage these aspects.

“They had the mindset of ‘Why are we doing the role of HR?’” Tan says.

To get around this the company provided a manual for a better overview of the different employees and teams’ responsibilities and benefits in terms of HRIS, as well as communicating the different roles via email notifications.

We also acknowledged the fact that sometimes, the managers only access the system once a year, and may not be familiar with the process, so we supplemented them with all the information they needed.
Additionally, because the system was rolled out across APAC, there was also the challenge of language barriers. Tan says providing a manual for countries such as Japan had to be translated prior to being given out.

However, the challenges have paid off and some of the benefits he’s seen include the ease of retrieving data.

Reaping in the benefits

“When everything is automated, it becomes easier to track data within the system and we’re able to pull information from one source, rather than going through multiple spreadsheets from different countries.”

For companies looking to either implement HRIS or improve on their current structure, Tan says it’s important to keep an eye on the technical aspects of things in order to better anticipate problems.

Leaders must also remember that employees expect “more tender loving care” and can’t rely on communication solely via email.

“What we could do better would be to organise something similar to a ‘lunch and learn’, where we can provide technical training to employees over lunch,” he says. “We’ve never done something like that, but it’s something we are considering in the future.”

They are also in the process of building a shared services centre to provide better HRIS support to employees. This will be tailored to the APAC market, and will provide 24/7 support for staff.

The centre will also allow for a segregation of HRIS responsibilities, which will result in Elsevier’s HR business partners seeing certain roles taken off them, thanks to the implementation of the system.

For HR leaders looking into constructing a shared services centre, Tan says the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that employees will expect a more personal touch than if they were to get support from another function such as IT.

“When they approach HR, they do expect customer service.”


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