Learning & Development Asia 2024
HRUnplugged: The value proposition of a centralised HR model to business excellence

HRUnplugged: The value proposition of a centralised HR model to business excellence

Poon Kwee Ping, General Manager, Keppel People Services, has had an exciting and rewarding journey driving the consolidation of HR functions into one centre of excellence. 

Read all about this exciting journey of how the team worked collaboratively with different stakeholders to move its multiple HR IT systems across business units in the Keppel group onto one cloud-based platform.

Q You've had a very exciting journey with Keppel, wherein the company has consolidated its HR operations to form Keppel People Services, the HR Centre for Keppel's group of companies.

How did this journey start, and how did this business need come to the forefront?

Over the past few years, Keppel has been pushing for greater collaboration across business units, as OneKeppel, to harness the synergies of the group. We have also been consolidating our shared services, including HR functions, which is not only more efficient, but also creates more varied and exciting career opportunities, contributing to talent attraction and retention.

The Keppel Group is supported by the shared services centre which provides support functions such as human resources, finance and IT. This replaces the previous arrangement where individual businesses managed their own support services. This way, we optimise the delivery of cost-effective, flexible and reliable services to all Keppel business units. Apart from reaping greater economies of scale, we are able to exercise better governance and share best practices across the Group.

For HR, the shift to a centralised HR involved firstly, moving the multiple HR IT systems across the business units onto one single cloud-based platform and secondly, to incorporate Keppel People Services to house centralised HR functions.

Prior to this exercise, different business units adopted different HR IT systems. This made data collation and analysis less efficient. With this transformation exercise, we harmonised our HR IT landscape onto a single cloud system. We also took the opportunity to rationalise and automate processes.

Keppel People Services was set up to be a Centre of Excellence providing domain expertise in resourcing, learning and development, performance management, employee engagement, compensation and benefit operations, international mobility management, and HR services.

It also runs the human capital management system which provides real time analytics and insights to support business HR partner and businesses in their decision making. In addition, we manage enquiries from employees and enhancement of policies and processes factoring in evolving business and user needs.

Q With such an enormous task at hand, how does one engage and get buy-in from all the stakeholders?

The success of this transformation exercise depended on the buy in of all stakeholders - business leaders, the HR fraternity and employees. Critical to this endeavour was frank and honest communication in setting out not only the benefits which were enormous, but also the challenges and how these could be overcome.

For business leaders, the engagement focus was on how the new way of work can better support decision making on human capital matters such as the availability of real-time data and robust HR analytics.

For employees, the new system resulted in a better user experience with HR services. They are also empowered to transact many HR activities directly via mobile anytime, anywhere.

For the HR community, this new, rationalised approach resulted in greater efficiencies. For instance, HR colleagues in the business units no longer have to manually compile and submit data every month. They can spend more time on strategic HR work.

The continued success of this transformation journey requires a whole-of-Keppel approach. It is not just about high-level sponsorship/endorsement, which is important. We also need every stakeholder to come on board and stay committed in this transformation journey.

Q As the HR leader, how did you immerse yourself into this process? What kind of responsibilities did it entail?

I have been living and breathing this project for about three years. My responsibilities as project leader include managing stakeholders, resources, time and budget; analysing and mitigating project risks; resolving conflicts; overseeing change management and encouraging project members when the going got tough. It is by far one of the most challenging and rewarding roles I have undertaken in my HR career. I have to be mentally strong and maintain a positive outlook throughout the journey.

I did not have experience in this area prior to this project. There was much learning on the go. Fortunately, I have great support from my bosses and team members. With the strong Keppel 'can do' spirit, and supported by competent consultants, we delivered this together.

A learning experience I would like to share with anyone embarking on a transformation project of this nature is not to make cost savings the sole focus.

Q Bringing together Keppel's different HR functions across several divisions is no easy feat. What were the challenges you faced in rolling out the process, and how did you overcome them?

We recognise that each line of business has its own unique HR policies and practices. It is therefore a fine balance between pushing for complete harmonisation, and recognising unique needs from each business.

We constantly remind ourselves that harmonisation is not an end but a means to end - a better Keppel for all stakeholders. As expected, for an exercise of this nature, there was initially some hesitation about changing the status quo. The key for us is to listen, engage and find practical solutions.

Often, the appeal to the larger good and the reference to market best practices helped. For instance, our colleagues were persuaded by the benefits of harmonisation of key employee benefits which facilitated rotation of talent across businesses. Likewise, creating a common employee experience across the group helps to strengthen Keppel's employee value proposition.

Q Today, where does Keppel People Services stand, in terms of the projects under its remit, and the business impact it is making?

Today, Keppel People Services is running smoothly, having successfully addressed the initial teething issues and adjusted to the new way of doing things. We will continue to deepen our domain knowledge for each team and partner business HR to support the respective businesses. We will drive OneKeppel initiatives and strive for continuous improvement. This enables HR to provide solutions that would effectively support and sustain the business plans.

We are confident that both the tangible benefits (eg cost savings and avoidance) as well as the intangible benefits (eg deepening the OneKeppel mindset), will be realised. It is an ongoing journey and we are headed in the right direction.

Q How did you measure the business results and impact of this project?

A learning experience I would like to share with anyone embarking on a transformation project of this nature is not to make cost savings the sole focus. Managing cost and headcount are important, but there are many other intangible benefits which are not directly quantifiable in dollars and cents, such as user experience, improved control & governance and real time data for analytics.

Investing in new technology can involve significant cost. It will bring about efficiencies and manpower reduction. There will also be new roles created eg data analytics. Roles in HR may be redefined and not necessarily reduced. For example, the automation of low-end HR functions will result in higher expectation of HR roles as strategic business partners.

Q Finally, over the next year, you're planning to bring your overseas operations onto the same HR system as well as make deeper strides into digital transformation. Tell us more.

Digital transformation is the way forward. We can either embrace digitalisation or be strangled by it. This would be for all the geographies we operate in. We are rolling out the Workday HR cloud system to Keppel overseas operations this year. Once launched, global HR data will be available real time. This will allow us to better manage our talent across multi geographies for different business within the group.

Q What have been the success lessons that you'd like to share for other companies on this journey?

There are several key lessons:

  • It is a marathon, not a 100 metre sprint. Perseverance is needed.
  • The success of the project is the collective responsibility of the entire HR community. There must be clear and well-defined individual accountability for the components. In short, sponsors and drivers must be identified.
  • Tight coordination between various sponsors and drivers is necessary. Many of the project components are interlinked. There must be continuous work on getting buy in from stakeholders.
  • Celebrating small successes along the way helps to strengthen teamwork and boost morale.

I would also advise including some contingent fund in your project costing. The project scope may start to creep as users add to their initial needs. There will also be unexpected changes along the way. Be realistic about project cost and project duration. Balance between cost, time and quality - once you have locked in two of the components, the third will have to be compromised.

Embarking on a transformation project is moving into uncharted waters. There are many unknowns. Hence there is no need to over-plan. It is more practical to keep an open mind as new ideas pop up often requiring adjustments to original plans.

Finally, remember to enjoy the exciting journey. It will be a highly rewarding experience.

Vital stats: Poon Kwee Ping is the general manager of Keppel People Services, a leading people solutions provider and an HR centre of excellence. Her team is responsible for the design-to-delivery of strategic HR programmes and services across the Keppel group with key businesses in offshore and marine, property, infrastructure and investments.

Prior to her current role, she had more than 20 years of experience as an HR business partner as well as a rewards and benefits specialist covering multiple geographies. She has extensive experience in formulating and implementing competitive and sustainable rewards and benefits strategies.

This interview is a continuation of our CHRO 4.0 special edition where we we introduce you to Human Resources’ Advisory Panel 2019, and pick their brains on the burning questions the function is facing.

Read more here: CHRO 4.0: Decoding the HR skills of the future

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