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Implementing Self-Service Technology – Eight Important Considerations

by Ian J. Mise | on Jun 18, 2012 | No Comments

Workforce changes, mergers / acquisitions, legislative complexity and increased competition demand that administrative, non-core business functions like payroll and related HR administration keep pace with changing times. More and more executives are demanding that their organizations deliver maximum effectiveness with minimum resource / people allocation.

The increasing pressure to reduce costs and the trend towards business process outsourcing are also adding an interesting dimension to effective service delivery options for payroll-related services. Regardless of whether payroll processing occurs in-house or is outsourced, more and more organizations are turning to technology to achieve their objectives of high quality, costeffective and highly efficient payroll operations. However, it cannot be assumed that the implementation of new technology will cure all ills. Technology must be seen as an “enabler” to streamlined and efficient payroll processes.In itself, technology should not drive the process.

When properly implemented, many technology success stories have been witnessed, especially as it relates to both employee and manager selfservice tools being introduced. However, the simple implementation of technology without the review of the service delivery model (both from a structural and people perspective), coupled with the necessary redesign of processes is usually a superficial and reactive response to current and emerging challenges. It has been stated that “old processes and new technology usually equal expensive old processes”.  Therefore, you need to:

  • conduct a comprehensive review of business processes and requirements,
  • identify the necessary changes to current policies, processes and practices, and;
  • clearly articulate how they will be interpreted and enforced using selfservice.

When value creation becomes the focus of any best practice work you are conducting, it’s very important to position technology correctly. Don’t lose sight of the fact that although more and more employees and managers are craving increased self-service capabilities (especially the new and younger workforce who are well versed on using technology), others may simply view self-service as being totally depersonalized and in certain cases, an offloading of work from your area to theirs. Therefore, in any best practices’ implementation, it is usually quite important to shed the past and let go of historical ownership; however, at the same time you must be sensitive to the culture of your organization and furthermore be cognizant of the existing owners’ concerns for their own personal careers (i.e. payroll and HR administrative staff who may be most impacted). Also worthwhile noting is that a particular best practice in one organization, such as self-service adoption, may not work or be accepted within another organization and for very good reasons (i.e. employee demographics, readiness, acceptability, remote work locations and computer literacy are common examples of items that may call for different approaches). There are many benefits in deploying self-service. From a cost perspective, the expenditures and efforts related to multiple people being involved in transactions, printing, mailing, collection, distribution and storage of data that is currently paper-based are reduced due to the use of electronic, on-line media. Studies have proven that transaction costs become pennies per transaction, as opposed to dollars per transaction.  Another key benefit is the ability to build in front-end edits that improve data quality and integrity. Furthermore, communication and timeliness can be greatly improved as both employees and managers have real-time access to information to make better informed decisions. In many cases, the number of off-cycle payments, manual cheques and retroactive transactions can be diminished.

Although the benefits of self-service can be very compelling and, quite often, are presented in a manner that makes a business case appear very persuasive, we have witnessed situations whereby organizations sometimes understate the inherent risks, issues and change  mnagement considerations. A good business case should be fully balanced and present all considerations equally. In simple terms, implementing self-service can be a huge undertaking, which will result in altering how you conduct your payroll business today. As such, before you embark on a self-service initiative, be sure not to overlook the following key considerations:

  1. From a transactional perspective, self-service does eliminate work effort and most of the reduction can be attributed to the collection and   input of data by payroll and HR staff. There may be a strategic linkage to this itself; by virtue of what you’re your senior executives have enunciated in this regard (i.e. you may be in costcutting mode at the moment). The bottom line is that self-service will likely result in a reduced payroll and HR administrative staff complement over time, but not necessarily in the immediate short-term. Not to be ignored is the need to provide proper support during the implementation, both at go-live and for a period of time thereafter, and until most users become reasonably comfortable using the new application. During the golive and transition, it is essential to have dedicated support and coaching for line employees and managers, as the need arises. Support desks, help-lines and tools are important ingredients to success. Support needs to be readily available. Self-service users should not experience voice mail or lengthy delays before having their questions answered. Over time, as employees and managers become increasingly comfortable with self-service, the number of people that support the application typically diminishes. In fact, if the application also has a number of intuitive features, the queries become almost non-existent.
  2. A common misconception is that payroll and HR staff members that historically have handled transactional processing (i.e. most of the paper-based input and output) can simply become the support and help desk personnel overnight. Support personnel and help desk agents must be skilled at customer service and be able to listen attentively, troubleshoot and immediately resolve customer issues as they surface. These individuals become the front-line point of contact with users and must be able to properly represent the new application and its inherent benefits. Individuals will likely need to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge base and as such, sufficient training for these positions becomes a critical component for success. Build sufficient time into your implementation plan to accommodate this.
  3. As indicated earlier, self-service does reduce transactional efforts overall and should result in fewer payroll and HR administrative staff over time. Some payroll and HR administrative staff will see a self-service initiative as careerthreatening. Several individuals within your department and across HR may be quite comfortable in doing things the old way. Your implementation plan must address the people considerations, whether this is a re-deployment situation to new jobs elsewhere in the organization, a down-sizing or exit strategy, or perhaps a combination thereof. Whatever the appropriate situation may be, it’s best to have key guiding principles behind your decisions that centre around open communication, fairness, honesty, integrity and sensitivity. From a people perspective, you can ill-afford to have individuals on your team who are not fully supportive of the vision and direction that the organization is heading in.
  4. Even with significant change management efforts in place, not all line employees or managers will embrace the change to self-service. Some employees will see this as being depersonalized. Others will see self-service as the downloading of payroll and HR work to them. The same employees who still want to receive a payroll cheque in hand, as opposed to a direct deposit, will often be the one’s who put up the most resistance. With this in mind, careful consideration to offering hybrid approaches, and perhaps recommending a sunset period to come on board, will help reduce implementation issues from surfacing. The last thing you need is a group of disgruntled employees, so it’s best to have these addressed at the forefront, as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction after the resistance surfaces. You need to have a strategy to overcome this and to be able to abundantly demonstrate that there is a value-add to the employee, manager and organization overall. For example, indicating that you will be having on-line e-pay statements and available for viewing in advance of pay day could be viewed as a win-win for the employee and the organization. Or, having managers being able to see their employee’s absenteeism or vacation records in real-time may be perceived as a important benefit to them. The key is to provide more information that employees and managers would value. Solicit their input as part of a stakeholder engagement program that is built into the project plan. Remember to remain customer-centric at all times. In many instances, the customers can become your change catalysts.
  5. Not to be overlooked when adopting self-service is the necessary technical infrastructure ranging from office desktop, home or kiosk access to network set-up, bandwidth, data privacy and security. With the increasing use of web-based technologies, organizations should also seriously consider both stress testing (making sure your systems can handle high volumes of transactions during peak periods (usually around payroll cutoff periods) and vulnerability testing (reducing the risk that hackers are prevented from breaking into the system). Speak to your IT management about these new testing tactics. Any successful self-service project needs to fully engage the IT group to ensure that these technical needs are adequately met.
  6. Rolling-out self-service is a significant customer-facing proposition. Highly suggested is an implementation approach that conducts both pilots and phased-in approaches (‘viewonly’ at first and transactional input second). Smaller scale approaches allow you to zero in and focus on problems and issues. Doing so mitigates risk and allows you ample time to focus, de-bug and fine-tune processes early on to ensure an overall successful implementation. When selecting your pilot audiences, it’s suggested that you have a mix of groups that are very supportive of the changes being adopted, plus groups who are not as enthusiastic.
  7. With any technology-related project, a well developed testing and training strategy will go a long way towards achieving your objectives. Quite often, when projects are running behind schedule, the testing and training segments of the project plan are condensed or compressed. For example, the test bed and test scripts are reduced in number or certain components of training are eliminated. Having conducted postimplementation assessments for projects gone awry, this is one area that you should not short-circuit – even if it means delaying the ‘go-live’. Another simple strategy to offset the potential of delays is to build in some contingency time within your project plan. It’s always best to under-promise and overdeliver.
  8. Last, but not least, is to recognize the importance of solid change management and communication strategies. Moving to selfservice is a significant change. Don’t forget to communicate, communicate and communicate. Make it enjoyable – use existing vehicles such as the company intranet to broadcast information and even consider contests to attract employees to the selfservice project website. When  employees know that you’re in the business of helping them as your customers, they’ll be more accepting of the changes that impact them. Remember that resistance to change is inevitable – you need to locate it and get the doubters or critics on-side by listening to their objections and understanding what is bothering them. It’s not an easy task, but it’s absolutely essential in order to be successful. Therefore, the changes you are contemplating require careful planning that not only builds awareness during the early stages of the project, but more importantly, has tacticsin place that support eliciting feedback from employees and managers throughout the project lifecycle. Additionally, everyone involved needs to understand and accept that self-service quite often represent a behavioral change, whereby employees and managers fully accept increasing responsibility for their own data. At the end of the day, if they fail to input or update their information on a timely basis and through the selfservice tools provided, they will be the ones most adversely impacted.

In summary implementing self-service is more than just configuring a new system or implementing a new module of a system. It represents a new way of doing business. Your unique culture, plus your business and specific payroll needs will require specific solutions and strategies – in many cases, it’s not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. But, by ensuring your look holistically at the service delivery, people, processes, change and technology considerations, you will likely ensure that your efforts will be rewarding. This is especially so when your organization has the pleasure of measuring the favorable return on its investment and the high level of customer satisfaction.




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