By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 28 February 2011

Most companies are not using their human resources (HR) systems to the extent they should be, says Sandra Swanepoel, sales director at Softline VIP. She says that in the past, companies computerised their payroll and HR functions to ensure accuracy, but the latest software allows them to plan ahead and control future costs.

For example, when the manufacturing division is planning to employ more people, they can load the position with a salary attached to it and the date they want to fill the position, and the system will then calculate the additional cost. “They can then plan how to finance the people they want to employ,” says Swanepoel.

But the information that is required to do this is often stored in different systems and sometimes not captured at all. She says a process should be in place to enable a business unit, like the manufacturing department, to inform the HR division of the resources it needs formally through the system.

The HR people could then load information such as the qualifications required for the position, the market related salary, and the date the person needs to start, and can then start planning the recruitment process. “Because salary and skills set are linked to the employee, it will then be possible to forecast what the salary bill will be at any specific date,” says Swanepoel.

She says the finance department can then plan how they are going to fund the new employees or advise the HR department that the company cannot afford them or tell them to move the timing of the recruitment to a later date. “This functionality helps companies plan better and not just look at past history.”

Few companies are taking advantage of this type of functionality, with most still only looking for the ability to accurately keep records like performance appraisals. She says many are also paying overtime for employees to work on weekends, without analysing whether this is really necessary.

If they were to compare the cost of overtime last year to this year’s figure and compare the result to turnover, they would see if this was justified, and could then drill down to the root of the problem.

For example, if turnover remained the same, but overtime costs increased, perhaps there was an abuse of overtime, or production processes were inefficient, or there was a delay in the delivery of parts but employees were still pitching up for work.

Rob Bothma, divisional manager and e-HR specialist at Business Connexion says most companies are looking at implementing talent management systems, and will need a mechanism for updating information. “The only way to do this is to get employees involved in updating their information, because HR departments do not have the resources to do it.”

This information will then be available to the entire organisation. For example managers will be interested in aspects like promotions, succession planning, and managing employee performance.

They need the same window for each subordinate, to constantly assess employees capabilities and performance, and a mechanism to update information, says Bothma. “If employees’ performance is low managers should also be able to trigger a workflow process for further training and development.”

From an administrative perspective, managers also need a team view to coordinate employees’ leave to ensure sufficient skills are available for projects, or to ensure a minimum number of technicians are on hand at all times.

He says most companies have not implemented technology to automate processes like these, even those with ERP systems, but do it manually on an ad hoc basis for specific teams, with minimal effect.

The right technology will enable companies to quantify their skills sets, know the aspirations of employees, and ensure their skills development is aligned to these, says Bothma.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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