HR Technology-- In Layman's Terms

Peter Alkema

The first two articles in this column discussed the technology components that are critical in an HR Shared Services environment. The 5 pillar service delivery model provided an accessible framework for understanding the challenges facing technology in this area. This month, we review these major building blocks but focus on understanding what they are, how they work and how they fit together.

The 5 pillar service delivery model highlights the tech components that are visible to employees in your organization, but there are many more aspects that need to be in place. We will again use the same model but look behind the "shop window" at what goes on in the world of IT to make these work. The head of technology for an HR function in a large organization typically has to balance his limited resources between high visibility systems delivering value to internal customers and the less exciting "back-office" applications.

The first part of this article will look at two of these pillars, portal and knowledge base which are conceptually linked, but architecturally often very separate.

Pillar #1 – Portal

Employees are familiar with the company intranet they typically land on when they launch their browser, but often there is a lot more behind the scenes than displaying the company logo, share price, a menu and the weather. There is no better way to capture the hearts and minds of a workforce than by aggregating useful information and delivering it in a meaningful way on their home page. How many clicks does it take and how intuitive is it for your employees to find out who to speak to when they have HR queries? Take advantage of the employee portal to do this better without flooding the employee with too much information – a well designed knowledge base will do this in the right way as we discuss under the 2nd pillar below.
Social media has flooded our world with an always-on, always-engaged mindset that drives collaboration, content contribution and community. Micro-blogging, my-sites, people directories, feeds and other such innovations can enhance a company employee portal experience, build traffic and create a culture of online engagement – which is good for HR! Delivering all these features can keep the techies up at night but remind them it's their entrepreneurial colleagues who came up with social media in the first place. Make sure your IT team is thinking about how your employee's personal web experience is being matched by their corporate online world.

Pillar #2 – Knowledge Base

Attempts are often made to embed libraries of documents into the company intranet but usually it is just an aggregation of links to multiple repositories that open in confusingly different browser windows with different layouts and vastly different design. Equally this disaggregation of information makes powerful search features almost impossible to deliver to the employee the kind of experience they quite easily get with one click on the web's most popular search engine. Large consulting organizations consider a knowledge base as a mission critical asset that will always be on their list of credentials for selling their services. The re-use and re-application of client tested methodologies and frameworks is a non negotiable practice for these firms and their capabilities in this area have grown up decades earlier than those in their corporate clients.

A handful of the top ten best company intranets for 2011 have built their award winning intranets in Sharepoint and this represents a growing convergence between delivery of content and portal experience. Sharepoint offers a structured yet configurable environment to deploy information in a format and structure that can be administered by non-technical people. Employees generally think of Sharepoint as a team collaboration site with calendars, tasks and notifications but the latest versions offer radically new features that means it can compete with the top web authoring tools while also offering decent knowledge management. Managing the structure, content and design of a Sharepoint site or collection of Sharepoint sites can take up significant time and requires a good design, links with multiple internal teams and discipline about updating content.

The next instalment will consider the acquisition of talent, pillar 3. Once again, multiple systems and processes play a role in the attraction, approval and onboarding of resources so it is the forward thinking IT professional who is able to join these up and orchestrate a seamless engagement. Be sure to find out how you can do this and ensure a positive experience for your new recruits.