If you believe that a fundamentalshift in the way HR works in a company has to be led from the top, then look nofurther than IBM for proof. Martin James, manager of theEuropean HR service centre at IBM EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) claimshe is not being sycophantic when he says that the radical change in the EMEA’sHR function is all thanks to vice-president of human resources FedericoCastellanos.The VP stated that he wanted to changethe image of the HR function and set about “consistently communicating hismessage to the HR community”, explains James. “HR was not providing propersupport to business and wasn’t helping in major people-related issues. We hadthe traditional set-up of a personnel officer for each area and there were justtoo many people in each HR person’s patch.”Added to this, by 1998 the businesshad become international but the HR function was still country-based. “We knewthat HR had to serve the business better and our specific aim was to release HRtime at the higher end by putting the day-to-day tasks out through anotherchannel,” says James.Global benchmarkTwo years on, IBM EMEA’s HR servicecentre in Portsmouth is widely regarded as a global benchmark in e-HR. Itserves 17 countries and 95,000 staff and, by using Internet, intranet andtelephone-based technologies, has eradicated most if not all routine HR tasksthrough its branded AskHR system.The centre with 120 staff – amixture of HR generalists and specialists – has been responsible for a 57 percent reduction in HR operating costs. During 2000 it fielded 190,000 calls and46,000 e-mails; in January this year it took 27,000 calls and 8,000 e-mails.Previously, an HR manager would have dealt with all of these messages. Calls ore-mails from employees are now handled by HR generalists, with the specialistsbrought in when needed.The HR specialists are broken intothree teams: compensation and benefits; workforce management and staffing; andskills, learning and executive resources. Each will cover two or threecountries, as well as handle a specialist topic for the whole of EMEA (such asappraisals, maternity and external benchmarking).The centre staff are supported by acustomised e-HR system (although e-HR wasn’t coined as a phrase when it wasinstalled) comprising an intranet knowledge base that acts as a pan-Europeanresource for HR staff, employees and managers, an HR intranet for staff toaccess, HR data management facilities and the HR case tracking system, whichfollows an enquiry from the first tier generalists to the specialists until thecase is closed. The HR intranet can be accessed in 12 languages and a Hebrewversion is in the pipeline.The system and underlyingtechnology is still evolving, explains James, who says that employees will soonbe able to access a “My Data” page from anywhere in the world. IBM is also rolling out a set ofself-service HR tools, the first of which is a global appraisal form. “We wantto re-engineer as many HR processes as we can to make them consistent acrossEurope, such as for job evaluation, company leavers and internal transfers,”says James, who admits that at times the different IT infrastructures in placeacross Europe has hampered the bid for consistency.There have been people hindrances,he says, with some sceptics among the HR community but overall the system hasgone down well. “The culture change is the biggest and some did find itdifficult to change. But those who have espoused the new model now do almost noindividual employee work at all.” IBM has also experimented withone-on-one marketing of the system where someone sits with the sceptic and usesthe service with them. “This has worked in some cases, but not all, of course,”says James.That the employees are pleased withthe system is borne out by customer satisfaction levels of 90 per cent. And todate, there have been no concerns of it turning HR into a faceless function.“They like the fact that they can call a number or send an e-mail and get ananswer much quicker – before they perhaps had to wait two or three days,” saysJames. “Those who maybe would bemoan thelack of a face are those who work on a large site with an on-site HR servicethat they could literally walk into, seize someone by the lapels and demand ananswer.” Face-to-face HR still takes placefor important matters like career or other personal discussions.Lower-level automationJames recommends that automation ofthe lower level functions of HR should be explored by all companies, but hebelieves this type of system can be particularly effective in an organisationthat is made up of several subsidiaries and is trying to operate as aconsolidated business. “They have to look at how they canorganise HR as effectively as possible. There’s a huge amount of day-to-daystuff that needs to go on to keep a company running, but unless you can getthat handled elsewhere it will take up 75-80 per cent of a department’s time.”The system used by IBM is also soldexternally by its Global Services division. Mike Theaker, executive consultantof e-HR practice at Global Services, explains that in line with the IBMapproach, companies should start by looking at how the business strategy canbest be supported by an e-HR strategy. “Every system we’ve worked with has beendifferent. Some companies want to put their entire HR function through the Web;others want to stay closer to our model of a service centre,” he said.By Sue Weekes IBM takes a more general view of global HR deliveryOn 6 Mar 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.