TORONTO – Information technology tools are enabling businesses to derive more value from their human resources operations at a lower cost, SAP Canada Inc. vice-president of business development said Tuesday.

Speaking to an audience at the International Association for Human Resource Information Management Fall Conference, Pam Gregory said portals and, to a lesser extent, self-service applications allow for a reduction in time and money spent on administration and procedures. Consequently, the HR operation becomes more focused on strategy and planning, she said.

“The new role of human resources is the strategist who is part of the business planning process at the executive level,” Gregory said. “HR has a very key role to play in strategy and establishing processes.”

Gregory said along with being strategists and planners, HR departments also wear the hats of people-centric consultants who cultivate the corporate culture and enable knowledge management.

In the 1970s and 1980s, HR meant resource-intensive, paper-based personnel administration, Gregory said. Since then, HR management has become largely automated and focused more on reporting and analysis and employee and manager self service.

“The point is that the workforce from the ’70s to now has changed dramatically, and it’s going to change further dramatically,” Gregory said. She cited numbers from Statistics Canada that claim seniors will outnumber children by 2016, and said to secure employees from a dwindling supply employers will have to meet the technology requirements of children who use a mouse at age three and have a cell phone at age 10. “Managing human capital will be even more critical because you’re dealing with an even smaller base of people.”

Self-service applications can in a more accurate and efficient manner handle a number of administrative and reporting tasks for both employees and management, Gregory said. These include personal data maintenance, benefit inquiries and training registration for employees, and budget analysis and purchase orders and approvals for management.

Gregory cited a study by software and services firm Cedar stating self-service has resulted in a reduction of cost-per-transaction of between 60 and 90 per cent and a reduction of up to 75 per cent in HR inquiries.

But she said portals deliver even more value to the human capital management strategy, an organization of employee experience encompassing delivering technology, a sense of purpose and work-life balance.

“Portals are one of the most powerful things that can bring everything together,” she said. “It’s an individual’s view of their world.”

Portals, however, have yet to take off in Canada. Three per cent businesses in Canada are currently using portals, according to John Johnston, director of strategic consulting and e-HR services for Toronto-based Arinso International.

Gregory said portals, which constitute a large part of SAP’s business, deliver to users targeted information, such as performance metrics for managers, which then allows them to make better business decisions.

“What it’s doing is allowing (a user) to be more productive because it is pushing information out to them that is relevant.”

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