Bowen Workforce branches out with legacy replacement

When Bowen Workforce Solutions considered expanding its core competencies to include areas such as contract management, the staffing firm soon realized that its existing legacy system lacked the capabilities needed to facilitate branching

out into new niches.

“As an organization we were competing in a shrinking market,” said Jeffrey Bowen, director of information services at Calgary-based Bowen Workforce Solutions. He added that his company originally focused on administrative placements. “We were starting to look at ‘How do we expand, which areas can we move into?’ And a lot of it was focussed on contract management.”

The company knew it couldn’t effectively branch out into other areas if it relied on its old accounting and payroll systems which, while cutting edge when deployed back in 1999 or 2000, now required manual and, in some instances, duplicate data entries. That’s why it chose to replace its legacy system with Microsoft Business Solutions-Great Plains, which provides functionalities like financial management; HireDesk, an XML-based HR application; and BizTalk Server 2004, a tool that enables the two aforementioned tools to automatically exchange data.

Great Plains and HireDesk were deployed in January 2005, confirmed Bowen, and BizTalk will be implemented shortly.

“With our legacy system, we had bought the source code for accounting and payroll, and as such to actually get that system integrated and to provide the features we needed to run our business, we had hired a development house in Calgary to basically revamp that entire application,” explained Bowen. “We were, on an annual basis, spending a couple of hundred thousand easily on the updates, maintenance and features for that application.”

The replacement tools, however, will be cheaper to operate than the legacy system was and will provide a return on investment in two-and-a-half or three years, said Bowen.

Corrigo Solutions in Calgary helped Bowen Workforce Solutions to successfully replace its legacy system, said Corrigo president Kelly Hawrysh. The companies got together and discussed what the staffing firm’s requirements were, he explained, and it was soon apparent that its needs couldn’t be met by any single product.

“We did go out there and did do the research that said, ‘Is there a product out there that can do everything that they wanted?’ No, not really. A PeopleSoft might have been able to, but we weren’t into spending millions of dollars on this project,” he said. “So . . . we wound up chunking this off into really distinct applications or distinct areas, being the front end, which is their client management and then the back end, which is their financial system.”

Another company that played a role in the implementation phase was 5by5 Software Ventures in Calgary. According to Bob Tretiak, CEO of 5by5, his firm provided the software used to generate the specific integration solution for Bowen as well as additional coding to develop interfaces.

What the integration project shows, said Tretiak, is that even small and medium businesses are willing to integrate new software if the associated costs can be scaled down to make it affordable.

“It’s kind of like the turn of the century when automobiles were made by the custom-build shops and they were…only truly affordable (to) the very wealthy people,” he said. “(Then) Henry Ford came along and said, ‘Hey, I can provide all that same functionality, but I’m going to mass produce it; I’m going to sell it for $500 or $400 a car.’ And he opened up a brand new market by doing so.”

What companies like Bowen Workforce Solutions are looking for, said David McJannet, e-business product manager at Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., are applications that won’t cost them more than they can realistically afford to pay.

“According to research from Gartner, the average Fortune 500 enterprise has about 48 unique enterprise applications that are part of business processes,” he said. “What we particularly find, though, is that while the Fortune 500 enterprise may have 48 applications, the smaller enterprise may have five…And they just have one fraction of the IT budget to be able to spend than a larger enterprise, so that actual problem is common across large enterprises and small.”

Now that it has an affordable system almost entirely in place, Bowen Workforce Solutions will eventually provide a Monster- or Workopolis-type solution for its clients, said Jeffrey Bowen.

“We’re moving towards our clients being able to do online requisitions as well as database searches online so that they can get an idea at a glance of what talent we have in our pool,” said Bowen from the staffing firm. “You know the idea of job agents on Workopolis and Monster and so forth, we’re looking at instituting a similar idea but for clients. (They) can input criteria into our system, and when we have people that come up with matches (the system) will let them know.”

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