Toronto Police Service plans self-serve HR

The sixth largest police organization in North America has recognized its IT machine needs a facelift, and will be ready to unveil its new look by next spring.

Toronto Police Service (TPS) is putting the finishing touches

on an implementation of an employee relationship management (ERM) system built on the J2EE standard from Atlanta-based Workbrain. The project will help solve issues that arose four years ago and may rescue a human resources department that has been mired in paper, according to Bill Gibson, director of HR.

Each interaction with TPS’s 10,000 employees was documented on paper, whether it was a vacation request, notification of name change or an upgrade to a benefits plan. The process was time-consuming, inefficient and costly.

“We are a large complex enterprise with a complicated workforce,” said Gibson, who shared the details of TPS’s HR upgrade at an International Association for Human Resource Information Management meeting last Friday in Toronto.

One of the most significant factors complicating the HR equation at Toronto Police Services is the scheduling and payment of overtime and court time for officers. The police force spends more than half of its $500 million operating budget on salaries and overtime. The ability to better manage those resources, said Gibson, was attractive to TPS.

The technology landscape is antiquated: a dated mainframe and a number of legacy systems that don’t talk to each other. A 20-year-old time and attendance system, for example, used to track officers’ shifts, which made the extraction and analysis of real-time data virtually impossible, Gibson said. Information was housed in silos, across departments, and there was no easy way for management to view employee-related information.

This year, Gibson said, things are beginning to change.

“We wanted to upgrade in 1999, but along came Y2K and we had to postpone our plans,” said Gibson.

Workbrain’s Web-based application, ERM 3.0, will integrate with TPS’s existing Peoplesoft payroll and HR applications. The system, which will go live in March of 2003, is expected to relieve a lot of the headaches traditionally associated with human resources.

For employees, the upgrade means self-serve access to most HR functions; for management, it means better analytical capabilities, Gibson said. The tool will give TPS greater visibility into its workforce costs and allow them drill down to understand the factors that affect those costs.

“Employees will no longer have to fill out paper forms to request time off,” said Bill Gibson, TPS’s director of human resources. “And we’ll be able to reduce the administrative costs associated with processing overtime and court time (for the officers).” Toronto Police Services spends $32 million a year on overtime and court time costs for its 7,000 officers.

In an economy where technology investments are tough to justify, automating human resources is an easy sell, said Daniel Debow, Workbrain’s marketing director. Pinpointing the exact return on investment for the software is complicated, Debow said, but typically customers have found the ROI to take between 12 and 18 months.

There’s also a huge cut in the time it takes to process a transaction.

“Typically, an employee makes a request to HR and it takes about 30 days to process,” said Debow. “After implementing ERM, the time is cut to about one week.

The cost of implementing Workbrain’s ERM system depends on the number of users and the amount of functionality required, and could range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a few million.

Companies opt for massive technology upgrades for a couple of reasons. Sometimes, the investment is necessary for competitive reasons. Other times, an overhaul is undertaken to wipe out inefficiencies that are needlessly draining cash from the company.

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