WarrenShepell embarks on three-year IT growth plan

WarrenShepell describes its $3-million IT investment in health and wellness services as the largest system improvement made to employee assistance programs (EAP) in Canada.

The company provides these services to more than 2,500 organizations throughout North America.

The objective of the three-year project is to better supply service programs targeting the specific needs of clients.

This includes allowing customers to easily tailor messages to their employees at the first point that they contact EAP services about their personal wellness issues, update these messages in real time, provide a system supporting e-learning and training for human resources staff, managers, and employees, and provide online statistical reporting and user surveys.

Clients will also have access to quarterly research reports and independent studies on issues such as the impact of the annual audit season on client-companies’ staff, and specific contingency plans for the potential impact of global and regional pandemics such as the Avian Flu.

Kim Weaver, vice-president of information technology at WarrenShepell, attributes the IT initiative to several drivers.

“We’re growing at a fantastic clip,” Weaver said. He said the company has seen more than a 50 per cent increase in the number of people looking for health and wellness assistance.

The previous mid-range technology platform developed over the last 15 years presented challenges in the ability to scale. “It didn’t align with our technology direction and the needs of our business.”

The project also supports the company’s prevention-based model of determining the root causes of increasing health care, he said.

WarrenShepell also aims through this revamp to reduce the cost of supplying IT services by tying services to only one technology platform.

Weaver said WarrenShepell has completed half of the system improvement so far and will be finished in 18 months. “A great portion of this is being developed internally.”

During this time, it has encountered challenges. He said one issue was trying to source packaged software in the area of contract management. Because it failed to find commercial products, it was forced to develop its own.

Weaver said his team and the vendors it is working with have tried to identify risks early in the game and take immediate action, in what is known as a Rational Unified Process, developing software effectively using proven techniques.

Warren Shiau, lead analyst of the IT research group at Toronto-based Strategic Counsel, a market-research firm, said the interest of potential clients in this revamped system will depend on WarrenShepell’s strategy and a company’s philosophy towards human resources.

He said a lot of companies are flexible and will outsource payroll functions to Ceridian or ADP, or only contract out peripheral services like the initial stages of hiring staff.

But many others prefer to manage their human resources in-house, said Shiau, so the offering will not be of “that much relevance” to them.

A company like WarrenShepell, however, “can change people’s minds,” as some firms have not figured out a way to automate a traditionally in-house service or “get it to a point where it’s simple enough to get outsourced,” he explained.

WarrenShepell tapped the services of Microsoft, IBM, Mitel, Bell Canada and Telus products for this revamp. This includes the Microsoft content management system, Mitel’s digital switching and call flow management system VoIP to support multiple call centres, IBM’s server technology, Bell’s LANx’s infrastructure, and Web support from Telus.

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