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Practical and paperless: the power of technology and human resources

by Gayla Sherry, BOL Guru

Even with the innovations available for the banking industry today, the human resources function is often overlooked as a valuable beneficiary of technology. However, there are many applications worth considering that will ultimately save time, money and improve efficiency in the human resources department.

The use of technology in human resources departments is in its infancy. Many organizations are just beginning to tap the valuable technological resources that can support the important function of managing human resources. According to ?Workplace Visions,? published by the Society of Human Resources Management, ?Technology has irrevocably changed every facet of life from the home to the workplace. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand what developments will be useful to the workplace.?

The use of technology in HR is vital to the success of any organization for several reasons. The HR function ? as with many others in the banking industry ? is drowning in a sea of paper. With the growth of employment regulations and the demands to record details of every facet of the function, including recruiting, hiring, documentation, benefits and retirement administration, performance, discipline and terminations, the growth of paper is exponential. Coupled with this growth of paper is decreased staff, in most instances. Therefore, automating the massive amounts of information once acquired solely by paper is essential.

Technology in HR is also important in order to provide the level of customer service expected from our employees and retirees. In this information age, when we can acquire data quickly, we expect that same level of speed and accuracy when inquiring about aspects of HR. And, given the nature of the HR business, employees and retirees have a sense of urgency about receiving information and responses to their inquiries about matters such as payroll, benefits information and general information about the company.

The changing nature of the workforce also demands an increased use of technology. According to a report by the Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, more than 60 percent of today?s employees use computer equipment at home and work. With the growth of the Internet and computer usage in childhood education, this percentage will certainly increase. Therefore, employee expectations regarding the ability to access and manage information related to HR will also increase.

The nature of the HR business demands use of technology to administer and maintain the services provided by HR. Here are some examples of specific applications of technology in the HR function:

Recruiting and hiring
You may have seen workstations at retail outlets that provide online applications for potential employees. The growth of technology ? even before the employee steps in the door of the organization ? is a trend that is likely to continue. As an alternative to using dedicated workstations for applications online, many organizations provide a link to applications on their website, or may choose to use an Internet-based service such as www.monster.com or www.careerbuilders.com to post job openings and accept applications.

By far, the most common use of technology in the HR function is employee communication. According to a recent survey by the Olsten Center for Workforce Strategies, more than 85 percent of respondents are using Internet technologies to communicate among employees. This method of electronic communication may be through a link on the company?s website, through an Intranet, or through shared drives on an internal network.

There are many benefits of using electronic means to communicate with employees. The response is likely to be ?realtime,? and does not involve a telephone call to a staff member in HR. And, submitting forms electronically will begin to erode the paper flood often seen in today?s HR department. The ability to communicate electronically is especially helpful when employees are telecommuting, or are working in a location other than the main office. The information available for employees and retirees include:

  • Health care plan descriptions
  • Investment option descriptions
  • 401K plan review, fund management
  • Benefits enrollment
  • Various forms, such as change of address, beneficiaries, benefits enrollment
  • Status of paid time off, such as sick leave and vacation accruals
  • New employee orientation
  • Job descriptions
  • Training calendars
  • Employee newsletters
  • Copies of news releases
  • Industry-specific news and trends

If an Intranet is not available, organizations may choose to establish ?self-service? kiosks within the organization that can be accessed by employees and retirees needing to make changes in names, addresses, beneficiaries, etc. For smaller organizations, the use of public folders on shared drives can be helpful for employees needing to obtain forms or retrieve information about the company.

Organizations are also using technology for applicant tracking purposes. For those organizations subject to Affirmative Action compliance and reporting, electronic tracking of applications can save a great deal of time and stress. Relatively simple devices such as scanners can be used to select resumes and applications to determine the most qualified applicants to select for interviewing. The use of PDF files can also be helpful for maintaining copies of forms used in the HR function.

Automating selected aspects of the HR function is not without potential challenges. As with any automation project, it?s important that IT experts be involved in design, implementation, maintenance and ongoing improvement of systems used for HR applications. Building and sustaining strong relationships with IT professionals, including internal staff and external vendors, is a key to success in automating the HR function.

Despite the growth of technology, there are still many employees who do not have access to (or are uncomfortable using) computer equipment. The phenomenon of ?techno-phobia? tends to increase due to the personal nature, such as payroll and benefits, of HR-related issues.

Despite the challenges presented, the growth of technology in HR functions throughout the banking industry is a valuable consideration. Automating the traditionally paper-based functions can save valuable resources and become a powerful tool in managing the bank?s assets.

Gayla R. Sherry, SPHR, CMC, is President of Gayla R. Sherry Associates, Inc., an Oklahoma City area-based consulting firm specializing in human resources, organizational development, training, conflict resolution and workplace mediation.

First published on BankersOnline.com 08/09/04

First published on 08/09/2004

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