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How can IT ensure a more effective Shared Service Organization?

A customer of mine from the utilities industry was facing the following challenge: Due to the depletion of nuclear and fossil-fuel energy, the organization’s business model was suffering. In order to save costs and become more agile in new and rising markets, HR initiated a plan to not only improve the existing Shared Services Organization, but also scale it effectively. After analyzing the current HR processes, it became clear and evident: Most of the important HR processes were still being setup like was done in the 80’s and 90’s.

Standard HR processes are often paper-based and carry a high workload for HR Shared Service Organizations (SSO). If you think about the effort it takes to hire, transfer or terminate an employee, you will get an idea of where paper-based HR standard processes can be improved:

  • Data should be complete when the SSO starts working on the process – missing data causes delays and additional workload when having to gather it.
  • Data should be correct – it is not possible to verify the correctness of data input in a paper based form, e.g. if a cost center number exists or is correct.
  • Data should be entered only once – to read data from a paper form and enter it again into an HR system (or even multiple systems) is a waste of time. Moreover, the paper form likely requires data, which actually already exists in the HR system.
  • Paper forms need to be forwarded to the correct addressee. They need to be transported, sorted, assigned and archived manually and it is difficult to manage them in a way, in which the most urgent requests are executed first.

Some SSO have developed simple IT solutions for electronic forms, but do they solve the issue?

Simple, non-integrated IT solutions, e.g. MS Outlook email, Adobe PDF forms, MS Word etc., do not solve the issues. They can be quickly forwarded and they do support some basic checks on the data, but that is it. They do very little to significantly improve the data quality and most manual steps are still required.

Your managers, employees and other HR folks (outside of your SSO like HR Business Partners) do not see the effort related to HR standard processes. They simply demand a “service” from their HR function. Moreover, they assume that you are already using an HR system with the following possibilities:

  • enable you to work efficiently allowing you to master the high workload
  • deliver the service in a high quality
  • give feedback about the process status at anytime
  • provide feedback about when the service will be delivered
  • plan for enough capacity so that demand peaks will not delay the service delivery

In order to run your SSO efficiently, you also want to know how many times you have delivered a service and if you have met your customer’s expectations. The SAP Shared Services Framework, designed and deployed in the right way, can help you.

How to achieve seamless HR processes

Most – if not even all – SSOs run helpdesks or ticketing systems, managing incoming requests from employees, managers etc. Many SAP customers are already using the SAP Shared Services Framework to support their HR SSO. I am excited about the new possibilities the Shared Services Framework offers –  now with Enhancement Package 3, which I have been waiting for, for a very long time. Now, finally,  it is possible to build an end-2-end Service Request Management system which provides the outlined possibilities described above. You can also refer to it as a ‘Case Management System’ to support seamless HR processes.

So what is a ‘Case Management System’ in the context of HR? Even more important – why is it useful?

If you look at an HR process end-2-end, often only a small part is supported by a transactional HR master data system (e.g. with SAP ERP HCM). Several activities or tasks are either manual or supported by other systems and tools. Examples of these activities include:

  • Check and validate the correctness and completeness of a request
  • Create documents, e.g. statements, letters, etc.
  • Add documents to a personnel file
  • Get approval from somewhere else or gather additional information (and put the process ‘on hold’ in the meanwhile)

Often, the process specialists in the SSO update employee data during the process, but it is very difficult – sometimes impossible – for them to understand the context of why this process was necessary, who requested it and when and what the current status of the process is, e.g. is it completed or are some activities still open?

Furthermore, the master data system often does very little to support the SSO users sufficiently, e.g. with relevant information on what needs to be done, considered, checked etc. for a specific process, process step or for a specific type of employee.

A ‘Case Management’ system helps to identify the right approach to solve an issue or service request and helps to coordinates all necessary activities. A ‘case’ is opened when the SSO receives the request and it is closed when a service was fully delivered. The SSO can lookup all open and closed cases to understand its current status, what activities have been already performed, what activities are still open and who is currently working on them. Additional information is also available, such as: Name of requestor, when it was created, what additional information has been given in the meanwhile etc. Furthermore, the case management system should provide supporting information to users in an effective way, e.g. where to obtain more detailed information, where to escalate to, what should be communicated to employees and managers etc.

I bet you are thinking it sounds familiar and similar to a service ticket? Yes, it is. However, there is an important difference: The case management system can be used for more complex requests which need a structured approach to ensure an efficient delivery, which are mainly requests for standard processes or services. Therefore I normally use the term ‘HR service request’ instead of ‘case’.

The use cases for HR

What are typical use cases for HR service request management? Basically, every HR process, which currently requires a form, is a candidate for Serivce Request management, regardless if they are initiated by managers, by employees or by HR itself, e.g. through HR Business Partners or local HR functions. Other HR processes, which are not “paper form-based” yet, but need certain data in a structured way, are also candidates.

Some examples from my customer included: Transfers, long-term leave and Hiring of external workforce.

  • The Line Manager (sending) initiates the transfer of an employee to another department. The (receiving) line manager accepts the transfer. Organizational data is updated in the HR master data system, and all participants are informed.

  • An employee requests sabbatical leave and sends the request to their line manager for approval.

  • The line manager submits all relevant information to ‘hire’ an external contractor.

All these examples share the same characteristics:

  • HR processes are either triggered by the manager or employee. Both need to have an easy way to find where the process can get started, and they need an appealing user interface.
  • Managers should be able to start an HR process on behalf of the employee. Furthermore, they should be able to define substitutes, based on the type of HR process.
  • HR Business Partners, or other roles within HR, should have the possibility to start an HR process on behalf of managers or employees
  • All known data should be prepopulated on the form; all data entries should be checked
  • All data entries should be logged

However, aren’t these use cases already covered through web based HR Self Service scenarios?

A replacement for HR Self Services and Service tickets?

Service Request Management does not replace HR Self Services or Service tickets because it fulfills a different need.

HR Self Services are much more than just a “service request”. They  are rather transactions with an intuitive and appealing user interface. When I say transaction, I mean system functionality, which actually interacts with the user and provides all necessary information and business rules to support a specific task, either web-based or mobile. Here is an example:

A leave request could be a simple form, asking you when you want to take leave and when you plan to return. However, an HR self service provides you additional information (and functionality), such as:

  • Showing you an overview of all leave requests; you can check if you have already requested leave for a planned period
  • Giving  you the possibility to withdraw a leave request or change the dates
  • Calculating the number of absence days based on your personal work schedule and holiday calendar
  • Showing you the status of your leave balance and checks immediately if are you still entitled to take leave
  • Showing you an overview about absences of your team colleagues in this period

Furthermore, Service Request Management does not replace Service tickets. With Service tickets, SSOs can capture unstructured service requests, in most cases they fall into one of the following categories:

  • Request for additional information (“I don’t understand…”)
  • Potential issue or incident (“Does not work…”)
  • Request to solve an issue with an existing request (“I want to complain…”)

In general, service tickets can be a ‘fall-back’ solution for HR processes, where (yet) no Self Services are available and no Service Requests either (“I need something else..”). When the SSO sees a high demand for a specific kind of service, it can decide to add a service request type to better manage it and do it more efficiently.

Value potential for a Shared Service Organization

Service Request Management is the key for a SSO to further increase the efficiency of their HR services. We have received great feedback from large SSOs which immediately understood the benefits from the possibilities the SAP Shared Services Framework (SSF) offers. This benefits include:

  • User experience: HR forms have a great user experience and gain acceptance from employees and managers
  • Data quality: HR forms are seamlessly integrated into SAP HCM and can include validation checks of user input against backend data. Data fields can be pre-populated.
  • Automated data update: Data can be automatically transferred from the form into SAP HCM.
  • Knowledge management: Checklists include all process steps to deliver an HR service. The checklist can include further information for SSO users on how to perform a process step, where to retrieve further information etc. With checklists, users can easily understand what steps have already been performed, by whom, when, and what is still missing.
  • Automation: Checklists are key to automate process steps since every step in a checklist can also trigger a workflow, web service or send an email automatically or semi-automatically.
  • Adherence to SLAs: It is possible to define Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for HR services. The SSF can monitor the process execution and prioritize HR service requests higher, for which less execution time is available
  • Service efficiency: Service requests can be automatically forwarded to the next SSO team or approver outside the SSO. The SSF provides the transparency into the current and short-term future workload.
  • Document generation: Document generation tools can be integrated into the SSF and the HR process to facilitate the creation of documents for employees, managers or 3rd parties
  • Personnel File: The update of personnel files can be included as a mandatory step into the checklists.
  • Reporting: Since all service requests are captured in the SSF, it is easy to report on the number of service requests and their properties (adherence to SLA, distribution etc.)
  • Simplicity: There is one central tool to manage all service requests and other inquiries, regardless of the communication channel which has been used
  • Low Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): Most of the SSF functionality can be configured, whereby less development is required.

The benefits of the proposed solution were compelling. As a result, my customer decided to start a proof of concept with us. Moving forward, we are going to build the three example processes mentioned above with HR forms, tightly integrated into the Shared Service Framework.

Already today, there have been some very interesting lessons learned. Firstly, it has become very clear that ‘automation’ also means that many more process details have to be designed. We had several situations where we identified missing business rules. Secondly, it was helpful to use a user centric approach. Although usability and web design didn’t play a huge role in the past, it became obvious very quickly, that the success of HR service request management depends on the user experience with the provided tools. Mock-ups and prototyping helped us already in the design phase to make the right design decision.

I hope, I am able to share with you the results of the Proof of Concept very soon.

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