Clean up your act

first_imgAreyou getting the most out of your IT systems and software packages?  A spring clean will help clear out thedebris and is also a good time to revisit forgotten capabilities thatoriginally drew you too choose that system, writes Rob McLuhanAn IT system does not normally need an engineer coming round with an oil canto keep it going. Although in many respects it is self-maintaining, a goodspring clean once in a while can help keep it in peak condition. Some of the work will involve the IT support team or vendor carrying outtechnical checks. However, there is much that HR can do itself to optimise thesystem’s performance by overhauling its content and applications. “A regular clear-out can have some amazing benefits in terms of use andefficiency,” says Paul Beaumont, production director HR Payroll atMicrosoft Great Plains Business Solutions. As a starting point he recommendslooking to see how quickly the system operates. Now that the cost of storage has plummeted, hard drives are capable ofstoring huge amounts of data. But they are still finite, and eventually therewill come a time when the system slows from the accumulated weight of years ofinput. That will leave staff tapping their fingers while information is beingretrieved. “When the database is clean it might take less than half a second toretrieve a file, but within six months it could slow to two seconds,”Beaumont says. “After a year it could be more than five seconds – slowenough to be an irritation.” The problem here is disk fragmentation. Lack of space means parcels of dataare distributed increasingly widely in the system instead of being stored in asingle location. Where insertions, updates and deletions are constantly beingmade, it takes time to gather the information and reassemble it as a singlerecord. A first step is to back up all data on magnetic tapes or digital storagewhile IT “defrags” the entire database – the equivalent of emptying aroom of furniture to give it a good clean. Once the data is reimported the system should be much more responsive. However, speed is affected by the working of the network as a whole, and thenext stage should be to check how many users are connected. “Try tofine-tune the system to peak periods,” suggests Beaumont. “There maybe times when access is higher than on a day-to-day basis, such as end-of-monthprocessing. Monitoring the uses of the system could uncover bottlenecks whereIT could do some beefing up.” One problem here could develop as a result of the increasing popularity ofemployee self-service. “You can anticipate an abnormally large number ofpeople applying for leave at Christmas and Easter, and there will also be ahigh level of traffic just after the year end as individuals are accessingtheir P60 forms online,” says Mark O’Dowd, head of HR solutions at SAP UK.”It is a good idea to sit down every so often with the IT department tofind ways of balancing the peaks and troughs.” Similarly, each time the HR department is about to make a new serviceavailable to employees or managers they need to think about whether theperformance will be satisfactory, he adds. If users find it hard to use thesystem they will be put off. The start of a new year, whether calendar or financial, is an excellent timeto look at the data held within it, and this should be the next major area tolook at, says Jim Nugent, head of strategic development for service delivery atRebusHR. Hard decisions need to be made about what to keep and what to throw away.Much data may have outlived its usefulness: absence records more than threeyears old, leavers and unsuccessful candidates, vacancies, old course bookings– all can all be reviewed and where necessary deleted. “When we implement a new system companies often want to transfer datathey previously held,” Nugent says. “But we ask them if they actuallyneed to. What purpose does it have and what is its value? In many cases itturns out there is none – if it doesn’t drive the business it is just taking updisk space.” Statutory regulations mean that employee and other business data has to beheld for several years. But if the necessary period of time has elapsed thereis no reason why the data cannot be archived in an offline storage facility. Legislative changes are frequent and affect HR more than most departments.Payroll will need to be updated with new tax rates, increases in nationalinsurance, or changes to reporting procedures on company cars, for example. “This can be a nightmare for HR,” says Mark O’Dowd, head of HRsolutions at SAP UK. The company offers its customers legal change packages,notifying them ahead of time of what to expect. That is an opportunity for HRto liaise with IT, providing the necessary information about its internalprocesses and ensuring updates are assimilated onto the system. O’Dowd also stresses the need to store information with appropriate datestamps, ensuring material can be efficiently retrieved from the archives. Forinstance, if an employee’s address changes, the system will record the exact datefrom which the new one is valid and the old one defunct, ensuring it cancross-reference accurately in the future if the need arises. Michael Richards, managing director of Snowdrop Systems, also suggestsreviewing content such as holiday and sickness codes. His company providessupport to define those at the implementation stage, but over a period somewill become redundant. “You can mess up your data if you have two codesthat mean the same thing, but it’s a fairly easy process to go through and updatethem. It is important to do this if the system has been in place for a fewyears.” Then take a look at the standard letters, he suggests. Do they adhere tocorporate standards and are they applicable in terms of HR legislation? Reviewthose aspects which have the most value and make any necessary adjustments. Another area that needs checking is the accuracy of employee details. Wherestaff are using intranet self-service these records are less likely to be outof date, but it is still useful to overhaul the system from time to time.”About 50 per cent of all our new customers since last summer have somesort of intranet, but anyone who has had a system in place for more than twoyears should carry out a review,” Richards says. Moving on to the next stage, HR should ensure it is getting the most out ofits system. Often, an organisation may intend to fully use it, but because ofstaff changes or other reasons some facilities are forgotten or ignored. “As time goes by facilities become increasingly hidden, and you end upnot using them,” says Richards. Snowdrop offers one- or two-day systemhealth checks, going back to the client and running through all its features toidentify those that are not being used. Typically, it might find that only three or four out of five key facilitiesare being used properly, often those that are less obvious but might still havea bearing on HR strategy. One neglected feature enables Word documents to beattached to an individual job record rather than being stored elsewhere on theHR server. That means the document can be read from directly within the systeminstead of having to be searched out. Spring is as good a time as ever to remember why you bought the IT system orsoftware package and review what difference it has made to your performance,says Ian Murison, sales director at Wealden Computing Services.”Invariably, people buy systems based on what they have been shown by thevendor,” he says. “They are attracted by all the sophisticated thingsit can do, but end up using it as an electronic filing cabinet.” One of Wealden’s features is diary task management, which sets up schedulesfor reminders and the creation of documents. “People say this is exactlywhat they want, and then we come back a year later and find no-one is using it.They have got bogged down in administration – the very reason they bought thesystem in the first place.” So a yearly maintenance session could include a further demonstration fromthe vendor plus training, reminding staff of what the system can do andensuring that they take full advantage of it. This can have a positive bearingon the overall HR performance, Murison points out. For example, the diary can be used to alert managers to the end of aprobationary period and offer to generate a questionnaire asking what action totake, a routine process that often gets overlooked or tackled at the lastminute. Or it could remind HR about the progress of a disciplinary reviewperiod, which might affect the outcome of an industrial tribunal. “Morecompanies lose cases because they didn’t follow their own disciplinaryprocedures than for any other single reason,” Murison says. Another feature might be document generation. Check to see whether you haveset up the templates as you planned at the implementation stage, or whetherthey need amending. Look at the generation of organisational charts – are theybeing produced as easily as it looked in the original demonstration? Andquestion whether the information is getting beyond the HR management as intended,benefiting the whole organisation. Many problems occur with systems because of lax security. About 60 per centof companies have suffered a security breach, costing an average of £16,000each, according to research last year by the DTI. A spring clean needs to take account of how seriously users are taking this.If an informal audit of monitors reveals passwords scribbled on Post-it notes,file covers or blotters, it is time to take action. Finally, it can be useful to look beyond the system at the businessprocesses that surround it. “The software industry is criticised forforcing companies to do business in certain ways, but many organisations haveingrained processes that aren’t rooted in good strategy,” says LarryDonivan, vice-president of global development for Lawson. Lawson provides best practice performance indicators and external marketdata, enabling customers to discover attributes such as cost and time per hire.But from time to time the department needs to ensure it is carrying out thesemeasurements and is collecting the data it needs to analyse it over time. He says, “We can create sophisticated systems but they are only as goodas the data you put in,” Donivan says. “If you are going to carry outmeasurements, you need to ensure the business process is workingproperly.” For instance, he says, recruiters are notoriously poor at managing their CVintake, which they tend to keep in file folders instead of automating.”When the process is complete there are piles of candidates, hired or not, but no processes exist to collect that data efficiently.” How far you want to go with an annual overhaul will depend on the resourcesavailable and how well the system was functioning to begin with. Turning ahouse upside down for a spring clean will just cause disruption if order isn’trestored quickly. But even a little attention, judiciously and regularlyapplied, is certain to make a difference. Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Clean up your actOn 1 May 2001 in Personnel Todaylast_img