Introducing an HR shared service centre: case study

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Introducing an HR shared service centre: case study

When Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) doubled its size in 2001 and acquired other companies located on remote sites, it needed to take a hard look at its HR processes and services.

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When Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) doubled its size in 2001 and acquired other companies located on remote sites, it needed to take a hard look at its HR processes and services. One of the changes was the introduction of an HR shared service centre model.

Ms Trish Butler, Vice President of CSC’s Human Resources function, explained how it happened and what went right and wrong at a seminar conducted by the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) in Sydney on 30 June 2005.

Design and strategy

In 2001, CSC was suffering from growing pains in some respects. It had few core HR processes and procedures, and needed to stabilise and control the volume of HR enquiries and transactions. However, CSC started with one advantage: the nature of its business meant it had a culture accustomed to 'service centre' approaches such as help desks.

The design process took the following steps:

1) A consultative review was conducted with help from PricewaterhouseCoopers. This review studied how HR staff actually spent their work time.
2) From the review conceptual models for enquiry management were developed.
3) Everything was classified into one of two categories: high volume transactions and specialised professional services. CSC wanted to incorporate both roles into the new system and position HR as a centre of excellence and expertise as well as an administrator.
4) Infrastructure was developed, including an intranet.
5) HR policies and procedures were reviewed. As well as content, there was an emphasis on presenting tips and tools for managers to use them effectively. These were prepared for intranet installation.
6) HR staff were trained in how to answer enquiries.
7) Implementation stages were planned as a series of key projects.

The enquiry management strategy comprised the following four tiers, in order of complexity:

1) Employee self-service.
2) Contact with a customer service operator.
3) Service to individual business units - for example via HR staff dedicated to each unit
4) Service from experts - either internal or external.

From concept to structure

The HR leadership team was responsible for implementing the strategy. Interestingly, there was a firm policy of no Service Level Agreements. Service Centre staff were aligned to specific business units, for example in both the call centre and operational support functions. However, CSC was careful to avoid creating a call centre work environment - no HR staff were required to answer the phone full-time.

CSC invited employees to suggest a name for the centre - HR Connect was chosen.

Promotion of the centre emphasised there were three steps to using it: visit the intranet website, contact via email (response within 24 hours promised) or if neither of those options is appropriate, enquire by telephone. CSC strongly encouraged intranet self-service, as it could not provide the resources to cope with a high percentage of personal contact enquiries. Butler commented that other companies introducing service centres seemed to have great difficulty weaning employees off using the telephone.

Extra features

Apart from the enquiry management service, the centre has added the following services over the last three years:

  • Electronic workflow forms - these have a sequence of numbers across the top of each form to denote the steps in the workflow (such as checking, approval, compliance, calculations, etc) so users can quickly see current progress of the transaction.
  • A positions vacant database across the organisation.
  • 'Safetylink' - a tool for notifying and reporting OHS hazards and incidents online.
  • A job code directory that enables managers to match employees to the codes, which helps with remuneration planning.
  • A global performance appraisal and review system.
  • A remuneration planning tool in which performance review ratings can be integrated.

Results?

  • There has been a gradual shift towards email rather than telephone enquiries - from about one-third of enquiries in 2003 to exceeding 50% for the first time in 2005.
  • The ratio of HR staff to total employees reached a 'best' of 1:170. Butler believes that any further reduction would result in bad service.
  • HR budget and headcount savings were achieved, although this has now levelled out.
  • There is a 'constant improvement' mindset, aiming for two or three major improvements in HR practice each year.
  • CSC’s conceptual model was adopted by its global operations.
  • The HR function is now doing an increased amount of work on a fee-for-service basis.
  • In terms of HR function operations, a lot of duplication and division was removed. HR became perceived as a 'unifying force' in some respects, because it needed to do a lot of communicating across all business units.

Using the induction process as an example, Butler produced statistics showing that time required for the formal induction and initial training processes has fallen significantly, and other steps in the induction process are much more likely to be implemented and be implemented faster. Not only does this produce obvious benefits to employee productivity, but it helps HR to sell its business cases for its initiatives because these results are easy to demonstrate.

Lessons from the case study

Butler commented that some important lessons emerged from implementation of the shared service centre.

  • Commitment to the project from all HR staff is essential. Watch out for empire builders and silos. A key danger area may be HR representatives who are assigned to individual business units and may find themselves with divided loyalties.
  • HR roles will change and some staff will find this hard. For example, employee self service may mean that some HR staff may perceive that their 'ability to help' is removed to some extent and that may make them feel more vulnerable and alienated.
  • Focusing too much on processes may result in a compliant organisation culture. While some HR staff might initially see that as a blessing, CSC found that a 'risk aversion' culture developed that cost the company new business despite its productivity gains and cost savings. When loss of tenders, etc became evident, HR staff scored much of the blame for it ('you make us do all these things').
  • It is important to study the basic question 'Who are HR’s real customers?' very carefully.
  • HR needs to adapt itself as the business itself changes - an obvious statement perhaps, but still important to remember.

CSC is now working on new conceptual models to enhance the service centre, notably in the areas of career paths and employee engagement.

Further information

Further details of the seminar are available from the AHRI website.

Butler also referred to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers that found that many HR shared service centre models have failed to achieve worthwhile benefits for their organisations.

Results of this study were reported in a previous article:

HR shared services: the jury is still out

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