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Building a bridge to the HR future

Gamp;&E is turning companywide infrastructure into departmental gold

With a new IT mindset and an eager HR department, national real estate firm Grubb amp;& Ellis (www.grubb-ellis.com) is killing two birds with one stone.

Gamp;&E provides real estate services to commercial entities including third-party property management, facilities management and brokerage services for industrial buildings and commercial properties. The company has 4,500 employees in every major U.S. real estate market from Seattle to Boston. Gamp;&E also has operations in Belgium and the United Kingdom.

About three years ago, Gamp;&E appointed a new senior management team, which quickly realized the company’s IT infrastructure needed immediate attention. Few or no investments had been made at either the corporate or department level.

"We have 4,500 people--most are widely distributed across the United States," said Vince Ristucci, VP of human resources. "We needed to get them to communicate and share their knowledge on everything from ‘Who are all the people to call on Client X?’ to ‘How do we share leads?’ " Gamp;&E also wanted to use technology to get ahead in the marketplace.

The company brought in IntegrationWare (www.integrationware .com) as integrator and project manager to help build the system and put the pieces together. IntegrationWare installed its Intrablocks software as the backbone of ENet, Gamp;&E’s new enterprisewide network that serves as the main repository for the company’s information (contact manager, yellow pages, events calendar, bulletins, research and a library). ENet is built on top of Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) SQL server database, with cross-server procedures and utilities to collect data from other applications such as contact management--most employees use Symantec’s (www.symantec.com) ACT, --and payroll, eliminating the need to maintain separate databases.

The implementation project began in September 1997 and went live in January 1998, which included taking information from payroll, revenue, HR and other applications, "scrubbing" it to ensure integrity and populating the new system. IntegrationWare also provided Gamp;&E with a project manager--"a critical role," according to Ristucci, who eventually stayed on with the company as HR/IS manager.

With so many people so widely distributed and management’s readiness to embrace IT, Gamp;&E’s HR department quickly began looking for ways to make the most of ENet. Gamp;&E is using IntegrationWare’s HRknowledge solution, which takes slices of HR-specific components of the Intrablocks platform. (In the near future, IntegrationWare plans to market HRknowledge and other vertical market-specific configurations of its Intrablocks software.)

To complement HRknowledge, Gamp;&E’s HR department uses PeopleSoft’s (www.peoplesoft.com) HR application. Although it already used an ADP (www.adp.com) payroll application, Gamp;&E decided not to use ADP’s HR module, citing cost and functionality.

Since ENet went live, there have been significant changes in the way Gamp;&E employees work. HR workers used to fill out forms and send them to the payroll division, where they would be retyped into the payroll system. Using the single Intrablocks interface has eliminated the rekeying process, dramatically reducing errors and input time. As a result, Gamp;&E has added 1,000 associates in the last two-and-a-half years without hiring any additional staff.

ENet’s publishing features also save time and work. "We have probably 25 different kinds of documents, policies and guidelines," said Ristucci. Using Intrablocks, Gamp;&E workers can pick an HR category and update the information as PDF or Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or other formats "so we don’t get phone calls and have to E-mail the document to them," Ristucci said.

He is hesitant to project an ROI for the system, which has cost his company "in the neighborhood of $10 million to $12 million" over three years. "It’s extremely tough to put an ROI on the ability to contact other people in the organization much more easily," he said. "The ability to get at information we could never get at before, that’s a return."

For example, information on what customers are serving multiple markets was previously locked in one application, but now is available to anyone who might need it. The company’s decision to implement a new infrastructure that could run the business overshadowed any ROI concerns, Ristucci said.

Looking ahead, Gamp;&E eventually wants to move toward an employee self-service model. "Today the PeopleSoft system is largely held by a dozen or so people," Ristucci said. "We want to get it out to literally thousands of people, so they can get forms and update information, so managers can submit performance reviews."

One area targeted for improvement is the automation of business rules (workflow), a step which was skipped due to the rapid implementation. For example, calculating life insurance premiums according to base salary for a 100% commissioned salesperson involves lots of thought and definition before processing, according to Ristucci. "Things like that don’t sound big in the beginning, but now it’s, ‘Holy cow, how are we going to calculate this?’ " So far that issue hasn’t created many problems.

Ultimately Ristucci would like to automate most HR transactions. "If we hire a new person," he said, "that would trigger E-mails to the facilities manager saying, ‘We need a new space’ and to IT saying, ‘We need a new log-in for this person.’ There’s a million things you see every day."

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