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Rich KM and Web resources bolster human resources

At first glance, it seems as if human resources departments are prime candidates for knowledge management technology. They handle a great deal of routine paperwork, and a KM system can help a depleted HR staff keep on top of the deluge of documents. While it is true that KM can streamline the paper blizzard involved in managing employee data, the meaty applications for KM in HR go beyond the walls of the human resources department. Self-service human resources systems are popping up in corporations large and small, allowing employees to perform routine tasks such as change their address or check on their healthcare coverage.

These days, the technology components behind HR management have to be Web-enabled. Since many companies already use some form of an intranet to facilitate communication with employees, it is a natural evolution to move to HR systems that can be accessed by employees 24/7 by simply using a Web browser.

"The rise of the telecommuter has also driven many of the trends taking place in human resources technology today," says Jay Whitehead, founder, CEO and president of EmployeeService.com, a San Francisco-based provider of Web-based human resource management, benefits administration and payroll processing services.

"From a technology standpoint, self-service human resources management is very hard to do," he says. "You have to tie into a lot of different tools to pull out the kind of information the employee needs."

Another challenge, Whitehead points out, is getting users in the habit of taking charge of their own HR data. "To be effective, you have to train the users. You have to make it part of their daily routine," he says.

The rewards will be reaped by employees who will have access to the data they need to make informed decisions. "Employees can have instant access to all kinds of vital information, rather than having to make a phone call," he says.

The front-end, knowledge-based systems need to tie to the back-end human resources technology, however. Many users and technologists interviewed by KMWorld say that has been a critical challenge, but strides toward seamless integration are being made. . The benefits are clear, industry observers note. HR staff call centers are no longer inundated with routine questions that employees can answer themselves with just the click of a mouse.

KM-based systems can also help to ensure that a crucial piece of paperwork isn't overlooked. If, for example, an employee is adding a dependent, the system can be designed to present the employee with a series of questions and a list of documents that typically need updating when a new member of the household arrives.

And when those open enrollment periods for healthcare roll around, allowing employees to switch healthcare plans, the KM systems can enable employees to fill out the information electronically and route it to the human resources system. Unlike a paper document, electronic enrollment can be designed to prompt the user if he or she misses a vital "blank" on the form.

Beyond the paperwork management, KM-based systems can also manage employee training, keeping tabs on the skill levels of employees and scheduling additional training.

"We get a tremendous number of calls each month to our human resources call center, and a large number of those questions could be satisfied by giving employees access to the information," says Carol Johnson, manager of HR service center project management at Wells Fargo. Johnson works in the Phoenix office of the San Francisco-based bank. The bank is working toward installing a KM-based system from Authoria, and expects to bring the system online in the first quarter of next year.

"At first, employees will be able to log on individually and access information," she said, noting that the plan is to allow the employees to perform some transactions as well, although she is not certain how extensive that capability will be during the initial rollout.

"Employees place a high value at being able to do transactions themselves," she says. "Our employees will have multiple avenues to access information. It will not replace the service center. It will be another avenue, another resource. Just like the bank itself. There are multiple ways to do a transaction."

The system is expected to ease the flood of paperwork associated with the open enrollment period for choosing healthcare providers.

"During peak periods such as open enrollment, we often have to hire temporaries," Johnson explains.

Laundry List Alert Keeping track of documents that need to be filed when an employee has what HR professionals refer to as a "life event"--a birth, death, divorce--is another benefit of a knowledge-based HR system.

When you have a child, for example, you typically call the HR department," explains Gary McNeil, director of marketing and sales operations for Authoria. "You might want to know how to change the secondary beneficiary on 401. A knowledge-based system can prompt the employee with a laundry list of all the things they need to be aware of surrounding the birth or adoption of a child. The system can ask if they need to apply for a social security card, and if they do, then it can link the employee to an online application. Maybe they need a pediatrician within 10 miles of home who is a specialist in asthma. It could even pull up a map to see where the office is located."

Nick Messerschmidt, VP of human resource systems and services for Boston Scientific Boston Scientific, says that the ability to provide employees with a knowledge-based system to help them make decisions about their healthcare coverage and payroll deductions, among other transactions, is key.

"What is helpful is the extensive information that an employee is presented with surrounding a transaction," Messerschmidt says. "Being able to get comparisons on the fly to see the differences between choosing pre-tax or post-tax for medical benefits is relevant information we can provide our users with."

Boston Scientific uses HR technology from Interlynx and from Authoria.

Tracking skills and training Some users of KM-based HR systems note that the systems can go beyond the basic functions of managing HR documents to become a tool for tracking employee training and getting a better handle on overall worker skill levels.

Pete Perron, knowledge specialist for Avici, says the company is using a KM system to help train and deploy its staff, which installs Internet routers at customer sites.

"We have to ensure that we have the resources available for people to develop the competencies to do their jobs. We watch those competencies through our human capital management system," he says.

Avici is using a Web-based system from Entrinsik to manage its company's internal and external training schedules.

"We found there is a need for is knowledge management throughout the company," he says. "We have discovered more about the resources we have within the company and the pockets of knowledge we have within the company." The system can give a company a broad look at the skill set of the staff, according to Phillip Bunton, VP of sales and marketing for Entrinsik.

"You can look at the skills of your current staff and get an overview of the skills of the people you have and see if they match up with the direction the company is headed," he says. "You can see if you have to retrain or redeploy people."

A KM system can also ensure that employee skills are updated as required.

"If you take a certification test, the clock starts when you've completed the requirement as to when your skills will have to be updated again. The employee can get a reminder, and that reminder can go to a manager as well," Bunton explains.

Knowledge-based systems can also be used for prescreening potential employees to be sure they are proficient in the skills listed on their resumes.

"KM can help keep everyone honest," Bunton concludes.

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 609-448-7509, e-mail kimzimmermann@home.com.

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