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HR on the Go!

Companies are increasing productivity and efficiency by transferring employee-related processes to apps.
By Sonal Khetarpal | Print Edition: August 14, 2016
HR on the go!
Photo: Ajay Thakuri

For most employees, travelling on work requires more than just completing the assignment successfully. There is also the task of painstakingly collecting and submitting to the office all the receipts of expenses incurred on the trip. Lose any of the receipts and the amount spent is unlikely to be reimbursed. "On a 15-day long trip, I would end up with 40-50 food bills and another 30-40 cab receipts. I carried a bag just to put all those pieces of paper in," says a 30-year-old consultant at HCL Technologies, who does not want to be identified. "It was such a hassle."

No longer. HCL has created 14 apps, all of which are available on its 'Go Mobile' platform and can be downloaded by employees, each one for a different employee purpose. There is the time management app, the leave management app, the domestic transport app, the global claims app, and more. "When I'm on tour, I just need to click a photograph of each bill as it is presented to me and upload it to the office using the global claims app," she says. "It can all be done in real time, using just my smartphone." She has downloaded five of the 14 apps that are relevant to her functioning.

Overall, according to HCL, over 10 million transactions by more than 55,000 users have been carried out with the Go Mobile platform. And HCL is hardly the only one - more and more companies are putting up apps, which integrate their employee-related processes. It is not just about making the company's intranet mobile-friendly, but also about putting all the processes that employees might need to access as part of their daily work life on apps. "In many organisations, each of the different HR processes are standalone," says S.V. Nathan, Partner and Chief Talent Officer, Deloitte India. "It's high time these were integrated so that everything is seamless and instantaneous, and geared to providing a positive experience to employees."

Young people, in particular, are conditioned to using apps and fret if they are not available. "Around 70 per cent of our workforce is below 30," says Prithvi Shergill, Chief HR Officer, HCL Technologies. "It was our employees who pushed us in this direction." Some young people have actually quit companies where they found HR processes archaic. "There is a 26-year-old former colleague who left his current organisation in 18 months, because of lack of the latest HR tools," says Nathan of Deloitte. "He said, 'This is a company still living in the 1990s, and I can't take it anymore.'" Conversely, if relevant apps are made available, they incentivise the younger employees. "The shift to mobile points to a bigger trend where companies are moving from one-point employee engagement activities to providing an environment where employees want to come to work every day," says Shergill.

Digitalising HR

Which HR processes are being digitalised? "They are essentially seven: attendance, reimbursement, payroll, helpdesk, performance appraisal, training and assessment, and company surveys," says Pankaj Bansal, Co-founder of HR tech company PeopleStrong. While many companies such as HCL have separate apps for each, PeopleStrong, in May this year, launched a single app that can handle these seven processes on the same platform. The app has already been adopted by companies such as Wipro, Snapdeal and CarDekho. "It will help HR departments consolidate their backend," says Bansal. "Usually, HR departments deal with multiple vendors for each of these functions, as a result of which, in large companies, simple reimbursements take 30-50 days to settle. With an HR app, it takes just two or three days."

But be it one app or several, these new enablers are helping employees complete their HR-related tasks on-the-go, since they can do on the mobile, instead of allotting extra hours to them in the office. A study by the US-based ADP Research Institute shows that the chances of employees accessing salary-related information through mobiles is 60 per cent higher than through laptops or desktops. "Mobile is a platform that encourages people to interact with it," says Nathan. "It is a dynamic interface and has brought about the biggest change till now in HR delivery."

Talent assessment and analytics firm Jombay launched two offerings - one related to feedback and the other to talent assessments - as apps on mobile six months ago. "Our clients wanted it that way," says Co-founder Mohit Gundecha. Since the apps were launched, Jombay's clients have found a 30 per cent increase in the number of applicants taking their assessment tests. "That is because the tests can be done on-the-go," adds Gundecha. "Also, our apps enable companies to communicate notifications, information about vacancies, updates on applications, etc., instantaneously to their potential talent pool."

Meetings can also be held on-the-move, which is a great help for employees of global companies working in different time zones. Sapient India, for example, has a video conferencing app through which employees can dial in from any device. "Earlier, our employees would sometimes have to sit in office late, or come in very early to access the network and take part in video conferences," says Kameshwari Rao, Vice President, People Strategy, Sapient India. "This app gives them the flexibility to join the conference call from anywhere. Since it is on our network, it is safe - no third-party software is used. And there is no need to remember dial-in numbers and extension codes."

Company Play Stores

Like HCL, a number of large companies has developed entire catalogues of apps, which are put up on the companies' mobile store - similar to Google Play Store - from which an employee can download the ones she needs. Sapient, for instance, has SapientStore, which hosts 12 apps, all built in-house. IBM, similarly, has a range of apps - Manager's Hub (through which managers can get details of their team members and contact them instantly), ACE (Appreciation, Coaching, Evaluation), Blue Thanks (wherein employees informally laud their colleagues), and more. "The ACE app was created in-house and is used in performance reviews," says D.P. Singh, Vice President-HR (India/South Asia) IBM.

A manager at IBM's Noida office, who does not want to be identified, is particularly pleased with another app. "The social media app called 'Connections' has helped me reduce overall e-mail communication time significantly," he says. "A single message or update put up on the project's page is immediately available to everyone across the globe involved in the project. The page also makes it easier to assign tasks to team members."

Not only employees - HR apps help employers, too. "They enable us to get feedback regularly from employees," says Shergill of HCL. "Instead of the annual employee engagement survey we earlier had, we now carry out employee surveys at every trigger - say, when a manager changes or at the end of a project or training period." They also lead to greater transparency. "We bill clients according to the number of hours our employees spend on the client's project," says Rao of Sapient India. "Since logging in and out of the system is now possible through our employees' mobiles, there is greater accuracy and fairness in determining the time spent. It also helps to determine each employee's productivity and ensure fairer bonuses. The work hours can also be more easily approved by managers."

Most importantly, there is the cost benefit. The indirect cost benefits of HR apps are obvious: increased engagement by employees, better employee experience and many man-hours saved. But there are also direct ones. Setting up and maintaining an ERP system on office premises, as well as periodically upgrading it, involves huge costs. These are all eliminated if a cloud-based ERP system on the mobile is employed. "The average employee-related mobile app cost ranges between Rs 500 and Rs 2,500 per user per year," says Gundecha of Jombay.

Challenges

But creating mobile apps, which catch employees' fancy, also calls for imagination. "Companies need to think about how consumption on mobile is different from that on the web," adds Gundecha. Mobile content has to be in the form of byte-sized snippets, which do not take more than three to five minutes to read. Longer content is more suited for laptops and desktops - if web content is blindly pasted on mobile, it is unlikely to enthuse. Thus it is that the mobile apps of, say, Facebook or LinkedIn are very different from their web versions.

Indeed, some HR apps have not worked as well as they should have. "Some of IBM's apps aren't as great as their web interface," says the Noida-based IBM manager. "There are certain lags. Earlier, for instance, it was possible to announce a meeting through the relevant app, but not to cancel it, though that lacuna has since been rectified. The apps are works-in-progress and more features keep being added every month." Another challenge is integrating the app created with existing systems in the company, which requires a good deal of time, money and energy. HR and IT departments have to work in tandem to bring about integration across the organisation.

Some companies develop their HR apps in-house, while others buy the platform from third parties. Jason Averbook, author of book HR from Now to Next: Reimagining the Workplace of Tomorrow, feels that while many companies buy ready-to-use platforms, they should also consider building apps in-house, which tie together all of their applications according to the needs of the organisation. "It is experience that drives engagement and not vice versa," he says.

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