Technology for Human Resources Management: Seven Questions and Answers

By Ashbaugh, Sam; Miranda, Rowan | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview
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Technology for Human Resources Management: Seven Questions and Answers


Ashbaugh, Sam, Miranda, Rowan, Public Personnel Management


Public management is slowly being transformed by information technology. Technology today is the driver of new government processes for dealing with citizens and suppliers. But it is also reshaping important functions and processes that only those inside government may care about such as accounting, payroll, and personnel administration. Taken together, the internal and external impact of new technologies is changing the way governments manage and make decisions.[1]

This article examines the current state and future trends in human resource management systems (HRMS). Such systems are related to a broader "digital government" effort that seeks to apply technology to streamline government processes. The underlying architecture for digital government is the Internet and integrated administrative management systems (which are more commonly known as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems). This article describes the technology and functional features of such systems and focuses specifically on the business benefits provided by the human resource management system (HRMS) components. Questions examined include:

* What are the challenging issues facing HRMS?

* What is the current state of HRMS technology?

* What is ERP? How is it related to HRMS?

* What are the major technology features of modern systems?

* What specific functions are encompassed by HRMS?

* What are the major business benefits of modern HRMS?

* What are some of the major risk factors in implementing HRMS solutions?

Challenges and State of HRMS Technology

Personnel administration, like most professions, is being challenged by a number of factors that impact traditional practices.[2] Some of the specific challenges include:

* Attracting, retaining, and motivating employees;

* Meeting the demands for a more strategic human resource (HR) function;

* Ensuring legal/regulatory compliance;

* Managing the "human element" of technological change;

* Shifting from a tactical (transaction processing) focus to facilitating strategic planning;

* Combating the perception that the HR function, while necessary, is not a "value-added" service in the public sector; and

* Addressing the push for increased performance and greater accountability in the public sector.

Advances in information technology hold the promise of meeting many of the challenges listed above. But what is the current state of HR technology applications in the public sector? Based on interviews and consulting experiences with state and local government organizations, the authors have identified the following types of approaches that governments have used to develop an HRMS.

Spreadsheets/Database Systems. HR managers often feel that their needs are an afterthought in the selection and design of systems (i.e., the needs of the financial, payroll, and purchasing areas are paramount). Because some financial management systems provide payroll functionality only, HR managers often find them inadequate and build custom solutions using spreadsheets or database applications. Such efforts may satisfy the needs of central HR but the data is not accessible to other departments, which in turn leads to the proliferation of additional departmental systems.

Homegrown Systems. Larger governments have custom built "homegrown" systems to meet their HRMS needs, particularly for payroll purposes. Just as is the case with homegrown financial systems, HRMS systems that are designed and built by a government's internal staff are often "set in stone." Changes in regulations, professional standards, or organizational restructuring can create demands for the collection and analysis of new information that homegrown systems cannot meet.

Specialized "Standalone" Applications. Whether utilized by itself or in conjunction with a central HR system, there are numerous software solutions designed for specialized personnel administration functions such as applicant tracking, compensation/benefits planning, skills/training/test results, time and attendance, and risk management, among others.

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