Magazine article Personnel Journal

Keep HRIS Documentation on Track

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Keep HRIS Documentation on Track

Article excerpt

The role of documentation in teaching computer systems use has been compared to the role of the textbook in an academic course. Yet, documentation is training in many cases: No classroom training or day-to-day instructor is available to explain documentation the way college lecturers and instructors teach textbook material.

Computer systems documentation, moreover, often is far more elaborate than any textbook. It includes a range of formats and delivery media, from written manuals to on-line CBT (computer-based training), not feasible in the usual academic course. Additionally, computer documentation, because it's usually designed for one-on-one teaching, allows students to learn and reinforce that knowledge at a pace that economizes training time and assures individual learners aren't left behind as course material becomes more complex.

Whatever the format, effective documentation usually is characterized by two common features:

1) It's relevant to the installed system

2) It's audience-directed to people who have different relationships to the functioning HRIS.

A great deal happens to the validity of documentation between the time it's originally written and final implementation of the HRIS. Internally developed systems that take months, or even years, to develop may be virtually unrecognizable in documentation written in the early stages of the project. Likewise, if a vendor package is extensively modified to meet company-specific needs, revisions are required that reflect the nature and extent of code and procedural modification.

One of the most important reasons for completing all documentation at the time a system is installed (and not six months later) is that the system is rarely installed without some level of modification, code or procedural changes that aren't covered in the packaged system's documentation or anticipated by original developers. At the time of HRIS implementation, the reasons for these changes are fresh in the personnel professionals' minds.

Several months later, the people who installed the HRIS may not be available to rewrite documentation. Turnover is high in the HRIS profession, and companies typically shift staff resources around after the completion of a labor-intensive project, such a HRIS development. Moreover, there's a natural tendency among many of the most intellectually vigorous systems professionals and personnel mangers to walk away -- literally or figuratively --once the long documentation cycle is finished.

The importance of currency in systems documentation is magnified by the close link between systems documentation and training. New users are helped immeasurably by up-to-date, comprehensively inclusive documentation and are seriously confounded by incomplete or ineffectively added-on documentation.

The second important characteristics of good HRIS documentation is that it must be directed specifically to different audiences who have various roles in HRIS environments. Again, this is easier to accomplish during or immediately after system installation when those professionals most familiar with the HRIS are still available.

Documentation in the form of managers' manuals, general overviews of system capabilities, procedures and benefits as a management tool are best written while the original goals of the new HRIS are fresh in the developers' minds. The HRIS project team, which prepared cost/benefit justification data and outlined the systems' potential as a decision-support tool, is accessible during installation, and the team's perspective in managers' manuals shouldn't be lost.

All forms of documentation should be developed according to the needs of the HRIS environment and user community in a specific organization. Choices as to forms, whether written manuals, on-line documentation or some combination of paper and electronic documentation, is affected by such environmental factors as the number and computer literacy levels of users, their locations, the need to update documentation and the type of training to be provided. …

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