Cloud HR powers race for athletic prosthetics champions

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman October 20, 2016
Ossur Technologies, an Icelandic manufacturer of non-invasive orthopaedics equipment, has upped its investment in cloud-based HR as it expands into new territories.

Earlier this month, on the 8 October, some 400 athletes from around the world who wear robotic prosthetics gathered in Zurich to participate in the world’s first ‘Cybathlon’, a showcase of the very latest in assistive technologies.

The one-day event, which attracted an audience of 4,600 people, was the brainchild of Robert Riener, a professor of sensory-motor systems at ETH Zurich [the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a major STEM university]. Its aim was to inspire developers to create technologies that provide real support to people with disabilities.

Unlike the Paralympics, many of the events in which Cybathlon competitors took part reflect challenges they face on a daily basis, with challenges including meal preparation and negotiating staircases, for example. And unlike the Paralympics, which bans powered prostheses, the use of these technologies was actively encouraged.

On the day, the team representing Ossur Technologies, an Icelandic manufacturer of non-invasive orthopaedics equipment, dominated the lower-limb competition, scooping the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in the Leg Prostheses Race.

Team Ossur’s performance in the Powered Arm Prosthesis Race wasn’t too shabby either, with arm amputee Claudia Breidbach taking Bronze. This is significant, because Ossur, founded in 1971, is best-known for its work on lower-limb technologies and Breidbach was wearing a prosthetic arm manufactured by Touch Bionics, a company that Ossur only acquired earlier this year.

It’s acquisitions like this, along with organic growth, that have seen Ossur expand rapidly to employ around 2,300 people across 35 locations in 20 countries, raising some complex recruitment challenges along the way, according to Gudrun Margret Hannesdottir, IT business domain manager for HR systems at Ossur:

It’s been quite an interesting time for us as we move into hands and arms and continue to expand. Most of our production work is now carried out in Iceland, Mexico and Asia and we’ve been moving into unfamiliar markets where we need to get acquainted with the skills and talents there. Especially in new, emerging markets such as India, China and South America, our company is not that well-known, so we need to rely on recruitment agencies in these markets. This, of course, is a cost to our business, so what we’ve wanted to do is find ways to use technology to reduce hiring costs in other regions and make our company more accessible to candidates in general.

New directions

Since Ossur has to make itself attractive to potential new hires who may not have ever heard of the company before, there’s been a concerted effort on better employer branding over the past five years, she says, and implementing a recruiting system from Workday in 2015 was a key milestone in that effort. The system went live on 1 July last year, and was an add-on to Ossur’s previous 2012 implementation of Workday’s HCM and performance management modules. Says Hannesdottir:

Adding recruitment was basically Phase 2 for us, following the scope that we decided on back in 2012. Now, we’re moving into Phase 3, where we’re adding talent management and compensation management. We see this as a gradual journey, where we add new modules as we need them.

The initial focus for the addition of the recruitment modules was the territories in which Ossur was handling the most applicants: Iceland, Europe and the US. Before that, recruitment managers were working on separate systems in each region:

So the biggest change for recruiters has been the ability to track, screen and hire applicants through a single system. In the past, they had to share data with recruiters in other countries using Microsoft Sharepoint. Now, they can access directly from wherever they are to see what applications are coming in, to extend the final date of hiring for a particular position and so on. And candidates internationally are directed immediately to our careers site through Facebook, job sites and many other places. It’s just much more professional, less time-consuming for us. We’re not losing applications and we’re slowly reducing our reliance on agencies, although that’s something we continue to work on.

Talent management for us is all part of this puzzle, helping us to link up the process from ‘hire to retire’. What’s important to us now is that when we hire someone, the employee profile we have on them is much better than it used to be in the past. We have all their background information - their education, experience, skills - and this is something that, with talent management, we can build on as a company. We’re implementing talent review, succession planning, tracking in-house training, languages spoken and certification registration, so we know the profile of our workforce and how we can get the most out of its many talents.

That’s important, she adds, because Ossur employs a very diversified workforce. Production employees may join the company in its manufacturing operations with relatively little previous experience and learn the necessary skills on the job. Many of the company’s engineers, especially on the R&D team, have worked in other sectors and this experience can be applied in innovative ways to the benefit of patients. And CPOs (in this context, it stands for Certified Prosthetist/Orthotist) not only need qualifications to engage in the role of working with doctors and fitting prostheses and braces to individual patients, but also are much in demand on a global basis.

These staff and others will be needed in large numbers if Ossur is to continue expanding in the way that it has done in recent years - and, of course, if it is to sweep the medals table at the next Cybathlon, scheduled for 2020.

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