Jaguar Land Rover put HR in the cloud. Here's what it learned

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 27, 2016
Two years ago, car maker Jaguar Land Rover set out to standardize its HR in the cloud. Here's what it learned about converging processes, data and teams

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Two years ago, British car maker Jaguar Land Rover set out to replace a highly decentralized set of local HR functions with a single shared service for its 36,000 UK employees. With its new SAP SuccessFactors applications deployed from the cloud, the team initially foresaw a rapid implementation, says Nicola Brown, senior HR manager, speaking in a session at this week's HR Tech World Congress in Paris:

When we embarked on this journey, we really believed we could do it all in less than twelve months. We understood that deploying the technology could happen pretty quickly if we knew what we wanted, and we knew what our processes were.

But we'd never done this before in JLR, so it was a really big journey. The reality was that we needed to take a bit more time, but we've still done it within about two and a half years end-to-end.

What slowed it down was not the technology, but the need to reconcile processes and data that turned out to be more diverse than the team had initially realized, she explains.

Two years ago, we didn't have any processes documented at all for HR. That was a massive journey for us, documenting what we do, making that standardized.

[It was] a huge change journey for our HR function as well. Getting hundreds of people who have done it their own way for a long time to agree on a standard way of doing something was one of the things that took a long period of time for us.

Massive transformation

Dozens of process design workshops later, the implementation began in pilot a year ago and went into production earlier this year for all UK employees. All HR processes are managed in SuccessFactors, and there's a cloud-based SAP ticketing and case management system that's plugged into employee master records. Information that was previously hidden away in policy documents on a Sharepoint site has been rewritten and made available in an employee portal, providing self-service content and information for employees and managers.

The biggest journey here was actually not about the technology. This was a massive transformation, to rewrite all of our advice and guidance to employees, make it accessible, make it open, and then leave them to go find the answers themselves ...

Previously line HR teams would use their own answer based on their own knowledge. We've now pulled together an enormous bank of questions. I think we've got about two thousand repeatable, regular questions, some of them quite complex, and standard answers that our shared service center use and grow every single day so that they can answer questions quicker, and then we can put more content on our self-service portal. It's been a real evolution, using that technology to get people to self-serve.

Technology has helped us make that change, but it’s what we’ve put in that technology, and how we've used it, and the behaviors that we've changed, that's taken us on that journey.

'We thought our data was good'

Some of the challenges along the way included accommodating a wide variety of historic terms and conditions within the cloud system; adding the ability for factory workers to access the system from their own devices; and matching up data, which has taken up "over a third" of the project team's resources, says Brown.

Data's been a really interesting journey for us. We had great aspirations at the start of this journey, that buying this wonderful technology will fix the world. We'll put it in, and suddenly, we will have more information about our workforce, we can make far better decisions using that data, we'll have analytics that tell us what's going on. It really was something we underestimated at the beginning how much, as an HR function, we needed to invest in that journey.

We thought our data was pretty good. We found very quickly that we had a 10% mismatch between the data in our HR system and the data in our payroll system, and that was everything from name, address to grade and pay.

This was not an IT problem, she explains, but down to how people were using the systems. For example, a payroll administrator might see a £6,000 pay rise come through and change it to £600 on the assumption it was an error, but without checking back with the originator.

It was a big activity to cleanse our data rather than assume it was good. Then it's a real mindset shift to mastering our data — being clear what is held in which system, what it's telling us and what we want to do with it.

3 lessons learned

As so often during this project, it was how people in the business were working with technology that needed attention, rather than the technology itself. Summing up lessons learned from the project, this is top of mind for Brown:

Don't underestimate the scale of the business side of the effort. It's not about just turning on technologies. It's about delivering that scale of change to the organization, working out what you as an HR function are trying to do. You'll get as much out of that journey and those products as you put in as a business.

A second takeaway is to recognize that the project never really comes to an end. Even though Jaguar Land Rover is now in the final phase of its SuccessFactors implementation, currently rolling out compensation, learning and analytics, the team is already considering what comes next.

The journey is just continuing now. We now have these products and these capabilities, but we now know more about what we want to do with them that might not be exactly the same as we thought when we put them in. So we're constantly redesigning, re-engineering, making it better for the end user and still streamlining processes.

Her final point emphasizes the importance of building cross-functional teams to ensure a successful outcome:

How we got there was really dependent on a program team that worked together, breaking down those silos that often happen between technology experts, business experts, process experts. I think the most successful parts of our program have been when we've joined those people together, somehow managed to translate and talk the same language on a few things but work together to that single end goal.

My take

Jaguar Land Rover is to be congratulated on sharing its learnings from a successful project to put HR in the cloud so that others can prepare themselves to follow its lead. The issues it encountered are common themes when enterprises move to cloud and digital platforms.

This realization that it's so much more than a technology change is a recurring theme, and not only for HR. Standardizing on global processes where these used to be locally determined is a particularly tough change management issue that must be grasped.

Data mismatches are equally prevalent. Investing in analytics and data science is all the rage at the moment, but most enterprises first of all have to get their data into shape before these technologies can yield useful insights. Few realize the extent to which their staff are using workarounds and sticking plaster to patch over discrepancies between the data held in different systems.

Many of these discontinuities are due to the functional stovepipes that enterprises have traditionally worked within. Now that we can connect across those functions, it becomes necessary to converge processes and data stores so that they can work more fluidly together. That's why Brown's final word of advice on working in cross-functional teams is so valuable. IT or HR can't handle this alone — these projects must be owned in partnership with the business if they are to be successful.

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