Nationwide takes hybrid approach to HR IT

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne February 14, 2016
The UK building society keeps one HR foot firmly on-premise while reaching for the cloud, with Oracle PeopleSoft and Fusion.

Neil Lewis
Neil Lewis

It all started with a birthday cake.

I was following this recipe for what I thought would be a fantastic Victoria sponge and I got to this step and I didn’t have a clue what to do. I picked up my iPad and YouTubed and found a short 15-second video which told me exactly what I needed to do.

It got me thinking about tools you and I take for granted and why we don’t have them in work: why don’t we all give YouTube videos to employees and managers when they get stuck in simple transactions instead of having to call the HR call center.

Which is exactly what Nationwide Building Society has done, according to Neil Lewis, head of employee services. But these video shorts are just one element in a massive HR technology refresh, which has seen the world’s largest building society keep one foot in the on-premise camp and flex the other out into the cloud.

Nationwide has been using Oracle PeopleSoft HCM customer since 2002, but the software has been significantly tweaked and fiddled with since then. Lewis explains:

We had some really, really customized systems. If we could customize it, we did. That meant we had a really, really complex IT architecture.

To get things like simple data on our people – who are our top talent and what are we rewarding them – we weren’t able to get that. Because we had all these different systems and – dare I say spreadsheets – and databases, it was just a really, really complex landscape.

Nationwide's PeopleSoft v9 implementation was coming to the end of its licence. In the past, notes Lewis, the company would have responded tactically, either by automatically upgrading to the next version or seeking a best-in-class system to meet a business need.

But the time had come to think more strategically about its HR IT, says Lewis:

We’d never taken a step back and said, ‘Actually, what is it we want from our IT what is it we need IT to do? Not just from an HR, but an organizational point of view?'.

Strategic thinking

The strategic imperatives it came up with were to strip out some of this complexity and the cost of maintaining such heavily-customized systems. It also wanted to consolidate its IT and remove some manual processes, while still keeping to its regulatory requirements.

Although Nationwide did review SAP and Workday as part of this process, in the end it decided to stick with Oracle and protect the investment it has already made in its PeopleSoft system.

Recognizing the power of cloud technology, the company decided to take a hybrid approach, keeping its on-premise Peoplesoft system and combining and augmenting that with Oracle’s cloud-based talent system. The aim long term is to move more or perhaps all its HR into the cloud. Lewis points out:

Because we’d customized PeopleSoft so heavily, to put everything into the cloud where you can’t customize anything was just a step too far for the company to take – we’d go from one end of the spectrum to the other, so we decided to go for this half-way house.

Lewis gave it the full campaign treatment: bunting, T-shirts, a Twitter campaign and a slew of other internal marketing initiatives to push home the idea that this was a highly strategic initiative rather than a simple upgrade.

So far, two of the four stages – implementing PeopleSoft 9.2 and the helpdesk – are live. The full project will be completed in six months when Fusion Talent and business analytics will be up and running. 

Nationwide is already reaping many benefits from the transformation, but it hasn’t been a bump-free ride, notes Lewis:

Projects are like dating: ups and downs, disappointments, highs and lows.

One of the key planks of the transformation was transforming the product from highly customized back to vanilla, cutting maintenance costs in the process.  Although Lewis anticipated some resistance from users, he was surprised from which direction this came:

We always thought that it would be the business that would object to us changing some of our customizations and the way our self-service works. No, it was HR. They were the most difficult bunch to tell, ‘you’ve got to let go of this customization’. But we did it.

And the results have been impressive with 56% of customizations stripped from the system.

Making things simple for users is a key aspect of the transformation. One area where this was particularly important was self-service. Although the company had introduced self-service back in 2008, it had underestimated how much help employees would need using the system. As result, 80% of transactions went wrong.

Self-service now is much improved and HR has also rewritten the HR intranet, making it easy for employees to be able to find the answers to their questions without having to call the HR helpdesk.

The manager approval process is also much simpler. In the past, managers had to log onto PeopleSoft to approve an employee claim or request. Now, managers can approve on the move, using their mobile devices, something that has provided “real agility”, notes Lewis, with 25% of approvals now carried out this way.

Similarly, rather than send a form off to HR and hope it gets sorted, managers have real-time information on where their e-forms are in a particular process.

And, of course, Lewis has seen his 'bake-a-cake'-inspired video aids go live. Over the last year, the series of three or four minute help videos have notched up 7,000 hits. These videos not only show people what to do, but importantly, they also explain the reasons why HR needs to know that information.

Employees are also keen on using web chat to speak to HR, and Lewis advises other companies to consider implementing it because employees love using it:

It’s not really given me any commercial benefit – it takes it takes me much longer to solve a web chat query, but it’s more modern and our employees absolutely love web chat.

The new system seems to be making employees and managers’ lives easier, but it also stacking up in terms of cost savings. Lewis points out that the company has saved £978,000 over five years by renegotiating our licence with Oracle. Using shared services has cut £120,000 a year.

But the main benefit is happy customers, says Lewis:

It really is making employees’ jobs easier every day; it’s making managers jobs easier every day and creating that agility in our operation that we really wanted.

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