ServiceNow helps UK university graduate to HR success

Profile picture for user jmilne By Janine Milne March 30, 2015
Ditching Excel and standardizing job responsibilities lifts university’s HR department from the transactional to the strategic.


university bradford college graduate
“Response times were slow and paper forms felt like they were sent by carrier pigeon,” says Gary McFarlane, head of operational HR at the University of Bradford about the HR department’s ability to deal with employee enquiries.

Not the ideal situation to be in when you’re about to embark on a major cultural change program needing HR’s support. But just two months after going live with the ServiceNow platform to handle HR enquiries, McFarlane was happy to report at the HR Tech Europe conference that the carrier pigeons have left the building for good. In fact, he says:

We’ve probably moved forward about 10 years.

Before ServiceNow was launched at the end of January 2015, the HR team had been so mired in dealing with basic HR enquiries and paper-pushing that it impacted its ability to focus on more strategic issues.

It was equally tough for the 1,800 employees who needed to contact HR. Tracking down basic forms for flexible working or sickness was neither a quick or obvious task. Part of the problem was that the 45-strong HR department had a very flat structure. This meant that employees had no idea who they needed to contact in HR. Equally, it meant that fairly senior HR advisors were dealing with mundane enquiries.

While a lot of the information employees were looking for was actually available on the intranet, McFarlane admits that it wasn’t in the most palatable of forms:

We did have an intranet to offer information to staff. We’d put all policy documents and advice documents up there in some kind of order and hoped that employees might click on the right links and find what they were after.

We received a number of requests on ‘how do I request flexible working?’ Probably the reason why they were asking that enquiry was the flexible working policy is 10-pages deep, whereas now they can just type in that question on a search on the self-service portal and find out straight away.

This self-service element to the ServiceNow offering is key.  Staff can now find the e-forms they need themselves and send the completed form direct to HR without needing to print it off, saving a lot of time, energy and frustration.  It’s a 24/7 service and mobile-device friendly to make it even easier for staff.

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The ServiceNow portal contains a knowledge base of HR information which is constantly being updated. Rather than simply having a library of policy documents online which employees have to rifle through to find the information they’re after, staff just type a question on-screen and the relevant information will appear.  It’s an altogether “more intuitive” process, points out McFarlane.

So, with ServiceNow in place, the HR team has a central point of contact where staff can direct enquiries.  There are 10 HR advisors in the service centre, who deal with all kinds of basic enquiries about recruitment, flexibility working or contractual changes.

When an enquiry comes in, it is “triaged” so that timely issues are prioritized and assigned to one of these 10 advisors. If they are unable to answer it, then they escalate the enquiry, through ServiceNow, to a specific advisor or HR specialist. In some cases, enquiries are escalated all the way up to an HR business partner.

The university is encouraging staff to use the self-service portal as the first port of call for enquiries. Data from the first full month, February, reveals that the university had 1,976 enquiries and 45% of were handled through self-service without the intervention of an HR employee and McFarlane is sure this percentage will increase.

Given the fact that employees were ‘forced’ to use the system, the feedback so far has been extremely positive.  Some 87% of users are satisfied or very satisfied with the new system and 55% are very satisfied or satisfied with response times. McFarlane is convinced these figures will improve as HR employees add or improve answers on the knowledge base.

It’s difficult to compare response rates to its pre-ServiceNow days, because the HR department didn’t have a mechanism for measuring feedback before. Now there are two ways staff can comment. For simple answers pulled from the knowledge base or dealt with by front-line HR staff, employees give a star rating of 1 to 5 on the site and can leave comments.

If an enquiry is escalated, HR emails a survey answering five questions, covering areas such as the quality, response times and overall satisfaction levels into how the query was handled.

The new system certainly makes life easier for the employees hunting information or forms, but it also simplifies things for the HR team. McFarlane explains:

We had a number of different systems and spreadsheets and databases and there was no central logging of telephone enquiries and walk-in enquiries were not logged at all.

HR information had been kept on Excel spreadsheets. That meant that only one person could access the

uni bradford
University of Bradford

information at a time, information was spread over different spreadsheets and things got deleted. Now everything is one place and reports can be created in a couple of clicks. The senior HR team now have far more visibility into the kinds of issues that crop up the most and how quickly problems are dealt with. McFarlane observes:

For us, probably the most important aspect in some respects is that we now have a complete overview of all enquiries. We can look at topic hotspots and see areas of business interacting with HR more and we can also look at how we’re doing against SLA [service level agreement] arrangements.

Alongside dealing with employee enquiries, the university also uses ServiceNow for its HR case work.  The two areas are kept separate, so that while employees can track the progress of their queries, they cannot see the status of case work.

The university has pretty much used ServiceNow with only minor tweaking to make it suitable for handling case histories. McFarlane made sure that the system is very simple to use - no pull-down menus, just three ‘buttons’ for employees to choose from.  First is e-forms, where staff can download and fill in the forms they need, by pressing ‘get help’ they can request information and ‘tracking’, enables employee to see how their request is being handled.

HR is the first department in the university to roll out self-service, but the IT and estates departments will go live later this year. Finance and marketing are also looking closely at what’s going on.

Freed from incessant paper pushing, HR advisors now have the time to focus on more strategic HR initiatives and the university’s cultural change program. HR has moved from being transaction based to strategic.

McFarlane says:

The main aim is to free up senior HR support. We’re due to make large transformation in culture and did not have the HR support to do that. Now we have time in HR to do that – so that’s the biggest ROI for us.

My Take

This is one of those instances (still too rare) where implementing a piece of technology mutually benefits both those implementing the technology and the employees expected to use it. It shifts the HR department from the transactional to the strategic, freeing staff from endless paper shuffling. Employees know where, how and who to contact for HR information and forms. Simple.

Image credits: University of Bradford