Shelly Bancroft is leading a massive technology overhaul at the insurance giant

Technology brings employees the Hartford Experience: Shelly Bancroft is leading a massive technology overhaul at the insurance giant

Maryann Hammers

The way Shelly Bancroft sees it, human resources and company success are inextricably linked–and technology is the glue binding the two. As assistant vice president of human resources information systems at the Hartford, Bancroft is responsible for the human resources department’s automation strategy. She is now heading up a massive three-year technology initiative to consolidate and bring online the company’s various HR systems.

Known internally as “e-HR,” the initiative, which is based on human capital management applications made by PeopleSoft, is expected to boost productivity and efficiency, and, over the long term, reduce costs. But Bancroft’s overriding goal is to align the Hartford’s human capital with the company’s key business objectives, while shifting the human resources department from an administrative to a strategic role.

The original impetus for the initiative was a branding strategy called The Hartford Experience, which refers to the $15.1 billion financial service and insurance company’s promise to provide solutions to problems, make it easy for customers to conduct business, and deliver superior service. It makes sense that employees will be more likely to deliver that kind of positive experience to customers if their own encounters with the company are equally glowing. With that in mind, the human resources department sought ways to extend the Hartford Experience to its 27,000 workers.

Bancroft saw technology as key to achieving that goal. “Our employees’ experiences with HR transactions should reinforce the message that we want to deliver to our external customers,” she says. “Through technology, we can maximize each employee’s contribution and strengthen their Hartford experience, so they’ll be in a better position to serve customers.”

A veteran of both human resources and technology, Bancroft has been with the Hartford for 20 years and in her current position for six. She started out in information technology and business analysis, and over the course of her career has developed computer applications and managed IT departments and information centers. She moved to human resources in 1989, during a time when HR technology tended to revolve around ad hoc reporting, program development, and technical work.

Today the field of HRMS–and Bancroft’s role in it–is far more comprehensive and vital. And as the human resources department becomes a strategic player, Bancroft faces the challenge of developing systems that support the Hartford’s mission and brand.

The e-HR initiative, which has been under way for about 18 months and is halfway complete, includes upgrading HR information systems from a manual to a Web-based operation; developing a new hardware infrastructure to support the upgraded systems; implementing customized functions aimed at managers; constructing a data warehouse; and using analytic tools to measure HR functions such as staffing, compensation, talent management, and training.

Rolling out a comprehensive array of employee and manager self-service capabilities was the first step, which is mostly complete. Now workers have quick, easy access to their employment, personnel, and benefit information. They can update their personal data, view their compensation history, refer friends to jobs, apply for open positions within the company, complete a profile of their skills, and automatically receive e-mail alerts of job openings that match their profile.

Managers also can maintain correct listings of employees who report to them; change reporting relationships; view their employees’ compensation history; manage and plan employees’ total compensation, including salary, bonuses, and incentives; create requisitions for new positions; and submit compensation changes–all from the desktop.

“Just look at what it takes to process an address change in the old world versus the Web world,” Bancroft says. “In the past, it was time-consuming for employees to make an address-change request. Now they have it at their fingertips. They just click on a link and make the change.”

Such applications can save not only time and frustration but money as well, according to a PeopleSoft return-on-investment calculator that compares costs of business processes before and after deployment of self-service applications. “Most organizations see a 50 to 75 percent reduction in transaction costs,” says Jason Averbook, director of global product marketing for HCM at PeopleSoft. “For example, each call on a typical help desk costs around $30. But using a Web-based self-service system, each transaction costs around 10 cents.”

Self-service applications lead to fewer errors, more accurate data, and quicker access to information. “Instead of having just HR responsible, now the whole workforce is interacting with business processes in real time,” Averbook says. “Employees have access to the information they need when they need it.”

But despite the convenience, transitioning from a manual to an online way of doing business is a “tremendous culture shift,” Bancroft says. “Change management was our biggest challenge.” To introduce the new capabilities to employees, the Hartford offered training programs, including “employee expos,” during which the HR staff demonstrated the new applications. “We wanted to make people comfortable with the change and get them excited about it, so we showed how it will directly benefit them,” Bancroft says. “That went a long way in ensuring our success.”

Bancroft’s current challenge is building an integrated data warehouse to store and manage HRMS data and link it with the company’s financial, customer, and contractor systems. Such a consolidated system will eliminate the need for ongoing IT maintenance and training for multiple systems. More important, once the data warehouse is complete, HR staff and managers will have desktop access to powerful analytic tools and will be able to slice, dice, drill down, and delve into data for in-depth analysis, as well as measure effectiveness of HR programs and obtain better insight into workforce performance.

“Once this foundation is in place, we will be positioned to look at data analytically and focus on results, measurements, and metrics,” Bancroft says. “For example, we’ll be able to tie competencies to job openings, compensation, and performance management. We can create scorecards with job objectives, which can drive total compensation. Learning events, such as training, classes, online resources, and reading materials, can be linked to competencies, helping employees strengthen the skills they need to advance. From a management perspective, it makes sense to tie everything together.”

Such a system will help executives quickly see if key performance indicators–such as head count, compensation, or ethnicity ratios–are on track or out of whack, Averbook says. “Instead of flat reporting, it can deliver instant, real-time alerts if data is not consistent with the company’s goals, and it shows metrics in the user-friendly form of red, yellow, or green lights. For HR to be strategic, it needs to see more than static data. It needs to see how people affect customers and the company’s finances. It needs to see how competencies, skills, and education interact.”

Linking the systems will also help managers and HR staff get new workers on board as quickly as possible, Bancroft says. “As soon as a new hire accepts a job offer, a ‘hire record’ will be automatically created, which will trigger identifications, equipment procurement, and all the other steps necessary to help the new employee be productive from day one?”

The Hartford would not divulge the cost figures involved in its e-HR initiative, saying the information was “proprietary.” But according to PeopleSoft, such a massive undertaking could cost several million dollars, depending on how many applications are being licensed, the organization’s revenue, and its number of employees.

However, the resulting gains in productivity and efficiency, along with fewer expenses for printing and distributing pay stubs and various employment forms, decreased time and costs for recruiting and hiring, and savings on anticipated redeployment of HR staffers, will more than make up for the e-HR costs, Bancroft says.

“At the beginning of the e-HR process, we conducted a detailed analysis of each human resource transaction to measure the productivity we would realize. We looked at how many people were involved with a transaction–for example, employee, manager, administrative assistant, HR specialist–and how much time was devoted to each step,” she says. “We could prove there would be huge productivity gains by shifting from a manual world to a Web-based one, and that was the biggest seller [to the company’s leaders].”

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Maryann Hammers is a freelance writer based in Westlake Village, Calif.

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