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By November 2005, Grand River Hospital, in Kitchener, Ontario, was no longer printing pay stubs for its 2,650 employees. They could see them on their personal, secure Employee Self-Service (ESS) web pages, and if they wished, print copies for themselves.

The electronic pay stubs were saving the hospital $12,500 a year in paper, envelope, printing, labor and delivery costs, and this was just one of the four ESS features that Grand River was rolling out in three judicious phases. In all, the four features were confidently expected to save the hospital $43,500 a year, and as Lars Pastrik, Grand River's senior HR consultant for systems and planning, told the 2005 NOW Solutions users conference, in Orlando, Florida, this would add up to $195,500 over five years, after the Year One cost of $12,000 was deducted.

Shortly before the conference, Pastrik said, "ESS has also saved time. We're no longer printing pay stubs and [that and other time savers] allow us to focus our efforts on what we should be doing. The HR staff, myself included, can do more work for our managers and employees."

About 40 miles west of Toronto, Kitchener and the nearby towns of Waterloo and Cambridge form what they call Canada's Technology Triangle. Microsoft has hired more than 350 graduates and 1,100 interns from the University of Waterloo's superb math, computer science and engineering departments. Not surprisingly, the region abounds with high-tech firms, one of the more notable of which, Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, is a five-minute drive from Grand River Hospital's primary facility, the Kitchener-Waterloo Health Centre.

The decision
Grand River's search for a new system had begun in 2002, with the issuing of an RFP.

"Our old DOS-based system was being sunset, and we were looking for an employee-scheduling/HRIS payroll solution," Lars Pastrik explained. "We received quite a large response, and when we whittled it down, the best overall fit was the combination of NOW Solutions' emPath HRIS with TCT's ESP product, which was the staff scheduling. It met the requirements from all sides, because ESP was probably the most robust staff-scheduling system out there. TCT was recently acquired by Kronos, but our scheduling system is still called ESP."

emPath is what is called a best-of-breed system. ESP is also best-of-breed. That is, it is made and constantly being improved by a company that does nothing else -- as opposed to firms that sell ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, which do everything from HR and financials to warehouse inventory, but rarely do more than a few of them well.

As NOW Solutions' president and CEO, Marianne Franklin, explained in a 2005 article, until recently, it could be argued that organizations had to buy ERP systems, even if several best-of-breed systems better met their individual departments' needs, because these systems couldn't talk to one another. "But all that has changed. With XML and web-based solutions, it's now possible (and generally less costly) for each department to select the system that's best for it, and the new technology will enable these best-of-breed systems to talk to one another. Typically, users have a simple portal, which easily lets them into the portions of their own departments' systems and those of other departments to which they are entitled to go. To them, it's all one system."

In short, Grand River decided to go with two best-of-breeds. The decision to acquire emPath entailed visits to hospitals that were already using the system by Pastrik and about seven colleagues from scheduling, information services, HR and payroll. The tours included the Royal Ottawa Hospital and hospitals in Toronto.

The Grand River team also saw what NOW calls scripted demonstrations of emPath's capabilities. As John Malcolm, NOW's accounts manager, explained, "We call them scripted demos, because prospective clients tell us what they want to see. We say, Give us your toughest problems and the relevant info and we'll show you how we'll solve them. That's always been a great advantage for us."

Of course, before Employee Self-Service could be rolled out, emPath itself had to be installed. The version then on the market was emPath 6.2. Each implementation is different, but Grand River was not a particularly complex job, though it did have its wrinkles.

"Our largest hospital client is Sunnybrook, in Toronto, which has 12,000 staff," John Malcom said. "Our biggest health-care provider is a chain of long-term care facilities spread all over the U.S. and Canada. When they decided to go with emPath, in 1997, they had 5,000 employees, but were growing fast. Nine months later, when emPath went live, they had 15,000 employees. Today, they have over 180 sites and well over 30,000 staff and over 150 bargaining units, each with its own pay schedule and so forth."

Grand River had only six bargaining units. But regardless of the number of employees and different compensation scales and other payroll variables, emPath can both handle them all and adjust to changes to the variables without the client having to purchase often costly upgrades. The reason for this is that, in most systems, the calculation programs are hard-coded, and the client has to ask the vendor to make all but the most minor changes. emPath, on the other hand, has Formula Builder, which enables users to easily change the calculations themselves.

The Grand River job had three interesting wrinkles. First, the scheduling system was being implemented at the same time as emPath. Second, the ESP/emPath interface had to be configured to meet Grand River's needs.

The third wrinkle involved one of the features that Grand River required and resulted in a big improvement to emPath's Position Control functionality and became part of the system's basic package.

ESS Phase 1
During the emPath implementation, it was decided to roll out Pay Stubs first, along with two Manager Self-Service (MSS) features. The first was on-line access to such staff information as salary history, leave balances and skills, education and licenses. The second enabled mangers to issue job requisitions on-line.

Denton Harryman, a software consultant, who worked on the Grand River customs from his base, in Greenville, South Carolina, says starting with Pay Stubs alone was "a good idea. I always advise clients to look at the functionality that's delivered with ESS and determine the ones that will give them the best return on their investment and implement those first. I also advise them to implement in phases, because of the architectural decisions that must be made."

The $12,500 a year that Grand River immediately began to save with Pay Stubs was impressive and gratifying, but Harryman can cite organizations that are saving much more, in part because they have bigger staffs. "One client estimates savings of 100,000 Canadian dollars yearly. Another estimates 50,000 U.S. dollars in forms and mailing savings plus an additional $150,000 in labor."

At Grand River, the Phase 1 ESS and MSS roll-outs also saw the tentative emergence of one of the greatest benefits of the ESS package: employees could now view their leave and sick day balances on-line, rather than calling someone in HR and having him or her take the time to look the information up and return the call. Such Q&A/look-up time, which sometimes involves the employee filling out a paper form, rather than making a call, is hard to quantify precisely, but in organizations of any size, the aggregate could probably be measured in work days and weeks.

In his presentation at the 2005 NOW Solutions users conference, Lars Pastrik summarized Grand River's Phase 1 ESS and MSS savings and outlined the expected Phase 2 and 3 benefits.His most salient points included these:

  • As well as the annual $12,500 savings, Pay Stubs had realized a one-time printer and interface saving of $15,000. This offset more than half of the $27,000 one-time cost of two kiosks for employees who didn't have their own PCs.
  • Electronic job applications, a Phase 2 roll-out, was expected to save $28,500 a year from administrative efficiencies, paper and the elimination of costly duplicate software.
  • Annual MSS savings would total an additional $44,100.
  • A Phase 3 roll-out called Demographic Update (ESS) would bring a yearly saving of $2,500.
  • The combined ESS and MSS savings would be $87,600 a year.
  • Over five years, that would total $426,000, with $207,500 being ESS savings, minus the Year One cost of $12,000.
  • The conference coincided with the start of Phase 2 and Grand River's upgrade to the emPath 6.3.

ESS Phase 2
Phase 2 encompassed the roll-out of Workflow, an MSS feature, and on-line job applications.

In a nutshell, Workflow is powerful application via which managers can, with one click, automatically send documents requiring approvals to everyone whose approval is required. Approval of a promotion is a typical example.

With the approval of Grand River's six unions, Phase 2 of the ESS roll-out would require all internal job applications to be submitted on-line. As well as the $28,000 annual money saving, Pastrik said, "We'll see considerable process time savings."

He was referring to hours and days. Kent Orgain, NOW Solutions' director of development, thinks in terms of seconds and had this to say about emPath's web-based processing speed:

"We have published benchmarks that consistently show we have better than half-second performance on every web page, even when many people use the system simultaneously, and that's important for self-service. Some of our very high-profile competitors don't have our speed. They don't make it very public, but we have been able to glean and imply from things that have been written and said about them that their performance is not nearly as good as ours, even though they are much more widely known in the market."

ESS Phase 3
This entailed an initially limited roll-out of the ESS features that, in his presentation, Pastrik called employee demographics. This is the feature that allows staff to enter new information into certain parts their personal web pages and change information that is already there. The self-updatable information includes changes of address, new bank account numbers, emergency contact names, new dependents and much much more. The time and cost of employees filling out paper forms and HR people inputting the data is eliminated. Except where a review or approval is necessary, all changes enter the system instantly.

Future ESS savings options
For subsequent roll-out phases, Grand River had many choices. They included:

There is no limit to the types of company information that can be stored in and delivered to staff via this and other ESS features. But Denton Harryman notes, "Most clients already have a lot of publications and so forth on their intranets, and what they do is put links to it on ESS. However, Handbooks offers some things that an intranet doesn't, notably security. If access to certain documents should be restricted to staff with a certain job grade, say, Handbooks will ensure that only they see them."

Organization charts
"This is one of the nicer-looking functions within the application," Harryman says, "and, surprisingly, one that I hear more interest in than a lot of the other areas." The reason, he adds, is simple. Today's organizations are in incessant flux, and if need be, the ESS organization charts can be updated daily.

Another function that eliminates the need for employees to fill out forms and, bit-by-bit, saves a huge amount of HR staff time. For example, if employees want to know how a new dependent will affect their take-home pay, they don't have to ask someone in HR to look up the data and do the calculations. They can easily do this and many other calculations on their personal ESS pages.

Training enrollment
No one needs to be told that is the age of lifelong learning. In every type of organization, employees are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge, and enrolling staff in employers' courses via ESS promises savings in time and money rivaling those generated by on-line job applications.

Summing up the impact of ESS on Grand River's bottom line, Marianne Franklin, NOW Solutions' president and CEO, says, "It's always gratifying to hear how much a client is saving with our product, but I'd just like to point out that, in most cases, their first saving came when they decided to go with emPath in the first place. That is, with most of our serious competitors, the cost of implementing their systems is about nine times the cost of the product. emPath's implementation cost is only about one times the product cost. That's a 1 to 1 ratio, as opposed to 9 to 1."