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Mon 10 May 2004 04:00 AM

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People programmes

Human resources and the appropriate management of staff has been slow to take off within the Middle East, as evidenced by the lack of HR managers in the region. However, as the region becomes more employee savvy, enterprises are starting to turn to dedicated HR solutions.

|~|Christoinside.jpg|~|Oracle’s HRMS should be able to cope with Emirates Airline’s growth, says Christo Nieuwoudt, manager, HR, Emirates Airlines.|~|In the past, Middle East companies dedicated little time to the training and development of their personnel. Instead, human resources (HR) departments’ primary concern was to ensure staff were paid on time. As the local market has matured, however, many organisations have developed complex strategies for encouraging staff retention and development. Now they are looking to utilise the latest HR technology to simplify these policies.

With the Society for Human Resource management estimating that in lost productivity, training and other expenses, the departure of an experienced member of staff can cost as much as US$25,000, companies are keen to retain staff by a combination of transparent career paths and training. Furthermore, as local companies develop HR strategies they are realising that the right software solution can not only help them implement training and career path schemes, but can also make them more efficient.

This investment in HR technology is being led by large enterprises that have the money and resources to invest in high end HR solutions. UAE telecoms operator, Etisalat, for example, is replacing its ageing legacy HR system, which consists of Lotus Notes and Ingres, with Oracle’s Human Resources Management System (HRMS).

When the implementation is completed this summer, the solution will encompass all training and development, recruitment, compensation benefit, manpower and employee services, thereby improving the company’s HR operation. “We hope we can achieve better results by using the Oracle app because we will be able to link all the sections and the departments with HR,” explains Abdul Aziz A Al-Sawaleh, Etisalat’s executive vice president of human resources.

The solution will enable Etisalat to introduce a strong element of self service to its operations. Employee profiles, leave requests and other information will be accessed and updated via a secure internet portal by the individual concerned and they can also initiate requests for training. This reduces the operator’s reliance on paper-based systems and frees up the HR department to concentrate on its core issues, such as recruitment and training. Also, this feature empowers staff and motivates them by allowing them to play a part in their career development.

HRMS can add efficiency to these internal processes too, as it can be configured to advertise vacant positions on the company’s web site as soon as they appear, and filters can be used to eliminate candidates who do not have the required skill sets, meaning recruiters have fewer CVs to wade through and can concentrate their efforts on carefully selecting from the cream of the crop.

“We are looking for speed efficiency and fast decision making when it comes to online recruitment. Using our [new] system we will be able to scan applicants by skills or discipline before the recruitment department reviews the application and sends it to the concerned department,” explains Al-Sawaleh.

Etisalat’s implementation comes two years after Emirates Airline conducted one of the largest HRMS projects in the region, which took place as the company rolled out Oracle’s E-Business Suite. Emirates Group’s HR department annually processes more than 35,000 visa applications, organises more than 1000 training courses a year and recruits more than 3500 people per annum, including 40 cabin crewmembers each week.

This much activity could swamp any HR department with paperwork, but Emirates uses just 45 staff to manage most of the company’s HR processes. And, even though Emirates’ workforce is set to grow from 18,000 to 35,000 by 2010, the company is only planning to hire a few more HR administrators.

“The system should be able to cope with that growth, and the team here [in Dubai] shouldn’t be a lot bigger — that’s part of the reason for the investment in technology,” says Christo Nieuwoudt, manager, human resources, (service centre & systems), Emirates Airline. “We should be able to leverage the technology to get the return on investment [ROI] and to continuously improve productivity. If we don’t, we aren’t doing a good job, as the technology can certainly do it,” he adds.

The appetite for high end HR solutions among large enterprises has been considerable over the last five years and has piggy-backed the wave of enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations across the region. Oracle’s HRMS business has grown to the extent where the region now supports its own user group. The group, which meets regularly, attracts about 30 users who exchange ideas on how to get the most out of the software.

The indication that companies here are increasingly interested in investing in technology to deal with staffing issues is borne out by the fact that vendors of best-of-breed human asset management software are now eyeing the region’s growing revenues. One such vendor, ExecuTRACK, which specialises in talent management and skill gap spotting software, believes the Middle East is now mature enough to support its advanced HR products.

ExecuTRACK’s ETWeb product is an internet-enabled solution that facilitates, among other tasks, skills management, succession management, training and development management and HR management.Aimed firmly at large enterprises, the company announced a tie-up with local partner Global Management Consultants (GMC) in earlier this year that has seen the latter pushing the software in the region.

Although GMC has yet to convince a local company to implement ExecuTRACK, the channel partner claims it is close to closing deals for the software from four large enterprises and is developing sales links across the broader Middle East and Africa region.

“We have had a lot of interest from large companies that have ERP systems implemented that are not going anywhere. They can see the gaps in ERP systems that do not necessarily deal with all their HR requirements, they deal with admin and payroll but not necessarily talent management,” says Saira Azhar, GMC’s chief executive officer.

Although GMC is confident there is demand for advanced talent management solutions in the Middle East, this interest is mainly confined to large enterprises. This is because many small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the region are not yet sufficiently advanced to leverage these solutions.“We are targeting the larger organisations that are more serious and committed to talent management. For example, they are prepared to send someone abroad for training and have implemented proper career development plans. The SMB market is there for us in the future, but because we are at the initial stage [of selling ExecuTRACK] it makes more sense to go for the larger companies at this point,” adds Azhar.

In the long-term, GMC believes interest from the SMB market will pick up as the market matures. In preparation for a mid-market push it has broken the ETWeb solution into modules to make it more affordable and relevant for companies in this space.||**|||~|etisalat1inside.jpg|~|By implementing an integrated HR application, Abdul Aziz A. Al-Sawaleh hopes to accelerate Etisalat’s processes and enhance decision making.|~|GMC is not alone in its belief that demand for HR solutions in the Middle East’s SMB segment will increase significantly in the next few years. Dealing with HR issues can be a significant burden for any company and organisations in this space are realising that HR solutions tailored for their needs can deliver return on investment (ROI) by automating complex functions that traditionally require significant resources.

HR vendor Business Systems House (BSH), for example, has made its name serving the region’s enterprise sector with its hr.base solution. Based on Oracle technology, the solution’s core personnel module offers extensive functionality such as transfer management, transfer increment, annual increment and extra effort compensation, while HR intelligence delivers advanced reporting functionality to managers.

But, believing more growth will come from the SMB sector than the enterprise sector in coming years, BSH has released a scaled down version of the technology, hr.eaZy to cater for the region’s SMBs. It has teamed up with systems integrator, Tech Access, and recently toured the region to promote this offering. The firm says its top-down, local approach to the market will ensure its success.

“We believe there is a great opportunity in the SMB sector. Most of the locally developed solutions come in from the lower end of the market, they develop payroll systems for small companies and then try to add on new requirements. But companies want to start with a scaled-down version and then scale up as their requirements grow. They might not be SMB’s forever,” says Houssam Hatoum, BSH managing director.

As part of its midmarket push, BSH is reminding end users of the efforts it has put into tailoring the software for local needs. Companies here have different requirements to those in the rest of the world and the vendor is reminding end users of this fact. For example, pay scales vary depending on nationality, many companies in the contracting field have workforces that vary in number greatly depending on time of year, and Arabisation is key.

In recognition of these differences, and in a bid to add value to its solutions when compared to international offerings, BSH has enabled its payroll module to take nationality into account. It has initiated a policy of flexible pricing for its product based on company size and number of employees for companies with a stagnant workforce or number of concurrent users for those with flexible workforce. In addition, hr.base and hr.eaZy are Arabised.

||**|||~|Hatoum11.jpg|~|Smaller companies want to start with scaled down HR apps, says BSH’s Houssam Hatoum.|~|One of the first companies to implement hr.eaZy, Kuwaiti electrical retailer and service centre, Easa Husain Al Yousifi Establishment, deployed three of a possible 15 modules: payroll, time attendance and leave, in January last year. Running on Sun’s integrated document management (IDM) server, the solution replaced a DOS-based, inhouse developed solution called Clarion that was more than a decade old.

More than a year after the implementation, the company says it is more than happy with the solution, which it is looking to build upon as the workforce expands. “I have worked with a lot of ERP systems but some of them are not strong enough to run a critical area like HR. The good thing about hr.eaZy is that it is based on Oracle and not on SQL server, which means we don’t get runtime errors and memory issues all the time. I feel the system is very secure and very strong,” says Hani Khajah, Easa Husain Al Yousifi’s MIS manager.

“It saves our HR people a lot of time and it takes some of the routine out of applying for leave and calculating payroll. This is a big hassle for companies and we are saving a lot of time on this now,” Khajah adds. The only issues the Kuwaiti company has had with the solution relate to the administration complexity. To resolve this, a member of the IT team recently underwent training at the Sun/Tech Access iForce centre in Dubai Internet City (DIC), where the software has been deployed for training and testing exercises.

Moving forward, Easa Husain Al Yousifi is considering purchasing a web self-service module from BSH so employees can access information on HR policies, announcements, leave balances and training courses. Using this technology, employees can also submit and follow up through comprehensive workflow, their requests for leave, certificates, tickets, training and business trips — all requests that will automatically be forwarded to the relevant line manager.

“My eventual aim is to have the system available for all the managers [on the internet] so they can access the status of any employee. It makes the whole process much more efficient,” says Khajah.||**||

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