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Animal hospitals' untethered workers ideally suited for mobile HR

VCA Animal Hospitals pushed hard for IT signoff on mobile access to a new Cornerstone OnDemand HR system and decided iPad minis worked best for its multigenerational workforce.

Five years ago, VCA Animal Hospitals was lost in a human resources no man's land. The on-premises HR system it depended on at the time had its issues, to be sure, but the real problem was VCA: The company simply hadn't kept up with software updates and had fallen five or six versions behind.

At around the same time, the Los Angeles-based operator of more than 800 animal hospitals in the U.S. decided the time was ripe to look into mobile HR, which would allow the company to provide employees with more convenient access to HR tools and processes. To do so, it would have to bring its system up to date, consider moving to the vendor's cloud-based version and evaluate its mobile HR options.

But there was one problem with that scenario, recalled Jason Marian, VCA's senior instructional design media manager: Frustration with the previous system had apparently passed a point of no return. "It had lost our employees' confidence," Marian said.

With that in mind, there was no choice: The company would have to start from scratch and started to assemble a wish list. It wanted a solution that would provide integration between HR, training and performance reviews. And, of course, the mobile piece was critical.

Getting IT on board with mobility

At first, selling mobile HR to the company's centralized IT team -- which had a reputation for keeping things tight and secure -- was a struggle. In particular, IT wanted to know who was going to provide support. But Marian and other business leaders were adamant that mobile be part of the plan, and eventually they were able to assuage IT's concerns.

After spending a year ironing out the strategic objectives, VCA started searching for a technology partner and spent six months evaluating its options. In doing so, Marian said the company kept in mind what makes the veterinary industry unique.

Mobile HR made it so we could work within the flow of the day.
Jason Mariansenior instructional design media manager, VCA Animal Hospitals

First, there's a huge age range among employees, with receptionists as young as 19 or 20 working beside doctors approaching their 70s, which called for significant care in choosing the right devices to support. Laptops would be too passé and clunky for the younger workers and phone-based applications too hard for older workers to manage. The company instead settled on Apple iPad minis as the company-issued device of choice.

Second, the industry has an unusual workflow because caregivers are constantly in motion. And unlike their counterparts in the healthcare industry, animal doctors don't typically have their own dedicated workspaces or desktop computers, making the Apple iPad mini an ideal fit for mobile HR.

Ultimately, VCA chose to work with software from Cornerstone OnDemand, not just for its mobile HR capabilities, but also for its ability to tie together training and performance, which Marian said it does more robustly than other products. VCA also liked Cornerstone OnDemand's social collaboration tools, which it saw as having a lot of potential to enhance the mobile experience.

Jason Corsello, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Cornerstone OnDemand, said that VCA's decision to make mobile a key part of its HR deployment was a wise one. "Mobile should not be an afterthought," Corsello said. "Make mobile an intricate part of the discussion."

VCA's deployment was handled in stages, with learning tools implemented over about 10 months, followed by an eight-month rollout of the employee performance management module. Two years later -- when the company more fully understood the impact of the Cornerstone OnDemand software and had put the needed hardware and processes in place -- VCA deployed mobile-device management software, started distributing iPad minis (2,500 issued so far) and began rolling out mobile HR apps embedded with social collaboration features. As new tools were introduced, Marian said change management was always a big area of focus and that the company was able to build plenty of excitement among users with simple promotional steps such as naming the system "Woof University."

Chewing on bite-sized biscuits

If there's one critical piece of advice Marian would pass on to other companies going down the mobile HR path -- particularly if they're rethinking their entire HR strategy in the process -- it would be to start small. "What we were pitching was probably too robust to start with," Marian said. In VCA's case, the checks and balances in place enabled the company to break up the project into bite-sized pieces.

When it was finally ready to put the mobile piece into action, VCA introduced a couple of modest apps to get employees accustomed to using mobile workplace tools. One app let clients complete quick registration while another enabled doctors to quickly send VCA clients' notes, updating them on, say, the success of a just-completed procedure. Each app was well-received, thus priming employees for more tools to come and emboldening Marian's efforts to put HR tools in his team's hands.

Since then, the company has been introducing one capability after another, enabling employees to manage their benefits, engage with training resources or complete their performance reviews, all without having to find a computer and log into a virtual private network to get the work done. What's more, thanks to mobile notifications, they no longer have to wait weeks for manager approvals.

"Mobile HR made it so we could work within the flow of the day," Marian said. "That was a big deal, knowing that we wouldn't be impacting operations to get HR work done."

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