With more than 5,000 employees serving 95,000 students across six campuses in the Houston area, Lone Star College's HR department had its hands full keeping up with requests.
The slow service prompted Link Alander, CIO and vice chancellor of Lone Star College, to hit the pause button in 2015 and make HR's technical underpinnings more like the infrastructure that supports the IT department. IT had a help desk; why not a human resources help desk?
Sixty-seven HR employees and 20 payroll specialists have a wide array of tasks, such as ensuring the community college's faculty and staff receive timely payments and have access to benefits, while they also pursue larger goals, like hiring 500 full-time faculty members over the next seven years. It would be understandable, then, if HR didn't always answer employees' questions promptly.
"HR should be like IT. Everything should be the same: services, expectations," Alander recalled three years later. "It's about business process and management, but [HR] had a bad reputation for people reaching out and them not always responding. It was hurting them significantly."
Human resources help desk lightens HR workload
To improve response rates, Lone Star College implemented a human resources help desk, a virtual agent that guides employees through HR materials so they can answer their own questions and find forms themselves, as well as submit help desk tickets to escalate issues that can't be solved using self-service. The college chose ServiceNow, which, like a few vendors, doesn't call its product a "help desk" rather an "HR service delivery" offering.
Regardless of semantics, the more than a dozen vendors that offer variations of a human resources help desk want organizations small and large to automate administrative functions that don't necessarily require human handling. Lone Star College seems like a logical place for the technology, with employment soon to top 6,000, but how do other organizations know if they need a help desk?
Link AlanderCIO and vice chancellor, Lone Star College
According to industry analysts and players, organizations should consider a help desk if they want to streamline and track HR functions so that HR professionals can focus on bigger tasks. They also say that a help desk makes employees happy because it gives them the digital responsiveness they've grown accustomed to from apps on their personal devices.
"HR is unlike finance, marketing or other areas," said Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics at consulting and IT services firm Sierra-Cedar. "HR touches the most personal aspects of employees' lives. Having an efficient and effective application that navigates the approach to HR is not just good business, but it's also being a good employer. Employees often deal with HR during the most stressful times of lives, and a help desk can make it easier for everyone."
Forrester Principal Analyst Paul Hamerman envisions large organizations gravitating toward an HR help desk. "You have thousands of companies needing some technology to bring a multitude of HR services to scale and to track all those interactions," he said.
"Employees have a wide variety of issues that need to be managed. The idea is to create a center of excellence -- a service desk where you can handle these inquires."
Human resources help desk helps automate tasks at Klick Inc.
Klick Inc., a Toronto-based health marketing company, realized it needed something like an HR help desk in 2005, when such a thing existed primarily in combination with IT help desks and not really as a stand-alone product. So, Klick created its own help desk and slowly added HR information on vacation and sick time, travel guidelines, employee birthdays and anniversaries, and even instructions on how to turn off the office lights at closing. It also incorporated training and development modules and social media components, making it the "ying and yang between the service of employees and also work tasks," said Benjamin Nadler, the company's senior vice president of internal operations.
Klick has nine HR people supporting more than 700 company employees. HR staffers couldn't tackle the hands-on tasks of hiring, retention and other projects that are tied to fostering company growth if they weren't able to automate tasks that don't need their involvement, said Glen Webster, CFO at Klick. "We're growing at 30% to 40% a year, and there's no way we would be able to do that without a platform like this," he said.
Meanwhile, Lone Star College's HR department no longer incurs the frustration of employees, Alander said. Employee submissions are timestamped in the ServiceNow ticket system, and HR is more responsive to issues, while the portal's transparency lets employees see their queries haven't been lost and forgotten, he added.
The ServiceNow portal has also streamlined HR functions by giving employees a large online clearinghouse for policies, procedures and paperwork, Alander said. For example, guidelines covering employment rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act can be found on a portal page, while the paperwork that's needed to change an employee's name is in another online location.
Using the portal, Alander recently reviewed instructions on how to change information on his 403(b) retirement account and then went elsewhere to make the adjustment. "That used to be a call or an email," he said. The centrality of the portal means HR information and expectations are no longer scattershot across each of the six Lone Star College campuses, he added.
In 2017, The Chronicle for Higher Education named Lone Star College "a great college to work for," and Alander believes that distinction came as a result of HR improving efficiencies and being able to focus on the complicated work behind hiring and retention -- instead of expending time on answering simple queries, a process that wasn't handled properly in the first place. Alander recommends an HR help desk for organizations that want to be effective and efficient in service delivery. "HR, of course, is the big one," he said. "It has an impact on the culture of an organization. When it's providing service at a high level, it makes a significant difference."
"[An HR help desk] simply aligns HR with today's workforce and their expectations."