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When planning and implementing a global human resource management project, big surprises are inevitable, and executives need to be nimble.
That may have been the most important lesson learned by HR chiefs at XL Catlin, a giant insurance company, and SGS, an international inspection, verification, testing and certification company, who each confronted different changes and hurdles in the middle of Oracle human capital management (HCM) cloud projects.
For Olga Burke, global head of HR operations and analytics at XL Catlin, "a major disruptor for HR" occurred when XL Group announced its intention to acquire Catlin Group in December 2014.
Burke, who was helping lead the Oracle cloud HCM implementation at XL Group, said that, at the last minute, Catlin added 2,500 employees and four new countries to the project; the current totals are 7,200 employees in 26 countries.
After the announced combination of the two insurers, she said XL needed to rethink the project for global human resource management.
Suddenly, she needed to deal with moving from two on-premises systems instead of one. XL used PeopleSoft 8.9 for core HR, for example, while Catlin used Oracle EBS. She said no one wanted to convert data from Catlin into PeopleSoft at XL or to maintain two separate systems of record.
Full steam ahead on cloud
"We decided we were still fully committed to going to the cloud," she said. "It became more important in light of the two companies coming together."
Before the takeover of Catlin, compensation had already gone live in December 2014 in coexistence with its old HR system, and plans called for a "big bang" rollout of other modules in the summer of 2015.
Instead, the project was divided into four phases, and a "soft launch" was planned. Burke said she also wanted to maintain momentum, largely because of new releases from Oracle cloud HCM.
When the project was in design, Oracle cloud HCM was in its eighth version, but it was already in the 10th version in late 2014. Some significant changes can occur between releases, especially in the loading of data into new systems.
An extended break in the project was out of the question because that could mean implementation of a system dramatically different from the one in design. "We absolutely did not want that to happen," she said during a presentation at Oracle HCM World in Chicago on the global human resource management project.
Core HR live goes live at different times
That meant core HR went live for XL workers in July 2015, but was live in November 2015 for Catlin.
Compensation at XL was the first phase. After the deal closed for Catlin in May 2015, the second phase included core HR at XL, an interface with payroll, benefits and Taleo recruit, all live in the summer of 2015. In the third phase, performance management, Taleo learning and onboarding were among modules to go live at the end of 2015, according to the presentation.
A final phase followed with modules such as compensation at Catlin, absence management and succession planning.
The Oracle HCM project, branded "myHR," succeeded because of a strong partnership with IBM, the implementation partner, she said.
Before the project launched, XL was using fragmented and highly customized PeopleSoft systems that allowed for widely varied business processes by region and that were difficult to change or update.
The problem is that there were different recruiting systems in various countries and different core HR systems for employees. The systems looked and felt completely different. It was not a cohesive experience. They did not integrate well, so HR in one country could not share information or work very easily with HR in another country.
XL Catlin, based in Dublin, now has one global cloud system with consistent business processes, HR operations specialists in four regional hubs, a single pay-for-performance system and one new HR portal for all employees.
SGS shifts gears
At SGS, Etienne Delobel, global head of HRIS, emphasized that agile planning is key in implementing a global human resource management system.
SGS, based in Geneva, is implementing Oracle HCM for core HR, recruitment, performance management, learning and compensation for more than 80,000 employees in 150 countries.
Tips for a global HR project
Gokul Hareendran, senior managing consultant for global business services at IBM and project manager for XL Catlin, emphasized some important lessons learned from the Catlin's implementation of Oracle HCM cloud.
First, he said, companies should train experts in key specialties before kickoff, especially when moving from on premises to the cloud, he said.
During implementation of payroll, for example, a leader or analyst who knows the subject and the product should be trained and become the point of contact.
Also, users should stay in contact with a "success manager" assigned by the vendor. They can be great partners, for example, in helping fix bugs in products, he said.
During conversion to the cloud, he said, it can reduce a lot of work to eliminate redundant reports, because reports need to work with new releases and monthly patches in cloud systems, he said.
The project can also be made easier by converting a minimum of data when moving to the cloud, since data models can be very different in old and new systems.
Another tip is to plan for monthly upgrades and patches in the cloud, which bring down the system for a minimum amount of time twice a month for testing and production, Hareendran said.
He also recommended validating data conversion and configuration between each cycle of testing. Validate during the start of user testing and validate again when testing system integration, he said.
A little more than a year into the project, a new CIO and CFO of SGS changed the rules and asked Delobel to focus on implementing core HR, he said. At the time, Delobel was implementing other modules such as performance management and recruiting.
"You have to adapt and change," he said during Oracle HCM World. "Don't think that your plan at the beginning of the project will be the plan after a year. Try to be smart in the way you address your planning."
The current priority is to deploy Oracle HCM cloud core HR in 44 countries to cover 90% of the workforce by the end of 2017. Core HR is live in four countries -- Canada, France, the Philippines and Switzerland -- for 6,200 employees with four payroll interfaces.
He also advised that HR executives take advantage of the cloud and share configuration and other tips with leaders from other companies.
Delobel teamed up with executives from other corporations that use Oracle, including two French companies -- AXA, a multinational insurance firm, and Schneider Electric, which manufactures power distribution and automation systems -- and a Scottish company, Standard Life, an Edinburgh-based holding company in financial services and insurance.
Delobel is currently working with other companies on interfaces for payroll and core HR, a complex task because of different payroll systems in different countries.
"We are trying to find others who have done the same thing so we can leverage this exercise," he said. "It costs money. If I can borrow what my peers in other companies have done, then I am saving a lot of money."
If he organizes a meeting at his site with Oracle project managers, he will invite his colleagues from other companies to share the time of Oracle experts, he said.
"Instead of Oracle going to their premises in the morning and then traveling to my office in the afternoon, we share an entire day with Oracle rather than just a half day for each of us," he said.
Implementation of the project started in December 2013, he said. Learning is live in four full countries, serving about 13,000 employees; performance management, 35 countries for 16,000 employees; and recruitment, 16 countries and 25,000 employees, according to his presentation.
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