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SAP employee self-service rollouts popular as customers seek more ROI

Interested in an SAP employee self-service project? Learn more about the County of Sacramento's project, including best practices and common challenges in SAP ERP HCM projects.

SAP customers are rolling out more strategic employee self-service functionality, moving beyond time-sheeting and updating personal information to benefits enrollment and more manager self-service, according to interviews with analysts and customers.

Traditionally, there were three benefits to implementing employee self-service -- reducing manual processes, improving compliance and increasing operational efficiency, according to Don Giffels, managing partner at Workforce Insight, a workforce management consulting firm based in Denver. Now, companies are looking to empower employees and managers with visibility into business volume information, Giffels said -- especially in sectors like retail and manufacturing.

Sacramento County's SAP employee self-service project
The first phase was the Working Time and Paystub Service – which allows employees to enter their hours and view their paystubs. They started in March 2006 and went live in November 2006.   It was implemented in 4.6c with an ITS standalone, no portal. The county did a couple of BADis, but nothing the project team considered their own development, using mostly out-of-the-box services. The project took eight months.

Sacramento County did all the work in-house for the first phase -- with a team of two Business Systems Analysts, 1 ABAP developer, four main business folks and Musser himself acting as the technical consultant.  

The second phase was done simultaneously to an upgrade from 4.6c to ECC 6.0 in 2008, Musser said. It added employee self-service in address change, emergency contact, leave balances, bank information and tax withholding. It also added manager self-service that allows timesheet approval and many reports.   This phase was completed using ECC 6.0 and NetWeaver Portal 7.0 with no enhancement packages. Again, they didn't do any development and used the Floor Plan Manager and available portal tools to configure it to their needs.   The second part of the project took 10 months – but Musser estimates this was longer because it was dependent on the upgrade timeline. Without the upgrade, it probably would have taken six or seven months.  

For this project, Sacramento County hired a consultant since they were also upgrading to the new WebDypro Java services, but the same employees internally worked on the project.  

In the third phase, the county is currently rolling out employee self-service in benefits enrollment and, possibly, budget reports.        

For example, some retailers are pushing key metrics like sales per labor hour to stores. Data from the point of sale systems integrated with SAP Financials is being pushed, often through business intelligence tools, to the store level. There, managers can make better decisions on tasks like scheduling and staffing.

"The shift is on to the more strategic benefits -- boosting employee engagement with solving the problems," Giffels said. "The real value comes in making that visible."

It's one of the ways SAP customers are seeking to get more value out of their existing investments.

Before systems became Web-enabled around 2000, self-service was developed after the fact and viewed as an optional component, said Paul Hamerman, vice president, principal analyst at Forrester Research. With SAP, there was always a challenge in terms of usability, necessitating that companies like Coca-Cola develop their own elaborate self-service front ends. The emergence of software like Workday and SuccessFactors has made self-service an integral part of the system, and applications are now designed for a broader audience – not just human resources.

"The notion of self-service has changed, and customers should look at it as an essential component to deploying the system to a key audience," Hamerman said.

With SAP ERP 6.0 and enhancement package 4, self-service has really advanced, he said. But only about 10% of the 15,000 ERP users that have upgraded have adopted the enhancement packages. About half of SAP'S 30,000 ERP users have implemented HCM.

Non-SAP HCM customers looking to deploy on-demand HR-related components could go with an entire SaaS suite for HCM which would include employee self-service functionality, Hamerman said.

Those already using SAP's core HCM products could deploy the self-service components in SAP ERP HCM or look to something like Northgate Arinso, which has become popular in the SAP HCM customer base. It's a complete self-service layer that fits over SAP ERP. It also resells SAP HCM as an on-demand product, called EuHReka. Customers can enable more functionality through NetWeaver Portal.

The County of Sacramento, Calif. has been rolling out employee self-service within SAP using NetWeaver Portal 7.0. Sacramento County has been running SAP for 10 years but, after all that time, having employees fill out timesheets and then re-enter them into the payroll system was costly and inefficient, according to Mark Musser, principal business systems analyst for the county.

"Departments were starting to look to third-party products to allow employees to enter their own time and requesting interfaces to SAP," Musser said in an email interview.

The California county's municipal government started implementing employee self-service in 2006, starting with time-sheeting and paystub services. Since then, it's rolled out self-service functionality in several more areas. Employees can enter their address changes and emergency contacts, as well as check leave balances, bank information and tax withholdings. Managers can access and approve timesheets and many reports.

Sacramento County is currently rolling out employee self-service in benefits enrollment, he said, and possibly will roll it out for budget reports.

Benefits so far have included streamlining the time-entry process, the elimination of payroll fliers (attachments to paystubs are now online as well as the paystubs themselves) and fewer mistakes from incorrect data entry and re-entry, Musser said. There are also fewer calls to human resources for standard report information and paper-based forms, which have been replaced by online forms.

Best practices in an SAP employee self-service project

In rolling out an employee self-service project, good change management protocols are a must. Musser and his team spent four months coming up with and delivering training and change management, he said.

"I would recommend to others to roll out the easy-to-use services first [timesheets are one of the most complex services]," he said. "Get the user comfortable with things like address changes and W/4 changes, and then start to add more complex scenarios."

For this reason, it's important to structure training programs that will meet users' needs. Developing the right training materials proved to be an issue when Sacramento County first rolled out employee self-service.

"We ended up with very large books in the first phase for timesheets, and the classes ended up being two-and-a-half days long," Musser said. "It was way too much information."

Musser recommends online training to combat this problem. In phase 2, Sacramento County used online training from UPerform, which he said worked out much better for the project team and the employees.

Moreover, lack of executive buy-in and viewing employee self-service as a technology-only problem always presents difficulties, according to Giffels. Organizations think they can solve the problems by simply implementing employee self-service, when first they need to identify key metrics and the key business drivers they want to deliver.

Forming a senior-level executive sponsorship committee is the first step to success, Giffels said. Organizations run into problems when there is not sufficient operational representation.

Overall, remember that employee self-service is unique. Unlike financials or other SAP modules, which are going to have only a limited number of users, employee self-service truly affects every single employee in a powerful way.

"It's probably the most consistent touch-point they have to corporate vision," Giffels said.

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