The problem: A rapidly growing business needed to keep track of simple documents required for the Human Resources (HR) function. Additionally, tracking holiday entitlement and shift work were considered to be a valuable tool for future analysis of staffing levels, and so on. The client decided their needs were unlikely to be fulfilled by a package solution, and so a bespoke project was started.
We started the development as a stand-alone web product, and created a test environment in which their HR team could test the various user interface elements we built. Eventually, the client decided they wanted the system embedded in their existing web-based application, so some minor modifications were made to host the specialist controls in the preexisting site.
In addition to the simple document management and tracking functions initially requested, one of the earliest deliverables was the tracking of leave. To undertake this, we had to support and have knowledge of each employees shift patterns; once you know when someone is expected to work you can calculate how many days of leave they are requesting for any time period.
As many employees were not furnished with personal email addresses, communications about their leave were delivered by a simple messaging system.
Later projects added support for Maternity and Paternity leave (especially focused on providing calendar entries and reminders for HR and team leads about when staff would be absent from, or returning to work), medical appointments, and so on.
In addition to the functionality that was actually delivered, analysis and design had been undertaken to provide functionality for:
- Overtime offerings with permission-based approval of offers;
- Monitoring of training, and making permissions within the system a mix of training and skills-based;
- Variable absence year-types (perhaps across business units).
The result of this process was a set of functionality that was well integrated with the customer’s main web system; staff found it easy and simple to use (for example, they did not have additional systems to log into, or extra logins and passwords to remember, and the visual style was similar). The shift-pattern management saved all the team leaders considerable time each week in ensuring their team members knew what shifts they were expected to work (team members could view this on their own calendar), and higher level ‘HR Management’ functions saved the HR team certain basic administrative tasks (e.g. recording when staff were due back from maternity leave). When the business was later sold for $190,000,000 a key factor for the value was said to be the excellent way in which functionality was collated and presented in a single application.
Alternatives to Development In-house
During the process of development, some concerns had been raised that – as ‘Human Resources’ was not the core business activity of the SME, perhaps the company should not have used their own staff to develop a bespoke product, rather they should have purchased a package. There are some problems with this thinking, though:
- It assumes that package analysis is free – but it could have taken months of resource to properly analyse candidate packages;
- If the package can not properly support a current business process or rule, costly bespoke development may need to be ordered, or…
- Business Process Re-engineering often follows from selection of a package, as the enterprise adjusts its processes to suit the software – this can cost millions and months of time before the package can be implemented!
As if to reiterate these points, the new parent company later went on to select a Human Resources package for use across their many subsidiaries. Even though the package cost $millions, and was intended for the enterprise, gap-analysis later showed that there were a considerable number of functions that were provided by the home-grown system that were not available in the new system. At the time we last heard, the new ‘enterprise-wide’ system was not in use anywhere!
Sometimes it makes sense to develop solutions to problems that meet your needs exactly!