Imagine starting a core system rollout in late September with a deadline of Jan. 1. Sounds like an unenviable task? Yvonne Ruiz, senior HRIS analyst at Berkeley College, headquartered in Woodland Park, N.J., led the charge in deploying UltiPro payroll and core HR in three months -- and wouldn't do it again.
"With the holidays I would never recommend that you do that because you're going to kill your staff," she said. Although it was a crunch, Ruiz and her team successfully implemented the two modules on time.
That was just the start of Berkeley's major human capital management (HCM) software overhaul, however. Since 2010, Ruiz has supervised implementation of a slew of new HR systems, all part of Weston, Fla.-based vendor Ultimate Software's UltiPro HCM: benefits enrollment, time and attendance, recruiting, onboarding, performance management, life events and manager self-service. After a new succession planning module is implemented in 2013, the college will be using the entire UltiPro HCM suite except for compensation management, which Ruiz said the organization doesn't need.
Even though Ruiz hit snags along the way because of difficult data conversions and inadequate vendor support, she said she has been pleased with UltiPro. While the decision to adopt Ultimate's Software as a Service (SaaS) HCM software came before she was hired, she agrees it was wise to stick with one vendor for the total HR system makeover.
Data conversion a hurdle during rapid implementation
Prior to UltiPro, Berkeley used HR software from Humanic Design since 2000, but as the workforce grew, the software wasn't scalable enough to keep up. "That prompted them to look for something that could help them grow in terms of more self-service," she explained. The organization also wanted to reduce the amount of physical paperwork involved in HR processes.
The pool of possible vendors was gradually narrowed from 10 to two: NuView and Ultimate Software. Although both vendors offered SaaS HCM software, Ruiz said she didn't think the issue of cloud vs. on-premises played a part in the decision. "[UltiPro] was user-friendly and ready to use -- there was nothing that required customization," she said. "It was an out-of-the-box system."
Ultimate's support team was another selling point for Berkeley's decision panel -- the owners, the CFO, the vice president of HR and members of the IT department. But not long after the launch of the first two modules, Ruiz had to contend with insufficient support from Ultimate's payment services throughout 2010.
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"They didn't really have enough help in that department," she said. "I think the first few customers that were using [payment services] experienced a lot of growing pains. We were not getting responses on tickets that we were opening and they were critical because they were tax related."
Although the problems were eventually resolved, Ruiz said the experience shook the confidence of some of Berkeley's administrators. "It's been a 180-degree turnaround, because they're great now," she said of Ultimate's payment services support team. "But it put a negative light on UltiPro, unfortunately, even though everything else was going so well. Our payroll department, the owners and the CFO were really discouraged."
Despite the glitch, Ruiz said she still thinks it was smart to go with a single vendor for all HCM modules. "There was nothing as far as the system [goes] that was wrong; I think it was more [that] we were trying to think through things too fast," she said. "I think doing everything in UltiPro was the best decision because they do releases all the time, and everything is in sync." She added that she often hears complaints from colleagues about the difficulties of getting several disparate systems realigned after one is upgraded.
As for the initial rapid deployment, Ruiz said data conversion was the biggest challenge. Data had to be transferred from Humanic as well as ADP, which Berkeley had been using for payroll. "It was frustrating when the data kept coming over wrong, but I don't put that on Ultimate, I put some of that on us," she said. "We bit too much off."
Ruiz started at Berkeley the day after the contract with Ultimate was signed, and she explained that her primary job duty was to manage UltiPro, which she thinks enabled the successful deployment. "We were able to do it because I was hired solely for this purpose," she said. "If a company doesn't have a dedicated resource like that, I would never suggest doing a three-month implementation."
Benefits of SaaS HCM software
Although it wasn't always an easy process, Ruiz said the benefits of the HCM software have far outweighed the downsides. The new time and attendance module has significantly reduced time spent on time sheets, and she has heard positive feedback from employees about the online open enrollment.
"Now they can go online and see what their elections were," she said. "That was a major success." She also espoused the benefits of UltiPro's enhanced reporting and said Berkeley's self-service is "excellent."
Because she has a technical background, Ruiz said she likes UltiPro's hands-on capabilities. "You are pretty much in control of this system, which I personally love," she said. "If my organization changes a department I can change it in my system live -- I don’t have to put a ticket in."
Besides deploying the succession planning module, in the coming year Ruiz is gearing up to upgrade the open enrollment and performance management modules, since UltiPro will no longer be supporting the old versions. "Only the cost perspective is frustrating, because we're going to incur a cost to go to the new [performance management]," she said. "It's a little bit of a hiccup, but I'm more excited about what we're going to gain."
She is also looking into adopting a learning management system (LMS). Because UltiPro does not make an LMS, she said CertPoint, an UltiPro partner, is a top contender.
Currently, there's only one item on her UltiPro wish list: an edit feature for job history. While the vendor has expressed its intention to add this feature in a future release, it has not yet specified a date.
For companies that would like to revamp their HR systems, Ruiz suggested that managers prepare a roadmap and investigate systems that can provide all of the desired functionality -- even if all the modules won't be implemented immediately. Shortsightedness is one of the main reasons why companies are forced to invest in add-on systems, she said.
"Make sure you know what your company's vision is," she said. "If you know the overall vision, you should look for a system that can do all of that, and not only focus on what it can do at the moment."
Lastly, she advised HR managers to allot themselves ample time to convert data. "If you put bad data in, you're going to be fixing that [for] a long time," she said.
This was first published in November 2012