Natural gas exploration and production company BG Group is replacing its SAP human resources (HR) management system with an Oracle cloud HR service as it sets out to provide HR services to employees working as far afield as Egypt and Kazakstan.
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The HR service, powered by Oracle’s Fusion software, will enable the company to offer online training programmes, employee appraisals and other HR services to more than 6,000 employees and contractors working in over 20 countries.
The company has traditionally taken a conservative approach to technology, says Luci Love, head of shared services in the HR department at BG Group.
“SAP, the system we had been using, was what we knew and were used to. And perhaps a re-implementation of SAP Human Capital Management [HCM] would have been a [more obvious] cultural fit,” she tells Computer Weekly.
Solving tomorrow's problems
But while the existing SAP system could handle yesterday’s problems and most of today’s problems, Love was more concerned with delivering a system that could solve tomorrow’s problems.
“When we looked at software as a service [SaaS] and that sort of forced innovation that comes with using the latest version, it became quite attractive,” she says, speaking in advance of a presentation at a major HR technology conference.
BG Group, which has its roots in the de-merger of British Gas in the late 1990s and now operates as a separate company, began looking at alternatives to its 10-year-old SAP HR system in February 2012.
SAP was heavily customised
The SAP system had been heavily customised with an array of applications that had been added over the years, says Love.
But the technology was not always capable of serving the rapidly growing number of employees BG Group had working outside the business in the joint venture partnerships frequently found in the oil and gas industry.
BG Group HR IT objectives
- Automate and streamline HR processes
- Improve data integrity and security
- Access HR data and analytics in real time
- Implement technology that could evolve as best practice in HR evolves
“Many of our people were in remote locations with either limited or no access to our infrastructure, and they were unable to connect to our core HR systems,” says Love.
That created challenges in areas such as conducting annual performance reviews, which are crucial to developing and rewarding employees, she says.
IBM chosen as implementation partner
The company evaluated HR technology from the major HR IT suppliers, before opting for a SaaS platform based on Oracle Fusion. It chose IBM as an implementation partner.
Love says the decision to implement new software felt like a risky strategy. “I have heard it called ‘bleeding-edge technology’, so I felt I had a lot at stake,” she says.
But what Love describes as a tight working partnership between Oracle, IBM and BG Group gave her confidence that the project could be implemented in more than 20 countries in a tight seven-month window.
BG Group selected Oracle in January 2013, and was ready to start work on the project by April that year. One of the biggest challenges, was managing the roll-out of a product that was constantly being upgraded, says Love.
The costs saved by decommissioning just some of the company’s legacy online training systems will more than cover the annual costs of Oracle Fusion
“At times it did feel as though we were trying to jump a train from one track to another. It was a case of, 'Are we going to hit software release five or release seven, and what are the implications of that?'.”
Migrating data from SAP to Oracle was another hurdle, but IBM had a methodical approach and was able to take BG Group through several practice runs before the final switchover.
The HR department had a five-day window, during which the company had agreed a “data freeze" to move the personal information for thousands of employees across to the new system, says Love.
The first phase of Oracle Fusion went live for the HR department in November 2013, and then for employees, managers and contractors in January 2014.
BG Group now plans to extend the system to 20,000 contractors who work for the company’s business partners, which include engineering companies such as Bectel and Schlumberger.
Return on investment
Love says the multi-million project will pay for itself. The costs saved by decommissioning just some of the company’s legacy online training systems will more than cover the annual costs of Oracle Fusion.
The new HR platform has proved to be easier and more intuitive for HR staff to use than the previous SAP-based technology.
The system gives employees the ability to check and update their own personnel data. As a result, the HR department has been able to correct errors that have lain undiscovered for years in some cases.
And managers can use the system to access statistics and data on the workforce, through dashboards displaying easy-to-read graphics, which are constantly updated.
Secure personnel records
One of the most important considerations for BG Group in selecting a replacement HR system was the need to ensure that the personnel data of its staff was held securely in the cloud.
Personnel records can often contain sensitive information, including bank account details and national insurance numbers.
The Fusion system ensures that records are stored in an encrypted form. And there is a strict audit procedure in place so that any access or changes to the data are logged.
“Security is a big driver for me. The data is now stored on a cloud but it is more secure there. We have more security options and we can control exactly who has access to the data,” says Love.
For Love, moving from SAP to Oracle felt like climbing Mount Everest, and just when she thought she had reached the summit, there was another peak to climb.
More resources on HR technology
“I think I pushed my team to breaking point. It has been incredibly hard work,” she says.
In the past, says Love, the relationship between the HR department and the IT department had been one-sided – they typically only dealt with each other when there was a problem.
In this project, having someone in the HR team who could understand both HR and IT was critical for both parties, she says.
“In the past, our IT team would deliver what we said we wanted and we would say it wasn’t good enough. That was the kind of the tension in the relationship,” she says.
This time around it was more of a peer-to-peer relationship.
“We were able to clearly articulate what we wanted. In turn, they challenged us to actually get what we really needed, to get the outcome we were after, says Love.
Photo courtesy of BG Group