Aerospace company turns to cloud in $4m HR IT project

Problems finding skilled engineers has prompted BE Aerospace to sign deal with SuccessFactors for cloud HR technology.

Aerospace manufacturer B/E Aerospace is investing more than $4 million in cloud-based HR technology, as it starts to recruit more highly skilled engineers.

The company, which has gone through a rapid expansion, is rolling out HR technology from SuccessFactors to help it recruit and manage a workforce of more than 10,000 people.

The project will give the company a complete view of its workforce force for the first time and will pay for itself in less than a year, said Martin Ratelband, a director for HR at the company.

Project will pay for itself in a year

“Never underestimate the business benefits. It means we are able to develop and deliver parts to Boeing on time, then it will pay for itself very quickly,” he said in an interview with Computer Weekly.

B\E, which has seen its turnover quadruple to £3.4 billion over the past decade, began looking at HR technology in 2011, to help it recruit skilled engineers and supply chain specialists, that were in short supply.

HR modules deployed by B/E

  • Talent acquisition
  • Employee onboarding
  • Talent development
  • Succession management
  • Learning management
  • Compensation
  • Core HR

Up until that point, the aerospace manufacturer, which specialises in aircraft interiors, had invested tens of millions in ERP systems to manage its finance and supply chain, but HR technology had been a low priority, said Ratelband, director for global compensation, benefits an HR Information Systems.

Shortage of engineers

Securing funding from the company board was straightforward, he said. B\E relies on innovation to stay ahead of its competitors, and that means having the right engineers with the right skills, he said.

“We need engineers. We don’t have enough, and we need to find them as soon as possible. We need to know where they are in the organisation, so we can use them [effectively]. It really is as simple as that,” he said.

Managers love it. They spend a lot of time travelling and at airports, and they can get work done

Martin Ratelband

Ratelband said the company had no choice but to roll out a cloud-based HR system, rather than an enterprise-based HR system, if it wanted it up and running with a matter of months across 24 countries.

“The speed of implementation was the reason for choosing SuccessFactors. We could not afford to wait five years, to complete module after module,” he said.

The company began deploying the technology in September 2011, and had the first recruitment module in place by December. Other modules followed during 2012 and 2013, covering bonuses and merit pay, learning management and succession management.

First accurate record of staff in 24 countries

The cloud system, which replaces multiple spread sheets and paper based HR systems, has provided managers at B\E with an accurate picture of the workforce and its skills for the first time.

Previously, the company relied on its payroll system as its primary record of the workforce. HR staff had to manually retype the data into B\E’s JD Edwards ERP system, and much of it was too out of date to be usable, said Ratelband.

“Because we have everything in one database we can develop reports for management, for example, what our manpower skills are, what are global labour costs are,” he said. “Until recently we could not produce any of those reports.”

Managers can approve a promotion from an iPad

The system gives managers the ability to view personnel records and to complete transactions, such as approving a promotion, wherever they are, using an iPads or an iPhone.

“Managers love it. They spend a lot of time travelling and at airports, and they can get work done,” said Ratelband.

SuccessFactors has also helped the company speed up its internal HR processes, allowing jobs that previously took twenty minutes to be completed in five.

“In the old days if you wanted to make a change to a record, it was paper-based and difficult to track. Now you fill everything online,” he said. “Now you don’t have to retype salary, for example because it is already in the system.”

The biggest challenge was not the technology, but the need for the company to agree standard HR procedures across 24 countries, said Ratelband.

B\E put together global teams of HR specialists to pull together the best practices for each HR module, working at a rate of one module every 3 months.

HR technology consultants, Aasonn, which won a $1 million contract from B\E, helped to develop and integrate the HR modules.

Unexpected implementation problems

With hindsight, said Ratelbrand, it proved more complex to integrate SuccessFactors’s HR modules together into a complete system than Aasonn’s consultants first anticipated.

“We did not understand how everything would work together at the beginning, and we are now making some fixes,” he said.

B\E next plans to develop the platform to enable it to develop an analytics capability for its HR data.

“My dream is as a manager that I come in every morning, open SuccessFactors, and look at a dashboard, and that gives me my workforce statistics,” said Ratelbrand.

A second project will integrate SuccessFactors into B\E’s payroll systems, starting with a selected group of countries in Europe.

When it goes live next year, the system will allow changes made in employees records to be automatically reflected in salary payments. Analytics work is expected to start in 2015.




Read more on Tablet computers