Grant Thornton spends £3m in move to cloud HR services

Financial advisory firm invests in cloud talent management as it gears up to expand its operations in the UK

Financial advisory firm Grant Thornton has begun a £3m project to deploy cloud-based technology to manage and develop its workforce, as it gears up to expand its operations in the UK.

The firm is investing in talent management and learning technology that will allow it to track the skills its 4,500 strong workforce in the UK, and to manage their professional development programmes.

“We really needed a system that would allow us to know who the talent is, where they were, and how they were being developed and trained,” said Simon Lanham, HR transformation director.

The advisory firm plans to replace its seven-year-old HR and payroll system, supplied by Midland HR, and a range of stand-alone packages and spreadsheets used for employee appraisals, salary reviews, and learning management with cloud based software.

It is investing in Workday’s cloud-based talent management and HR software, a learning management system from Cornerstone, and ResourceLink payroll software from Northgate.

Payback in a year 

Moving these tasks into the cloud will make the HR systems simpler to use and will eliminate having to re-key data, saving Grant Thornton in the UK an estimated 4,500 person days a year.

The project work will pay for itself within a year, by freeing up the time partners and employees currently spend on HR administrative tasks for fee earning work, said Lanham in an interview with Computer Weekly.

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But more importantly it will give the organisation a complete picture of the skills and talents of its workforce, allowing the firm to make better hiring decisions, and making it easier to hold on to talented staff, said Lanham.

“I think being able to see where our talent is, wherever you are, you will be able to search for people in skills and experience, you will able to fill vacancies, build succession plans, build teams. And at a higher level you will be able to do workforce planning,” he said.

That will teach you

The firm plans to replace its existing learning management system, which is little used, with the Cornerstone software, designed to integrate seamlessly into Workday.

The system will automatically highlight any gaps in employees training in their current roles or in future roles they would like to move into, and will recommend appropriate courses with the option of adding them to employees personal development plans.

Training programmes could include anything from workshops, classroom lead training, reading a book or job shadowing. “It might even be talking to a person,” said Lanham.

Employees will also be able to use Cornerstone to record their continued professional development courses and conferences, a requirement in the accountancy profession.

The project will allow Grant Thornton to align development and training much more closely to the firm’s business strategy, said Lanham.

“Because we are doing a firm wide assessment of people’s competences, we will be able to see if we have any gaps. That will allow us to channel our resources to develop talent where it is most needed,” he said.

We have had to invest a lot of time in putting structures into Workday and sitting down with the business to make sure we have the right hierarchies in place

Grant Thornton began looking at HR technologies in Summer 2012. It assessed some 30 different technologies and shortlisted 7 but it took some six months to get the project approved.

Changing business objectives

Initially the company had planned to introduce a system that would bring savings by making HR processes more efficient rather than providing new capabilities.

 “We wanted something that gave our people a one stop shop for HR, rather than having disparate systems that did not communicate. There were not many that could provide that, and those that could were expensive,” said Lanham.

Lanham found a basic solution that would pay for itself in 12 months, but he was able to persuade senior managers, that investing in a more sophisticated talent management system would offer strategic advantages for the organisation.

“A 20% saving on HR shared services is not much but if you think having the right system in place means you are identify talent, and you are developing them and retaining them, that is worth far more money,” he said.

Grant Thornton plans to roll out Workday to employees in April 2014. It will deploy Workday’s talent management and compensation modules in June, along with the Cornerstone learning management software.

Technology challenges

Grant Thornton is rolling out new HR software and new payroll software simultaneously, which makes the project more challenging than usual, said Lanham.

Keying in company hierarchy structures into Workday, has also proved more difficult than expected as Grant Thornton's previous HR system did not always record the company hierarchies accurately.

“We have had to invest a lot of time in putting structures into Workday and sitting down with the business to make sure we have the right hierarchies in place,” he said.

Recruitment and on-boarding

Grant Thornton plans to be one of the first organisations to test Workday’s recruitment capabilities – due to be added in April 2014 – as it gears up to expand the organisation. It is also looking at the potential for remote video interviewing of potential candidates.

“We are particularly excited because we have a big recruitment and training round, with thousands of applicants,” he said. “Workday will make the application process much quicker and easier and make the selection process quicker and easier.”

In the longer term, Grant Thornton is considering making Workday its standard HR system for operations world-wide. Grant Thornton in Canada and France already use Workday.

“We thought it would be a good global fit as other countries come to renew their system requirements,” said Lanham.

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