Talk Talk moves HR systems to cloud

Managers now have accurate information on their workforce numbers, salary and overtime costs

Telecoms company Talk Talk is, for the first time, providing its managers with accurate information on head count, job vacancies, overtime and salary costs after replacing seven HR IT systems with a single, cloud-based service.

The project, which went live last October and is expected to pay for itself within three years, has transformed the way the company manages its workforce, said people services manager Jackie Wilson (pictured).

“It is opening up career opportunities for employees and giving people managers direct access to information about the people they manage,” she said.

Since it demerged from The Carphone Warehouse in 2010, Talk Talk has grown to become a broadband and telecoms supplier with 4 million customers and a turnover of £1.7bn.

But a spate of acquisitions, including internet service providers AOL UK and Tiscali, had left Talk Talk with incompatible, ageing HR systems.

Managers had no clear overall picture of the workforce, how many unfilled vacancies there were, or total salary costs, said Wilson in an interview with Computer Weekly.

“Even overtime was difficult to work out,” she said. “One area of the business might have a database, and another kept the information in a spreadsheet.”

And getting approval to create new job roles was “painful”, said Wilson.

“Each business approached it in different way. It was very hard to see at group level how many people were being recruited and where.”

HR shared services

Talk Talk began a project to integrate its broadband businesses in 2011 by introducing a single set of terms and conditions for customers, standard contracts, and a simplified portfolio of broadband services.

At the same time, the company merged four HR centres in England, Ireland and Scotland into a single ‘shared services’ HR department.

“We had done the alignment, we had done the harmonisation, and the bit that was missing was to invest in our technology systems,” Kathryn Heywood, director of HR operations, told Computer Weekly.

In 2012, Talk Talk took advantage of a break clause in its contract with NGA Human Resources to evaluate other HR IT suppliers.

It assessed technology from the top three suppliers – Oracle, SuccessFactors and Workday – and three smaller suppliers – Microsoft Dynamics, ADP and NGA.

Big bang approach

The HR team wanted to roll the technology out across the company as quickly as possible, in a 'big bang' approach, with a tight six-month deadline.

“We were time-bound,” said Heywood. “We knew we had to get off the old system.”

The team considered SuccessFactors, but ruled it out after learning that it would take 18 months to roll out, and opted instead for Workday.

It hired cloud specialist Appirio as an implementation partner after holding a beauty parade of systems integrators.

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“We wanted someone who would gel with us, work within the remit of the project, and had a close cultural fit with Talk Talk,” said Heywood.

Talk Talk changed its HR processes to match the capabilities of the software as closely as possible, minimising the need for customisation.

“We tried to stick as much as we could to the vanilla version of Workday,” said Heywood.

The HR teams ran detailed workshops over three weeks to agree a standard set of HR processes across the company.

It was hard to convince some parts of the business that there should be one standard approach, said Heywood, because each had its preferred systems.

Technology challenges

The company went live with a prototype implementation last July, and with a second prototype in August.

“We got to see the fruits of our design, so we could see whether we had built the right level of authorisations, and whether we needed to tweak anything,” said Heywood.

Managing recruitment and moving people to new positions internally was one of the most difficult areas to get right.

Workday sent so many alerts that there was a danger of flooding managers with too many emails, said Wilson. “We had to get that balance right,” she added.

The team ran into some unexpected problems. For example, it discovered it needed to create a catalogue of job roles in the company, and had only two weeks to complete the work.

Project fully live

The project went fully live across the company in October last year, and within the first month, 88% of Talk Talk’s 2,500 employees had used the system.

The company has now linked the software into its finance systems, enabling managers to generate reports on payroll costs, head counts or to update employees' bank details.

Managers now also have a clearer understanding of how much they are spending on contractors, which is helping to cut costs, said Heywood.

“We can be more accurate about what overtime we have, for example, and how much it is costing us, so managers can make more informed decisions,” she added.

The firm's people services team has built dashboards that show how many open vacancies there are by location, pay band and time.

Managers can also see when employees are taking sabbaticals or are being seconded to other parts of the business. “We can drill down and understand where people are in the hierarchy,” said Heywood.

Paying the right salaries

Talk Talk made the potentially risky decision to change its payroll provider to ADP at the same time as rolling out Workday.

But the project has paid off, improving the accuracy of salary payments from 97% to over 99%, and has simplified administration work.

“The payroll used to go out, and we would get it back two days before it went live, and the team would have to work through it and look for discrepancies,” said Heywood. “Now we have visibility all the time.”

This new approach helped to avoid some embarrassing incidents, including one occasion when Talk Talk’s CEO received the wrong pay cheque.

Talk Talk now plans to develop Workday to provide more management information. It intends to roll out a performance management system in June, and talent management in August.

“The great thing is that we will have everything about our colleagues in one system,” said Heywood. “If they move teams, the information will go with them.”

Lessons to learn

Although the project was successful, said Heywood, with hindsight she would have spent more time on the recruitment technology.

“The systems integrator was new to recruitment and Workday was new to recruitment, so there were teething problems,” she said.

Heywood advises anyone embarking on a similar project to make an effort to keep the workforce informed about the project, and have a clear communications plan in place.

Kathryn Heywood and Jackie Wilson were presenting at the HR Tech Europe Conference in London

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