VA project lets workers do self-service HR

The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a $1.6 million contract to Talx Corp., St. Louis, to develop an internal World Wide Web site that will allow VA employees to view and update their personal employment information.

The contract is part of a VA project to streamline the often time-consuming process of updating human resources information. "It's an effort at being more efficient and more effective in the use of computers. That's why we're moving this way," VA spokeswoman Laurie Tranter said.

The move toward a Web-based system ultimately should enable all VA employees, regardless of their computer's operating system, to tap into a central site they can use to change employment-related information, such as the names of life insurance beneficiaries, mailing addresses, marital status and health plans.

The Web-based method will complement an approach to human resources "self-service" the VA has been testing for about a year. That approach, using software supplied by Talx, lets VA employees verify employment-related information via an automated phone system. The phone-based approach also lets employees change basic information in their personnel records by pressing telephone keys as prompted.

But Talx spokeswoman Jackie Engel said the Web-based approach should be more user-friendly because it enables users to see their employment information rather than simply hear it over the phone. Engel said the software that her company will provide to VA will act as "middleware" between the HR software by PeopleSoft Inc. already in place at the VA and a Web-like interface.

The result of the marriage between PeopleSoft and a Web browser is that employees, rather than HR specialists, can make basic changes to their records. And that should mean that HR specialists can spend more time on tasks other than data entry, including recruitment and training, said Anne Pauker, president of The Pauker Consulting Group, an HR consulting firm based in New Jersey.

The approach to HR self-service is not new. The trend started about 10 years ago, Pauker said. "It started with giving folks diskettes or letting them come to a training center or a kiosk of some kind or using a phone to do open enrollment and so forth," she said.

What is new, however, is the use of Web-like systems to let employees keep their information up-to-date. "I would say it is a goal of most human resources departments to use that technology if it's at all possible to do that," she said.

The benefits Web technologies bring include "the ability to get a human resources staff person out of the loop when they're not adding value," Pauker said. "[Updated employee information] gets touched so many times, it's just a waste of work."

Tranter said the VA will begin rolling out the self-service HR application first for managers. That rollout should come in April, she said. Afterward, the VA will extend the self-service application to employees to use for time-keeping and time-card certification.

By next summer, she said, the new system should be in full swing, enabling all VA employees to change their personnel data as needed and view their benefits information.

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