Human resources gets GSA revamp

The human resources department has a hand in almost everything an agency

does, from benefits to payroll to staffing. So a few years ago, when the

General Services Administration found that only a few people knew how to

use its legacy HR system that was taking up to 12 hours to deliver information,

the agency decided it was time to scrap it.

GSA recently completed the first phase of its transition to the new

Comprehensive Human Resources Integrated System (CHRIS). GSA HR employees

will be most affected by the new system, but it will also benefit the agency

as a whole, said Judy Westbrook, project manager for CHRIS.

"[HR personnel] have a much more powerful tool at their hands, on their

desktops, so that they can deliver better service to their customers," she

said.

In the early 1990s, GSA recognized that its legacy Personnel Information

Reporting System could not serve the agency much longer. Developed by the

Defense Department, PIRS had been in place since the early 1980s and used

a language that only a few understood. That made it difficult to fulfill

requests for information from agency managers. In addition, the main system

had so many "Band-Aid" systems layered on top of it that it became difficult

to operate.

So the offices of the chief financial officer, the chief information

officer and the chief people officer compiled a study of the needs within

GSA and the other agencies GSA serves through cross- servicing agreements.

These include the National Archives and Records Administration and the National

Credit Union Administration. After comparing those needs to the systems

available, the officials recommended that the agency go with Oracle Corp.'s

commercial off-the-shelf HR system.

CHRIS is vastly different from PIRS. For one, it uses a Microsoft Corp.

Windows-based environment that makes it easier to train more HR employees

to work directly with the system. This means that managers will get information

faster and that the information can be presented with graphs and other charts

that were previously unavailable.

The system is also designed to handle existing and future personnel

requirements from the Office of Personnel Management and any agency-specific

needs that may come up within GSA or cross-serviced agencies. That capability

resulted from extra work on the part of GSA and Oracle during an eight-month

delay in the implementation.

"It has been a long process for us," said Gail Lovelace, GSA's chief

people officer. "There was a lot that Oracle, GSA and other agencies have

learned in taking [Oracle's] off-the-shelf system and federalizing it."

In a July report, the General Accounting Office noted the difficulties

in adapting early off-the-shelf HR systems at GSA and four other agencies.

However, the re-port also noted that the benefits can be substantial, from

better decision-making and improved data accuracy to monetary savings.

During the delay at GSA, the agency also learned to model its HR processes

after those of the Oracle system.

"The system has really pushed us to ask questions on how we do our business,"

Lovelace said. "We are trying to minimize the number of hands that are touching

HR-type documents."

This will be taken even further in the next step for CHRIS — developing

a Web-based version of the system that will allow managers to input information

directly into the system.

The Web-based system will also provide the basis for GSA to encourage

other agencies to use CHRIS through cross-servicing. Most of the larger

agencies are working on new HR systems of their own, but GSA is in talks

with several smaller agencies, such as NARA, that simply do not have the

money or personnel to have their own systems, Lovelace said.

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