The National Health Service Tracks the U.K.'s Biggest Workforce with an Integrated System.
by Molly Rose Teuke
The National Health Service (NHS) of England and Wales reports success with its seven-year effort to transform its payroll and human resource (HR) management processes. NHS, which employs approximately 1.3 million people and is the largest employer in Europe, started in 2001 to develop the Electronic Staff Record (ESR). The ESR is a single system built on one central data repository.
According to Jim O'Connell, ESR programme director through most of the ESR implementation, NHS needed a big database that could help deliver real improvements through an integrated solution that could take them from start to finish in a logical manner. He says, "Oracle was far better placed to deliver appropriate solutions than the competitors."
Learn how, in spite of the pressures, O'Connell and his team stayed on time and on budget through 39 pilots and 12 waves of rollout, migrating more than 100,000 records every two months and covering more than 50 NHS organizations per wave.
In the rapidly changing marketplace of healthcare, short-term treatments for ailing IT systems are seldom effective. At the National Health Service (NHS) of England and Wales, the cure for a set of employee-related business challenges was a seven-year transformation of payroll and human resource (HR) management. NHS employs about 1.3 million people, accounting for 7 percent of the United Kingdom's working population. It's the largest employer in Europe, but it's also one of the most decentralized.
The NHS is organized into 600 healthcare trusts, which function as subsidiaries representing a single hospital, a group of hospitals, or a primary care facility. Each trust is a legal, autonomous employer with its own board of directors—and, historically, its own local or regional system for gathering and managing employee records. Until recently, 38 HR systems and 29 payroll systems operated under the umbrella of the NHS. With the development of Electronic Staff Record (ESR) in 2001, the NHS began replacing those aging and disparate systems with a single system built on one central data repository. "In the past, we've had unreliable local reporting and unreliable central reporting," says Jim O'Connell, who served as ESR programme director through most of the ESR implementation. "To this day, we really don't know how many people are employed by the NHS, and we won't know until we get the final person on the system."
An Ailing System
Lack of consistent, comprehensive reporting data affected more than the NHS's ability to track how many people it employed. HR management processes were an inefficient mix of technology and paper-based systems, and there was massive duplication of data entry. It was impossible for managers to benchmark performance standards, absentee rates, or training opportunities. O'Connell had several years of HR experience within the NHS when discussions started about development and implementation of a new system. He knew the NHS needed a comprehensive solution, but because the most visible need was in payroll, the discussion began in the Finance Directorate. "Our payroll systems were ancient," he explains. "They were output-based green screen technology and didn't tend to be integrated with anything. Occasionally, there were feeds between HR and Payroll, but that was more the exception than the rule. There was a risk that this was going to be a very finance-centric or payroll-centric project. At the time, I was working locally as an HR director, and I felt, along with others, that it would be a huge missed opportunity if it weren't a fully integrated solution. If we were replacing 29 payroll systems, why on earth couldn't we replace the 38 HR systems at the same time? The Department of Health workforce people pretty quickly jumped on that bandwagon and said, 'Yes, you're right; we need to look at an integrated solution.'"
As the development team considered options, the complexity of that dual HR/payroll challenge guided their decision. On one hand, they wanted a vanilla product, but on the other, the NHS had been in existence since 1948 with a vast array of different types of terms and conditions of employment, wages, and salaries. "Some providers were very focused on the technology, but for us it wasn't about the whizzy stuff," says O'Connell. "What we wanted was a big database that could help us deliver real improvements through an integrated solution that could take us from A to Z in a logical manner. Oracle was far better placed to deliver appropriate solutions than the competitors."