Existing Systems Provides Savings

By Jeffrey Rothfeder  |  Posted 2004-03-01 Print this article Print

Hello Central
Database management—making sure the call center staff could access the personnel files, benefits material, corporate policies, tax records and other relevant information quickly and easily—was more problematic. Because of the highly decentralized HR system that pre-dated the call center, data was stored on nearly 150 separate human resources applications that had been installed at the company based on the preferences of relationship managers and business units. Most of these were PeopleSoft programs, customized systems with no attempt at consistency throughout the organization.
"HR was changing its operating model, and the applications supporting HR wouldnt fit the new model of a centralized call center," says Kelley.

Building an über-HR application to meet Merrills short self-imposed deadline of the end of 2002 to complete the call center was not realistic. Whats more, the cost of a new system would likely wipe out the savings that Merrill was counting on from the HR reorganization, putting the entire program in jeopardy. As a result, Merrill executives took a leap of faith that was probably their greatest gamble during this project: They decided to leave the technology as is and build a rudimentary set of links from the call center to all of the relevant databases and applications throughout the organization. To do so, Kelley and his team installed Merrills homegrown security layer between call-center desktops and the many client-server networks that housed the HR programs and data, giving rights of access to desktops based on the types of queries being addressed at each one.

In addition, the IT staffers used the basic Microsoft toolset to design and develop the call center interface inexpensively and quickly. "It worked," says Deloittes Ruddle. "Many companies depend on new technology to improve ROI on a project. But many companies fail at that, finding that it costs more at first to tackle systems, and the savings they want never materialize. For Merrill, the initial savings were huge because the company didnt change the technology."

Using the same technology put Merrill in the comfortable position of being able to use some of the initial 18 months of savings to subsidize a new HR system. To that end, Merrill is shelving its PeopleSoft applications for an Oracle ERP that will integrate the data from all of the disparate information sources and store it in a standardized format with a Web-based interface. From that, says Kassel, additional savings should be generated from deep cuts in maintenance and support costs as 150 systems are melded into one.

Although they are delighted with how successful the reorganization has worked out, Merrills HR executives still view the outcome with some wonder. They know that any misstep along the way—and there were plenty of chances for that—could have been their undoing. And it hasnt hurt that the market has been strong the last year or so, relieving some of the parsimonious budgetary pressure at Merrill. But even with failure so real a possibility, Merrill executives note that what looks like good fortune was culled from carefully crafted decisions and a thoughtful response to an unfathomable attack that they wish had never happened. Luck is, after all, the residue of design.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel