SI Review: November 2011

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Virtual Sweep

Software getting more integrated, going mobile

By Craig Johnson

Back in the day, a job candidate might read an employment advertisement in a newspaper. Then he or she would go to a staffing firm’s office to fill out paperwork or take assessment tests. His or her information might be stored in an actual filing cabinet.

Today, candidates don’t need to pick up a newspaper, and they may not even need to go to a staffing office. Just about everything can be done online.

“We’re seeing more applicants engage with us, but they may not come through our doors anymore,” says David Buzzell, CIO of The Sedona Group, a Moline, Ill.-based staffing provider that ranks on Staffing Industry Analysts’ 2011 list of largest U.S. staffing firms.

Software, of course, doesn’t just track applicants. Staffing software is designed to help staffing firms manage clients and employees as well as match employees to jobs, according to Kevin Delaski, CIO of The TemPositions Group of Companies, a New York-based staffing provider that received a CIO 100 award in 2010. Today’s software is doing more and becoming better, he says. That includes more automation, with some software able to receive and fill orders from staffing buyers without interaction from internal staffing workers.

Integral Part

Technology plays a crucial role now and it will likely play an even more important role in the future. Technology touches almost everything a staffing firm does — from front-office activities such as tracking client contacts to back-office activities such as payroll and billing. And it continues to evolve.

Trends today include a movement toward Web-based systems and more mobile applications, as well as increased integration with third-party applications such as those from background checking firms or candidate skills testing companies. With systems integrated, staffing companies’ software can send candidates to third-party online testing companies — and their information will already be in the third-party’s system. Background check firms are also integrating their operations with staffing software.

“The more the systems can talk to each other, the less data entry that account managers have to do and the faster the turnaround time,” Buzzell says.

For example, at The Sedona Group, an account manager can simply check a box to have a testing service provider send a skills test to a job applicant. Once the test is completed, the scores are sent back and are automatically recorded in the staffing software system.

And it’s more than testing and background checks that are being integrated.

“Many staffing applications integrate directly with online job boards allowing you to post open positions and search job boards for candidates directly from the staffing application,” Delaski says. “There is also a trend toward integration with ATS/ VMS systems, eliminating the need for duplicate data entry between both systems. Another trend is to integrate with email applications like Microsoft Outlook where résumés that come in via a recruiter’s inbox can be automatically extracted by the staffing system and a candidate profile created from the contents of the resume.”

Integrated VOIP phone systems can determine which applicant is calling and automatically pull up his or her information on screen, he says.

Sanjeev Tirath, CEO of Pyramid Consulting Inc., which ranks on Staffing Industry Analysts’ list of fastest- growing staffing firms, says software integration with VMS systems can allow staffing firms to track what’s happening in a given VMS system through their own software without having to log into the VMS. In some cases, a staffing firm may also be able to submit resumes to a VMS without leaving its own software system. Such single points of contact can allow staffing firms to cut down on training costs by not requiring internal workers learn a VMS system in addition to its own software.

Another trend Tirath cites are “supplier portals” where a potential subcontractor can log into a staffing firm’s software and search for job openings and requirements in order to submit candidates.

Self-Service

“Automation and self-service is really a trend,” says Derek Bullen, president of S.i. Systems Ltd., an information technology staffing provider that Staffing Industry Analysts ranks as the eighth largest staffing firm in Canada.

Staffing buyers like the self-service and automation, Bullen says. It’s similar to the trend of people using ATMs to withdraw $20 rather than standing in line for a bank teller. S.i. Systems works to make its relationship with staffing buyers as “frictionless” as possible by using such things as electronic contracts, he says. The company is also seeing a demand for an application that enable clients to approve timesheets over mobile phones.

Consultants also have self-service access to update their information on S.i. Systems’ database, where the company finds a majority of consultants to place. For internal workers, S.i. Systems also uses a self-service system similar to Wikipedia where workers can post knowledge or search for answers to questions such as “What do you do when a consultant wants a raise on a renewal?”

Data Hits the Road

Software is also moving to mobile devices such as smart phones, tablet computers and computers at home. Such systems can allow employees to accept jobs or enter hours. Buyers can use information to approve hours and enter job orders.

“I think in the past two to three years — in technology in general but very much in the staffing world — you’ve really seen a change in the environment where it’s become totally mobile,” says Buzzell. “People expect to have full access to all their information 100 percent of the time.”

Recent studies by the Pew Research Center found that 35 percent of Americans own a smartphone and 8 percent own a tablet computer.

Along with more mobility, more software is also going to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model in the cloud, where the software is housed at servers not located at the staffing firm and a firm may pay a subscription fee based on its usage. The software is maintained by the provider.

“Paying for the service as you use it is a more efficient model,” says Lisa Biondi, CIO at System One, a Pittsburgh-based technical staffing firm that ranks No. 6 on Staffing Industry Analysts’ 2011 list of largest engineering/design staffing firms. It enables a firm to scale up or down more easily when needed. A staffing firm may have 3,000 employees billing one year and go to 4,000 employees the next year.

“Software as a service solutions can also allow an IT department to parcel out noncore functions such as email and payroll to third-party firms, allowing companies to focus more on staffing-specific activities,” she says.

Paperless Process

While mobility and SaaS are on the way in, paper is on the way out.

“Everything’s going digital,” says Neil Stallard, executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Reserves Network, a Fairview Park, Ohio-based staffing provider with more than 30 operating locations.

Stallard says his company has implemented a paperless onboarding process for applicants, and it has found that even applicants for light industrial positions are able to handle online applications. In addition, about 70 percent of the company’s invoices to customers are emailed, which brings improved efficiency.

The Reserves Network has also gone entirely paperless for paychecks, using either direct deposit or paycards, he says.

Some software also offer online document management with capability of attaching résumés, disciplinary forms, job descriptions, etc. to applicants’ records.

Striking a Match

Integration can also include social media. Michael L. Whitmer, global CIO and executive vice president of North American operations for the Hudson Highland Group Inc., says a “digital presence” with social media is important to create relationships with candidates and clients.

It’s not necessarily difficult to implement, says Whitmer, whose firm ranks No. 32 on the list of largest global staffing firms. “The challenge is ensuring that you’re on board,” he says.

One catch: Candidates who may have existed only in internal staffing firm databases at one time are now broadly reachable through social media sites such as LinkedIn, he says.

But that’s where technology can also serve as a competitive advantage, Whitmer says. For its part, Hudson uses proprietary technology aimed at better matching candidates with clients as a differentiator for the company. Hudson’s Talent Management division works on assessment and selection tools to improve candidate matches. Those tools include processes to help place the most appropriate candidate.

Technology is helpful when a candidate is looking for a job. But it’s more than that. Hudson also uses technology to help maintain relationships with passive candidates to keep the company at the top of their minds, even if they aren’t looking for a job at the moment.

Technology to stay in touch can include a candidate portal that provides salary information, career advice, etc., Whitmer says. “Just giving them a plethora of information to stay engaged with Hudson even if they are not looking.”

Business Intelligence

Despite the lack of paper, technology is increasing the amount of information available.

Most staffing software includes employee-specific “dashboards” as home pages that can deliver metrics appropriate for the individual.

“For example, recruiters generally see metrics regarding interviews, job orders and candidate placements,” Delaski says. “Managers see graphs and charts related to revenue, hours billed trends and gross profit for departments under their supervision. Corporate executives see sales and gross profit data for the company as a whole.”

Software can also show trends in business that can help the staffing buyer. For example, you may be able to show a client that he or she ramps up usage of contingent workers at a certain time each year and that it may be more cost effective to hire temporary workers than pay for overtime. “The more information you can deliver to clients, the more value you can bring to them,” Buzzell says.

Of course, everything is still evolving. One thing Pyramid’s Tirath would like to see is greater availability of analytics from back-end software. It should “allow a way to statistically analyze the client using the data [the software has] captured,” he says. For example, backend software analytics could break down performance by geographic area and by hiring manager. This could allow a staffing firm with a national client to pinpoint a hiring manager who has issues with the company. The staffing firm could then work with its sales department to improve its relationship with the hiring manager.

Challenges

Technology may be becoming more advanced, but challenges remain. Software in the cloud can be a great thing if a local staffing office loses power, for example, because the information may still be accessible via mobile device. On the other hand, technical difficulties have caused outages in the cloud.

Mobility with the smart phones and tablet computers can also be a double-edged sword, says The Sedona Group’s Buzzell. “This mobility is expected, but you’ve opened up so many doors for access, your security risk is much higher too,” he says.

There’s also the challenge with getting people to adopt new software. And there’s the need for caution as well to make sure things are done right.

“We’re always looking at ways to automate and be more efficient, and that’s where the focus is going to be and it hits all levels of the business,” says Tammi Heaton, chief operating officer of PrideStaff, a Fresno, Calif.-based staffing franchisor with some 40 locations. “Our need for automation and innovation, streamlining process and systems is all about getting better over time and improving.”

Still, “technology is changing so quickly, it’s keeping up with the changes and making sure we’re not doing it so fast that your field and your operations aren’t keeping up with it,” she says. There are also legal considerations and concerns over keeping data protected.

Looking Ahead

Staffing software is set to remain an important feature for the staffing industry with the use of technology only continuing to grow.

According to the most recent survey of staffing firms by Staffing Industry Analysts, 51 percent of firms planned to increase spending on technology. That was a higher percentage than for training, marketing, insurance or conferences.

Staffing will always be a people-based industry, but technology paves the way to make it more efficient.

Craig Johnson is managing editor, staffing publications, at Staffing Industry Analysts. He can be reached at cjohnson@staffingindustry.com.

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