BenefitsEmployee Engagement

Rogers Communications’ Fast-track HRO

Transforming HR through multi-process outsourcing wasn’t the challenge at Rogers Communications; it was achieving it in the rapid-fire style of its founder.

by Russ Banham
In the annals of HRO, few if any comprehensive engagements have switched on more quickly than the implementation achieved by provider Hewitt Associates for Canada’s Rogers Communications. The Lincolnshire, IL-based vendor had but nine months to meet the fast-track agenda set for the contracted “go-live” date on November 5, 2007. And nine months would have been a breeze had the contract only called for outsourcing payroll, but Rogers wanted much more, including benefits administration, compensation planning, application support, contact center, and several other HR functions to be turned on at once.

“Rogers requested that all HRO services go live at the same time as quickly as possible versus a phased-in approach” said Shauna Cooper, HRO Leader for Hewitt Canada. “It was an unprecedented challenge for us, but one we were eager to take on.”

Unlike many enterprises that outsource HR, Rogers didn’t take the phased-in method of rolling out one service after another; instead, it embraced the “Big Bang” approach, going live simultaneously on a number of critical processes. While most HR practitioners have shied away from such a philosophy because of the operational risks involved, HR leaders at Rogers Communications had all the confidence—and the accompanying hard work—to pull off its gamble. In fact, on the go-live date, 9,617 employees of Rogers—almost one-third of its total workforce of 30,000—used the myHR self-service feature offered by the vendor. That total was the highest number of new users on a go-live date ever recorded by Hewitt. In comparison, the previous record was a mere 2,500 users.

Making the deadline required an extraordinary degree of collaboration between the engagement partners. Project management teams in both organizations communicated on a daily basis, overseen by a traditional steering committee at Rogers. Significant change management and business process reengineering were required, as was the training of Hewitt personnel in Rogers’ policies, procedures, and practices.

“We mapped all the processes as they were performed pre-outsourcing, defined the requirements we had in mind for these processes, and then documented how they would be outsourced,” recalled Kevin Pennington, chief HR officer at Rogers Communications. “From a systems standpoint, the project was ‘lift and place,’ but from an operational standpoint, it ultimately called for changing the roles of more than a third of the HR department.”

Fast Times at Rogers 
Rogers Communications is no stranger to getting things done quickly. The company is Canada’s largest wireless voice and communications services provider and the only carrier in the country operating on the world standard GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) technology platform. GSM is the technology underpinning most of the world’s mobile phone networks, an unprecedented cooperative effort involving 214 countries. At present, GSM technology is in use by more than one in five of the world’s population.

Rogers is more than just wireless technology, however. The company is Canada’s largest cable television provider, offering cable television, high-speed Internet access, and telephony services for residential and business customers. It has its hand in radio, print, and online media, with businesses ranging from radio and television broadcasting to televised shopping, magazine and trade journal publication, and sports entertainment. It even owns the Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball team.

Entrepreneur Edward S. “Ted” Rogers launched the eponymous business with $85,000 in borrowed funds in 1960. Rogers saw potential in a then-new technology called FM radio. After that, he branched into cable television, wireless telephony, high-speed Internet, and the rest. Few blinked when Forbes magazine called him “Canada’s most obsessed-about-media mogul.” He was fearless, enigmatic, and an eternal optimist, with a legendary work ethic to boot. He fully expected others, including his HR department, to work just as hard as he did and to seize opportunity when it arose. “It’s the nature of the Rogers culture to do things fast,” Pennington pointed out. “Ted Rogers always believed that speed was important in being first to market. It’s in the bones of the people who work here. We want everything as fast as we can get it, and that included HRO.”

Rogers, who died just a year after the “go-live” date, had approved the outsourcing strategy in 2006. “Characteristically, the decision was literally made on the back of a napkin,” said Pennington, who came to Rogers that year as the company’s first chief HR officer. “I’ve worked for several Fortune 500 companies, and for us this was a $140 million decision, but that’s Ted. He was an entrepreneur, and he had wanted to improve HR performance for some time.”

Disparate Systems

It is no surprise that Rogers Communications had HRO in mind. The company’s HR department was divided into several teams, each supporting autonomous business units. This field staff processed benefits, payroll, and other functions manually, culminating in a “paper-based transaction factory,” according to the company. (Pennington estimates that 75 percent of the department’s time was spent on administrative activities.) While Rogers had an information systems architecture, it was comprised of 11 HR systems and five payroll systems. “We wanted to shift the focus, time, and attention of HR to more strategic talent management and leadership development objectives,” Pennington said, “but the driving force for HRO was quality of service for our employees.”

As a high-growth company and market leader in wireless, cable, and media, Rogers’ strategic priority for HR, as Pennington sees it, is planning for present and future talent needs and development, and not servicing payroll, for instance. Outsourcing is seen as a way to refocus HR in this direction by automating manual activities and transactions and outsourcing them to a third party to manage them more cost effectively.

The company in 1999 had implemented a PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning system—also a “Big Bang” execution in record time—that included modules for HR self-service that were never installed. “Ted said to me, ‘Kevin, they promised me this in 1999 and it never happened. Will you make it happen soon?’ and I said we would,” Pennington recalled. But he didn’t realize that by “soon,” Rogers had meant nine months.

Although Rogers didn’t get to see HRO in action for long at his company, his successor, Nadir Mohamed, will. Recently named president and CEO, he was most recently president and chief operating officer of its communications business, and CEO and president of the wireless division before that. Although he is newly coronated as group CEO, Mohamed is no stranger to the outsourcing engagement and the resulting shift in corporate culture, having served in an executive capacity during the HR implementation.

The Big Bang Approach

The company went the traditional RFP (request for proposal) route to several major HRO providers interested in taking on the demanding assignment. Rogers had enjoyed a previous relationship with Hewitt, which provided some consulting strategy services, and their relationship continues today in this regard. Pennington had worked with Hewitt at other companies in his career and was impressed by its tools, approach, and risk management. The provider’s track record and depth and the complexity of its relationships with clients convinced Rogers that Hewitt was the partner it needed. “Their team simply won our confidence,” Pennington said.

The task before Hewitt’s Canadian organization was challenging, to say the least. “Rogers is a dynamic organization, which set the bar for us to deliver what they wanted in a condensed time frame. Having all services go live on a single date was something exciting and impactful for their employees to use their new self-service platform (myHR). We received over 9,600 users on the first day of go-live—a rate never before seen.”

The bar was high, indeed. While Hewitt was no stranger to a “Big Bang” implementation, the time frame for delivery was the shortest ever demanded by a Hewitt customer. “It was absolutely a big deal for us, and we were thrilled to have a client like Rogers, despite the high expectations,” Cooper said. “Rogers joked that they are online 24-7, however throughout the transition of their HRO services, we found that many of their employees live up to that. Therefore we tried to live up to the online 24-7 to meet their needs. We knew we’d need all hands on deck to jump to the height Rogers had established.”
Since the outsourcing engagement encompassed multiple HR functions, Hewitt established teams for each discrete area such as benefits or payroll, under the auspices of one overall program manager. The teams had mirror counterparts at Rogers, with whom they communicated daily. Each team then reported to their respective program managers once a week.

As part of the assignment, a dozen Rogers’ HR workers were rebadged as Hewitt employees on its payroll. “Hewitt hired some of Roger’s employees as it is always an advantage to us in an outsourcing engagement to bring employees on board who have client subject matter expertise.” said Cooper. “For these employees, to some degree it was a challenge to be a Rogers employee one day and a Hewitt employee the next day. However it ended up working out well and we are very happy to have these associates with us supporting Rogers.”

Hewitt’s contact center for Rogers’ employees is in Toronto, with some of the administrative work handled by its facility in Noida, India. Twenty employees at the large call center are entrusted to solely service Rogers’ HR needs. “They contact us online by linking to the myHR page on their desktops,” explained Rita Battista, service delivery manager for Rogers at Hewitt. “If they have a question beyond changing an address or other personal information, there is a contact button to reach a Hewitt representative. They can also correspond with us by e-mail or call the call center via an 800 number.”

In these transactions, Rogers’ employees are unaware that they are in contact with contact center employees of Hewitt and not Rogers’ HR staff. In effect, Hewitt is a seamless extension of Rogers HR department. More than 600 pieces of revised and new content were developed for the myHR function in two languages, French and English. From a systems standpoint, Rogers implemented Hewitt’s total benefits administration system.

All Systems Go

During the course of the project, Rogers and Hewitt core team members devoted more than an estimated 100,000 hours to it. As the deadline approached, team members for both organizations worked well into the night to ensure the system would be up and running by the deadline. On November 5, the HRO platform went live with services ranging from myHR with both employee and manager self-service to the HR call center, workforce administration, payroll, benefits, and HR IT re-hosting.

While the “Big Bang” had sounded loud and clear, the rush to the myHR page was unexpected. The 9,617 users flooded the system, which performed well. “We were able to meet the volume and were pleased overall,” Battista says.

By day’s end nearly one-half million page hits were recorded. Ultimately, Hewitt was
able to complete 90 percent of the hundreds of deliverables contained within the transition project on time and on budget. It also recorded the most-ever multiple users accessing the system at the same time. Other broken Hewitt records included the most transactions—approximately 500—in UAT (User Acceptance Testing), the accelerated testing of end users to ensure that changes to the self-service model are successful. Add to that the fact that Hewitt was re-hosting more HR applications—taking Rogers’ existing systems and operating them within the Hewitt infrastructure—in less time than
ever before.

In a demonstration of the partnership between Rogers and Hewitt, every documentation milestone, amounting to more than 500 standard operating procedures and workflows required of Hewitt, was met. The collaboration also established 7,000 pages of policies and procedures materials across all domains and project areas. But what Hewitt is most proud of is simply its ability to go live when it had to.

“Rogers is a fast-paced, dynamic company, so it came as no surprise that they wanted services to go live as quickly as possible,” says Jim Konieczny, Hewitt’s senior vice president of multi-process HRO. “The fact that we were able to deliver what they needed in a matter of mere months testified to the success of the Rogers-Hewitt relationship. As it turns out, good planning, hard work, and a healthy understanding that outsourcing is a true partnership that needs both provider and client input did the trick.”

As for the future, Konieczny said both organizations are in constant communication with one another and continue to be upfront and direct about each partner’s expectations. Pennington concurred. “We expect our employees to work hard and do unreasonable things when it comes to their customers, so it is not surprising that our employees expect the same from the HRO engagement and Hewitt. Their satisfaction levels, as measured in our surveys, are high. The fact that more than 9,600 of them used the myHR feature on day one—at a rate never before seen—tells you something. We’ve been live now about a year and a-half now, and I can safely say that the engagement has lived up to our expectations and business objectives. Hewitt is meeting the metrics within the contracted SLAs (service level agreements), and then some.”  

Getting the Message out to Rogers Communications’ 30,000 Employee Was Critical in Change Management
With a fast-paced HRO implementation in high gear, Rogers Communications did what it does best—communicate. The objective was to inform business line managers that the switch to an outsourced model for benefits, payroll, and other administrative functions would not require more work; in fact it would involve less.

Change management is a critical component of all HRO endeavors, but in the engagement between Rogers and Hewitt, the change was coming fast—a record nine months from the signing of the contract to the “go-live” date for a suite of HR services.

Not only did the responsibilities of Rogers’ HR department change as a result of many administrative tasks being shifted to Hewitt, business line managers that previously relied on the department to handle their employees’ HR needs were also required to direct employees to administer their own HR services via the myHR feature on their personal computers. “We began with an understanding of the current state of business processes and their future state, as it related to the HR staff and ultimate users of the new system,” said Tony Cimino, senior director of HR services at Rogers Communications Inc. “The real issue was getting management support because like most companies that adhere to an HRO model it is perceived by managers as moving more work to them.”

In the past, managers called on HR to fill out forms or answer questions related to benefits, payroll, and so on. Often, this required repetitive, back-and-forth interactions. “A manager might fill out a form incorrectly or incompletely, which then requires us to contact that manager and ask for a correction,” Cimino explained. “Then they’d supply the wrong information again.”

Via the HRO engagement with Hewitt, these questions and concerns can now be addressed online, through e-mail, or calling an 800 number staffed with Hewitt personnel focused exclusively on Rogers’ 30,000 employees and their HR needs. The provider has a system of checks and balances that bars a transaction from concluding until all fields are completed and the information is accurate.

As part of the change management and business process reengineering effort, Rogers assembled a communications team to get out the word, but the real training came at the desktop. “Fortunately, Hewitt provides tools that are intuitive, making the self-service aspect easy and responsive,” Cimino said.

Hewitt is motivated to do this for a simple reason—processing information online costs a lot less than an employee calling them on the phone.

Tags: Benefits, Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global

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