Friday, December 31, 2010

(Another) New Year!

Wishing all of you a very wonderful new year! May 2011 be a year full of professional and more importantly personal fulfillment and happiness!
I am sure that the past year was a pleasant one for most PeopleSoft consultants - with renewed investments in HRIT projects by companies, large number of 9.1 implementations/upgrades and the announcement by Oracle of continued investments in PeopleSoft.
2011 bodes to be more exciting and might even turn out to be a 'tipping point' year for the product. The major highlights that I look forward to in the year will be:
1. Release of Fusion HCM product line - features, adoption and it's impact on PeopleSoft.
2. PeopleSoft in the 'cloud' - PeopleSoft has indeed been slow to move to the cloud. Given that adoption of 'cloud computing' is touted to be a major focus point for organizations, it is just a matter of time that PeopleSoft applications are also hosted in the cloud. Already Amazon and HP have solutions that let companies host PeopleSoft applications on the cloud. It is to be seen how vendors and organizations adopt this for their PeopleSoft applications. Hopefully this will make PeopleSoft more attractive for SMEs.
3. Effect of the new workplace and mobile applications - I had discussed briefly on this exciting and sweeping change happening in workplaces over the world in a previous post. With organizations embracing a more flexible work culture, the way enterprise applications are delivered and accessed need to undergo a sea change. I expect to see lot of innovative products coming up in this area and 2011 will only be the start!
4. Release Value Proposition for 9.2 - PeopleSoft HCM 9.2 is touted to be released in 2012 and I hope that we get to know of the features through the RVP sometime in 2011.
5. Progress of the new generation players - The HCM solution space is getting crowded and there are a number of solid products in the market. It will be interesting to see how new generation players like Workday and Successfactors maneuver in a resurgent market and how this will affect the adoption of PeopleSoft.

Well, the underlying current of all the above points is the immeasurable ability for innovation by the human mind and an often scary ability to take risks and venture into the unknown. That makes any prediction (like 10 tech. trends to watch out for in the new year!!) meaningless and mere wishful thinking! So, here's me signing off by wishing to see more of the wonders of the human mind in the new year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

T&L Best Practice - Value Lists and Reporting

The below presentation examines how Value Lists can be used in the design of Time and Labor reports that require the grouping of Time Reporting Codes.

**Note that a similar approach in Absence Management would be to use Element Groups to group Absence Takes together for reporting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Robots at workplace and Time and Attendance systems

What would be the place of a Time and Attendance system in the workplace of future where robots would be pervasive and would be handling most of the tasks done by humans at present? Sample the below video first:

A 'human-less' factory, supermarket and hotel (to take examples of industries with maximum human employment) looks a possible certainty in the near future. As machines replace humans in the workplace, what challenges does that bode for a Time and Attendance solution software? (The question of the effect on the entire HCM product line is more mind boggling!).
I would like to examine two aspects introduced by this new paradigm:
a. The effect on the way time capturing and attendance tracking is done for employees.
b. Applications of a Time and Attendance system for Robots.

A workplace where Robots have predominantly replaced humans will alter the very fundamentals of the current Time and Attendance and Workforce Scheduling market.At present, the main business drivers of Time and Attendance solutions is the fact that employee wages represent a major part of an organization's expenses and the legal requirements related to wage hour compliance. Every idea and product in the Time and Attendance market revolves around addressing these two business drivers. But, both of these needs will become obsolete in a post-Robot workforce world. With the reduction in the number of human workers, the strategic importance of optimizing wages and the overall wage related expenses to the organization will go down. This very fact clearly eliminates the most important pillar on which the Time and Attendance industry has been built - the need to check, control and optimize employee wages, especially those of the hourly employees. Robots on the other hand will not need breaks, need not be paid overtime (unless and until there will be labour laws for Robots!), will not need tracking of absences, may not need clocking time as they can work round the clock. Well, in such a scenario what is the strategic importance of a Time and Attendance system? This will undoubtedly lead to re-writing the fundamentals of the industry (I do not intent to ponder on an answer to this ground breaking question in one single post!).
One significant change I see happening due to this is in the way human employees will report time. With robots taking up the blue-collared jobs, human workers would be relegated to the office. Here again, I foresee the pervasiveness of the ROWE  (Result Only Work Environment) culture in the future. The anthem of ROWE is for employees to 'work anywhere, anytime without any fixed schedule'. With the improvements in collaboration technology and with machines (robots) grinding it out in the shop floor, companies should be able to adopt a flexible work culture like ROWE, allowing employees to work from any location. This shift in the workplace will necessitate the evolution of new mechanisms of capturing time/absence information. Fundamentally, time and attendance systems will have to be available in mobile and social networking applications. This is in tune with recent research suggesting that the market for mobile office applications will be around $6.85 billion by 2015 with more and more organizations moving enterprise applications to mobile devices. This is undoubtedly the 'blue ocean' for Time and Attendance systems and I would be surprised if the major Time and Attendance vendors do not latch up to this trend. Thus, the first major trend that I foresee due to the introduction of robots in the workplace is a paradigm shift from the traditional mechanism of tightly tracking time and attendance to a more flexible time reporting environment where the emphasis would be on collaborative and social devices for recording and reporting time.

The second aspect was about the application of a Time and Attendance system for Robots. This is completely uncharted waters and will be an interesting ride!

I see two primary ways in which robots will be deployed in the workplace:
1. Treat a robot as an immovable capital investment like any other machinery and the company decides to buy robots for use.
2. Lease robots for use on a monthly or even hourly basis. I foresee the possibility of large scale robot leasing houses which would have an army of robots specializing in various tasks and deploy the robots at a fixed monthly/hourly rate to customers. Specialization of skills for robots will of course be pre-dominantly important when we are talking about these machines replacing the multitude of tasks and skills done at present by humans. This will introduce a 'job market' for robots with relative demand for various skills and these robot leasing houses will play an important role in supplying 'talent' to the market.

If the second idea that I detailed becomes a reality, we could potentially see robots coming in and going back from work everyday (especially in an environment where operations do not take place 24*7). Further, if the robots are leased on an hourly rate to the company, it might become important to track the time worked by the robot. Thus, we could potentially see the need to track the time worked in a shop floor by robots and this is indeed an opportunity and challenge for the Time and Attendance vendors. The area where I see maximum impact is on Workforce Scheduling. The dynamics and parameters used for workforce scheduling at present will have to be uprooted in a post-Robot workplace environment and the possibility of a robot executing a task will have to be taken into consideration while scheduling and generating work schedules. This will also entail the need to feed back the work schedule generated to the robot. Thus, there is a distinct possibility that in the future, Time and Attendance systems will have to interact with robotic systems and possibly even an IT system that controls the administration of robots. This will entail technological changes and challenges to the Time and Attendance vendors and opens up an entirely new and non-existent possibility.

In conclusion, I feel that the signs of the workplace of the future bodes a fundamental shift to the Time and Attendance systems market. Even if the idea of Robots in the workplace might be futuristic, it is fast dawning upon us and we should be prepared for the tremors that will come with it. More importantly, the shift to a more virtual workplace and adoption of ROWE or ROWE like concepts present a more imminent challenge to the industry and calls forth for innovative products and a re-think of the very fundamental business drivers of the Time and Attendance industry.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Time and Labor rules and WRK_ADHOC_TAO table

WRK_ADHOC_TAO is one of the most useful temporary tables used in the Time Administration processing. This table (conspicuous by the absence of a TL_ prefix as it is a scheduling table used!) is primarily used as the reference point for the schedule data of employees (output of the schedule resolution routines in  Time Admin). This table is commonly used in most of the delivered rule templates, especially those that track attendance infractions like Late In, Early Out etc. Handy uses of this table are:
1. HOLIDAY_IND field that says whether a particular day is a Holiday as per the holiday schedule.
2. OFFDAY_IND field that says whether a particular day is an off-day as per the work schedule of the employee.
3. SHIFT_ID field that gives the shift of an employee for a day which can be useful while tracking shift premiums.
4. Field that give the scheduled In and Out time for a day that can be useful while checking tardiness.

So, the next time you want to check whether a particular day is an off-day or holiday in Time and Labor rules, you know which table you need to refer!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick tip: Delegation in PeopleSoft Time and Labor 9.1

For Time and Labor delegation transactions to appear in the Manage Delegation page, ensure that the delegation transaction ids have been setup in the Self Service workflow transaction page. This page can be found under:
Setup HRMS >> Common Definitions >> Self Service >> Workflow Transactions.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Processing employees on LOA in Absence Management - enhancement request

As per the current design, the Absence/Payroll calculation process does not pick up employees with an Inactive status. As the LOA action is setup to turn the employee Inactive, naturally employees on LOA are not processed in Absence Management/Global Payroll. This is a common requirement from clients and I recently noted in that Oracle has raised an enhancement request for this very issue. According to the Oracle support site, ICE 1910876000 has been created for this request. That should be a welcome news for Absence Management customers.

Handling blank values in Excel to CI template

Sometimes blank values in an excel spreadsheet in the Excel to CI template can cause issues while staging the data. Workaround for this issue is to put " " (yes, two " separated by a space) in each cell that has a blank value).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Proactive Analysis and Selecitve Application: A proposed approach to PeopleSoft maintenance

When the phone rang at three in the night (or was it already morning*, long days at work incapacitates the brain for sure!) Bernard said to himself, 'Oh God, not again'. The ring tone ('alarm' would be a better term!) was distinctive, slowly rising in pitch from a sweet whisper to an ear piercing shrilling - it was the support phone crying to be attended to. Bernard reached out for the phone and he was right, it was the IT helpdesk calling.  'Hello, this is Bernard from PeopleSoft support team. May I know who is on line?'
'Hi Bernard, this is Anand from IT Helpdesk. We have received around eight incidents in the last one hour saying that employees are not able to apply for leave. When they try to click on the forecast button, they are getting the error message 17000,483. As this is preventing a large number of employees from applying leave, David has authorised this to be a Priority 2 ticket. Could you take a look? I will call back in 30 minutes for an update'.
'Ok. Sure Anand. Please pass on the incident numbers to me with the exact error details reported by the employees'.
Bernard analyzed all the reported incidents and noticed that in all cases employees were trying to apply retroactive leaves. He knew that there were no issues with the retro setup in Absence Management and was perplexed about this issue. As he had the error number, he quickly logged into Oracle metalink to gather more details about the error. 'There you go, another product bug fixed in a future bundle!', Bernard sighed. This was not the first time that such an issue had come up, they had not applied bundles for the last one year and a number of critical issues were finally nailed down to being part of one or the other bundle. It was not that the project manager was complacent on the need to apply bundles, but the cost and effort concerns always reigned in. The story goes on that Bernard was able to downgrade the severity of the ticket and later got the DBA to apply the specific fix for this issue. This incident went in as yet another entry into the 'business case' for a bundle upgrade. Last heard, the customer realised that it is better for them to upgrade to the latest version of the product, rather than apply close to 20 outstanding bundles!

Couple of weeks back, there was a very interesting discussion on ITToolbox regarding the best practices on applying bundles and maintenance packs. Even though staying current on bundles and patches is the ideal scenario, practical considerations make it a very difficult state to be in. For shops that have a small PeopleSoft team, supporting multiple applications and in times of stringent HR IT spending, spending effort and money to stay current on bundles is not always a top choice. Organizations would rather spend on new projects with tangible business impact.
But a careful analysis of the bundle fixes will show that a number of critical issues are often fixed in these releases, so completely ignoring bundles and adopting the strategy of 'don't fix it if it's not broken' can turn out to be counter-productive.
Thus, I would advocate a middle path of proactive analysis and selective application. The steps in this approach is illustrated below:
1. Proactively analyse bundles for fixes that are relevant to the customer as soon as they are released. This first step is very important because it will immediately bring to light potential issues in the system that have either been not identified or have been identified but not resolved. This activity of proactive bundle analysis for relevant fixes will surely help the customer pre-empt some of the issues before they arise and is thus a very powerful support tool.
2. Try to replicate the relevant bugs in the customer's environment. This is to confirm that the issue as reported by the bug exists in the customer's environment also. A number of times I have found that this kind of an analysis brings forth issues which were never identified in the system and has helped to fix them before they arose.
3. Rank the fixes in terms of business impact. It's a no-brainer that bugs with maximum impact has to be taken on priority and fixed and this process should help to come out with the priority list.
4. Debate the possibility of a work around vs. applying the fix. There could be certain scenarios where the effort of applying a fix provided by Oracle is very high and a customized work around could be put in place with lesser effort. This can typically happen in environments where certain parts of the application has been heavily customized and high degree of retrofitting is required to apply a fix provided by Oracle. In these cases, a decision has to be made whether it is better to put in a customized work around or the Oracle provided fix.
5. The final step in the process would be to extract the specific fixes from the bundle release and selectively apply them in the customer's environment.

I believe that the above is a very effective strategy that can be adopted effectively by PeopleSoft support projects. While the cost of applying entire bundles can be very high, the cost of not being aware of the bugs fixed by bundles and waking up to critical system issues can be equally damaging (especially when it affects time and pay. I know of organizations that have lost thousands of dollars in terms of payroll overpayments due to bugs in Time and Labor/Absence Management!). This process of proactive bundle analysis has to be an integral part of every PeopleSoft support process, to the extent that I would advocate measuring the compliance to this activity.

*At the heights of it's colonial powers, Britain was referred to as the 'Empire on which the sun never sets'. This would be an accurate reference to the Indian IT companies of the current era. With work and support being provided round the clock, the sun indeed doesn't set for these companies.