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The constant expansion of Emirates’ already large workforce could overwhelm the HR department with paperwork, as it hires new recruits and attends to the needs of existing staff. However, the use of the HR module within Oracle’s E-Business Suite allows just 45 staff to handle everything.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  November 22, 2003

I|~||~||~|The Emirates Group’s HR department annually processes over 35 000 visa applications, organises more than 1000 training courses per year, and recruits more than 3500 people per year, including 40 cabin crewmembers each week. This much activity could swamp any HR department with paperwork, but the use of Oracle E-Business Suite allows just 45 administrators to manage most of the company’s administrative HR processes. Furthermore, even though Emirates’ workforce is set to grow from 18 000 to 35 000 by 2010, the company is only planning to hire a few more HR administrators.

“The system should be able to cope with that growth, and the team here [in Dubai] shouldn’t be a lot bigger - that’s part of the reason for the investment in technology,” says Christo Nieuwoudt, manager, human resources, (service centre & systems), Emirates Airline.

“We should be able to leverage the technology to get the return on investment [ROI] and to continuously improve productivity. If we don’t do it, we aren’t doing a good job, as the technology can certainly do it,” he adds.

Mercator, Emirates’ IT arm, completed the first phase of the airline’s Oracle E-Business Suite 11i implementation last year. The entire company is now run using the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, and this has enabled the airline to integrate all of its accounting, human resources, procurement and order management functions.

This seamless integration of functionality and data provides numerous business benefits, particularly greater transparency and simplified processes. Changes to existing HR policies, for instance, can be easily incorporated by the HR community without any significant IT spend. The integration between the procurement department and the HR department also means that the entire company follows the same procurement approval framework. Furthermore, this process can be seamlessly and automatically updated as staff come and go, or if workflow is changed.

Key to this integration is the fact that instead of having information spread across the airline in different databases, all data is stored on one central, single instance database in Dubai. This greatly eases the management of the system, and it also enables management to get a far clearer overview of the company. In the HR sector, for instance, the company is able to quickly establish exactly how many staff it has in its separate international business units spread across the world.

Despite the centralised database and single instance, Emirates is able to divide each international office into a separate business unit. This localisation was an important requirement in the selection of the Human Resources system, as the application needed to be able to pool data centrally, but also to reflect country-specific differences in how the information needed to be managed and processed. This is mainly seen in terms of specific employee legislation, like taxation and working conditions. For instance, different countries have different reporting requirements covering such areas as tax contribution, equal opportunities legalisation and training programmes.

“When we selected Oracle HRMS we were operating in 30-plus countries, and we knew we were going to become 40 countries, which is now 55-plus… As such, the number of countries that already had localised versions of the system - and Oracle’s drive to localise for more countries - was an important factor in our decision,” says Nieuwoudt.

||**||II|~||~||~|Alongside this localisation, Human Resources has also created an HR service centre, which allows for a shared services environment. This is key for the central processing of high volume transactional tasks, such as visa applications or the processing of job applications. Using the business processes built into the Oracle system, the HR staff in Dubai are able to undertake these processes for the entire company, which thus relieves other staff of this burden.

“The type of work that we automate is high volume, transactional activities,” comments Nieuwoudt. “However, the [HR] work that is more advisory and consultative is dealt with through HR Business Services, which is closer to the business units, themselves.”

The HR service centre is set to relieve other departments of even more paperwork, through the implementation of a self-service environment. This is a key part of the second phase of the Oracle implementation, which is expected to be completed by April 2004. “The phase one implementations were to get the [basic] platform established… phase two is about adding functionality that is more qualitative in nature,” says Nieuwoudt.

Self-service will enable employees to access their HR records directly online, and then make necessary updates, such as a change of address or telephone numbers, or apply for leave. This will cut down on the flow of paperwork within the airline, while also ensuring that data is entered into the system quickly and more accurately.

“How much work is done by the employee, changing their contact address, for example, how much is done by the manager, requesting and approving HR actions, and how much is done at the central office depends on your business processes,” says Nieuwoudt. “The system has the flexibility for all three options, and you decide how ready you are as a business embracing these practices.”

The advantage of the self-service approach is clearly seen in recruitment. More than half of the 20 000-plus job applications sent to Emirates each month are now submitted online, and this greatly eases the processing of candidates. For instance, candidates can be automatically rejected if they don’t meet basic requirements, such as specifically required qualifications and experience.

The online recruitment also starts the process of creating the successful candidates’ HR records. The data that is entered in the online application is directly put into the Oracle database. Then, when a candidate is hired, the same data is automatically uploaded into Oracle’s HR Administration module. The employee can then see the same information in the self-service environment and make any necessary changes during their time with the company.

This move towards self-service is one of the key drivers behind the airline’s decision to upgrade to its ERP implementation to Oracle E-Business Suite 11.5.9, as the later version has a more configurable self-service layer, more functionality and as well as enhanced workflow organisation tools.

Alongside the technical challenges of implementing self-service, however, Nieuwoudt admits that the HR team also needs to battle to win employees’ confidence and convince them of the benefits of the system. “It is about changing business attitudes,” says Nieuwoudt. “Managers and employees must be willing, so we will implement the new processes step-by-step.”||**||

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