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John Lewis to launch Partnerlink

Tuesday March 7th 2006

John Lewis is investing in an integrated HR solution from Oracle that will enable more flexible benefits packages for staff, improve performance management and ultimately automate labour scheduling.

Implementation of the new scheme - called PartnerLink - is a two-and-a-half year project and starts later this month. It will replace a raft of legacy applications, and link all personnel information with payroll. It will provide a new platform for line managers with more accurate staffing information as well as streamline HR access for staff.

“We had a lot of legacy HR applications that didn't

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talk to one another,” says Andy Street, HR director for the John Lewis Partnership. “The result was inconsistent standards, and a system that was very expensive to operate and also required high staffing levels in the HR department. With the new system we will have one version of the information and it will also help to empower line managers. In the past personnel was effectively done for them by HR - with this system they will be able to have much greater control.”

Staff turnover at the partnership is around 24% although it drops to 5% for staff with more than a couple of years service as those who imbue the company's philosophy tend to stay for life. Staff benefits are substantial: last year's profit sharing bonus for example, was 14% of pay for all staff. While PartnerLink will not change this egalitarian approach it will give flexibility as to how such bonuses and benefits are delivered.

“Some staff may prefer to increase their pension contributions,” says Street, “others could prefer to take child care vouchers,” says Street. “With our existing technology we have no flexibility to offer these sorts of options but with PartnerLink we will be able to.” The system, he adds, will also give the partnership the option of introducing labour scheduling technology at some time in the future.

Schemes like this, which enable staff direct access to HR records and give better visibility of skills for labour scheduling or succession planning, are becoming more widespread. Typically, web kiosks are used in store to allow staff to access records and make simple updates on personal details or register preferences for scheduling.

Kronos, for example, is currently piloting a kiosk system with one of its UK fashion customers which allows staff to swap shifts easily. “The system automatically compares skills, availability to work and compliance with the Working Time Directive,” says Simon MacPherson, business development and operations director, “so that staff can easily rearrange their shifts to match personal commitments without having to seek approval from branch managers every time.”

In Germany, Metro Cash and Carry currently implementing systems from Workplace Systems throughout its operations in Central and Eastern Europe. Initial benefits have included increases in productivity of up to 20% in some stores (average 6%) with a 50% reduction in customer queues and a 0.4% cut in wage costs per hour. Kiosks are also used: “Employees also have the possibility to influence their own schedules via a web kiosk,” says Metro C&C senior department manager Berthold Steur, who has been responsible for the project, “and in the longer term we expect to decrease wages per hour still further as well as define future employment contracts in terms of workload.”