After splitting from the Nordic Construction Company (NCC), Northern European housing developer Bonava had six months to set up global human resources (HR) operations and roll out a human capital management (HCM) system across eight countries before it listed on the Nasdaq Stockholm stock exchange.
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The £1.3bn turnover company split from NCC in 2016 in preparation for Bonava’s floatation on the stock exchange in June 2016.
The demerger left Bonava without accurate records of its 1,600 employees, and limited access to NCC’s HR team and the IT systems that previously supported Bonava’s workforce.
Melissa Höjwall, global lead for learning and development, told Computer Weekly that having accurate staff records was essential if the company was to gain a stock exchange listing.
“We had six months to set up a global HR operations from scratch, implement and recruit a new HR operations team and outsource payroll time and expenses for the Nordic countries,” she said.
Bonava’s parent company, NCC, had relied on a mixture HR databases, in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and other countries. NCC in Germany held data on its 900 employees on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
“Some of [the HR systems] were home-built for NCC and held together with a little bit of tape and glue,” said Höjwall.
Bonava did a quick supplier selection for a replacement HR system. The technology needed to handle HR requirements in countries as diverse as Germany, Russia and Sweden, said Höjwall. It also needed to be intuitive for employees who were used to filing paper forms.
“It had to be so user friendly and intuitive that even someone who is getting close to retirement and is used to working with Post-its can understand how to do something with the system,” she said.
Under Russian law, employers are required to keep copies of their HR data in the country. SAP SuccessFactors cloud service had a dedicated datacentre in Russia and was the only supplier at the time to be fully compliant with the Russian data protection law.
“It was also a scalable system. We wanted a way to get better headcount reports, but we also wanted to go to talent management and other more value-adding modules,” said Höjwall.
She chose Accenture, a previous employer, as an implementation partner for SuccessFactors. Bonava outsourced its payroll, time management and expenses systems to Azets, which provides managed services in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
“I worked for Accenture back in the day, implementing HR processes and systems, so I knew who to choose – people who were really good at their job,” she said.
Designed in a locked-room
Some 15 staff from eight countries spent three weeks agreeing standard HR processes that could be used across every geography.
The team decided that each country would adopt the same HR workflow in SuccessFactors – with the exception of Germany and Russia, which were allowed additional steps to meet local requirements.
“We agreed to have standardised HR processes as far as possible. We wanted to go global but not be rigid,” said Höjwall. “We have very different cultures in Germany and Russia compared with the Nordic companies.”
The company spent from March to June 2016 working out the detailed design of the HR systems, focusing on the Nordic operations.
That meant designing, payroll, expenses and time keeping systems, as well as building integration technology to link SuccessFactors to the four payroll systems used in the region. Other projects linked SuccessFactors with Microsoft’s Active Directory and with the company’s financial systems.
Bonava had relied on NCC to provide HR services in the past and it now needed to recruit its own HR specialists. By April 2016, it had hired a manager and three staff to support HR in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
“We also had to handle all the other HR functions such as benefits administration, sick leave and leasing cars,” said Höjwall. “They started in the middle of April and were designing all these processes.”
The project went live in the Nordics in September 2016. Bonava followed with a roll-out of Employee Central in Russia, Germany and the Baltics, which went live in February 2017.
One of the biggest challenges in the project was transferring the data from 10 separate HR systems used by NCC to Bonava.
NCC was busy with its own re-organisation, and did not initially have the time to share knowledge about the HR systems it ran on behalf of Bonava, or to supply the HR data when it was needed.
“It was very much a detective job of getting people to do things at the right time together. I felt like spider on a web trying to co-ordinate everything” said Höjwall.
Bonava hired a data migration expert with experience of NCC’s systems and HR data to convert the data from NCC’s multiple HR databases into a single format.
“We pretty much got data dumped. NCC extracted the data for us, but a lot of it was just basically unstructured,” said Höjwall.
The team spent from February to June 2016 validating the data with HR managers and HR specialists. They went through three iterations of HR data to test the integration of SuccessFactors and the company’s payroll systems between July and August 2016.
“The data work was complicated, stressful and painful. We could not steer and drive the NCC resources as we would have liked. I have full respect for that – they were busy with their own work,” said Höjwall.
The project also required a cultural change. Bonava had historically worked in a decentralised ways and people were used to working in silos, said Höjwall.
“We began to design a few global processes, starting more in support functions, rather than our core business. Still, when the demerger came and I started talking about implementing a global HR system, people were a bit sceptical and worried,” she said.
Until that point, employees had thought of HR as country-by-country service that was tied-in to local laws.
“We had to bring them into that kind of [non-siloed] thinking, and make them see [what was in it for them],” said Höjwall.
That meant asking HR managers to be involved from the beginning of the project and to provide feedback on the choice of supplier. It also meant working closely with country managers.
“We let them describe what their local requirements were, their pain points, and what they were happy or unhappy about with their old systems,” said Höjwall.
They took part in demonstrations of HR systems from different suppliers, assessed them for usability, and provided feedback on whether they met their business requirements.
“Choosing SuccessFactors, I did not really have to do anything because all of my colleagues were pointing in the same direction,” said Höjwall.
Bonava signed the contract to SuccessFactors in December 2015.
The company began final testing of SuccessFactors HCM and its payroll systems in July and August 2016, before going live on 1 September that year. Unusually, for a project of this size, everything went to plan, said Höjwall.
“I have worked with implementing HR processes for eight years of my career, and I have never been part of an implementation that has gone this smoothly. We had data 100% [accurate] for day one,” she said.
The HCM project was fundamental to Bonava winning its listing on the Nasdaq Stockholm Stock Exchange, said Höjwall. Previously, it took three weeks to produce a headcount report, but now it takes three seconds.
“That was one of the requirements from Stockholm Stock Exchange. You have to be able to provide timely and accurate data to any kind of stakeholder who needs that information,” she said.
“I have worked with implementing HR processes for eight years of my career, and I have never been part of an implementation that has gone this smoothly”
Melissa Höjwall, Bonava
The HR system has given every employee in Bonava the ability to view the organisational structure of the company and the role of any employee in any country.
Previously, the only way of doing that was through job title records in Microsoft Outlook, which were often difficult to translate into other languages.
“Now our organisation is totally transparent for everyone. In days of NCC, it was virtually impossible to find who was working for us,” said Höjwall. “It is a good way to find people and to reach out. It is really helpful for the new hires.”
Bonava has developed a mobile collaborative platform that allows managers on construction sites and offices to access the company’s IT systems remotely.
Managers and employees can now use the platform to access the SuccessFactors HCM suite from mobile phones and tablets.
Höjwall plans to add to the HR system by introducing modules to manage compensation and bonuses.
She has plans to introduce further modules in 2018, which may include learning, performance management, talent management and recruitment.
In the longer term, she believes that the HR technology will reduce costs and improve the company’s profits by making it easier to recruit and retain talented employees.
Höjwall advises anyone embarking on a similar project to focus on change management. “It does not matter how good a system is, if people don’t understand what’s involved for them then it won’t be seen as good,” she said.
Bonava operates in Sweden, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Estonia and Latvia.