Smiths News puts employees first with succession planning for its HR team

Smiths News wanted to revolutionise its Talent Management and Succession Planning using its existing SAP HR system. The Bluefin Solutions approach and dedication, delivered this and with overwhelming user buy-in.

Smiths News was spun out of WHSmith in 2006. It's the UK's largest newsprint distributor delivering 59 million items every week and has 4,000 staff across multiple warehouses and office sites. This scale of operation demands excellence from its HR department but the company lacked a unified solution for handling Succession Planning.

Bluefin worked closely with Smiths News' Information Systems (IS) and Human Resources (HR) departments to design and build an enhanced Succession Planning solution to fill this gap. Management can now see exactly how skills are allocated throughout the business and where there is a need to recruit. Bluefin's design team ensured the front-end was familiar to users, resulting in universal acceptance of the new system. And by standardising back-end functionality around the existing SAP payroll implementation, Smiths News now has the option to further enhance and upgrade its systems without worrying about data integrity.

Business challenge

Succession Planning is one of the most challenging tasks for any HR function. Even at a single site, identifying employees' skills, understanding their motivations, spotting potential gaps in expertise and exploiting future opportunities is never straightforward. Doing the same thing at the corporate level, over several locations, is fraught with complexity.

Smiths News was clear it needed a new systemto combine data fromstaff appraisals, as well as workplace competencies and vacancies, to give local managers a well rounded view of succession issues.Information would then be held centrallywithin SAP R/3, providing a consolidated view of the whole group.

"Managers were using Excel spreadsheets on local machines to record and manage Succession planning. We knew SAP has a solution which could use data needed to support Succession Planning which was already part of the payroll information."
"We were concerned users would be reluctant to give up Excel for SAP. There were other considerations too, we didn't have HR experts in the IS team and because the payroll function is outsourced we didn't have SAP specialists either." Bridget Griffin, IS Programme Manager, Smiths News

The solution

"We were already talking to Bluefin about SAP Support Services for Smith's new Business Intelligence system and I'd had excellent feedback about Bluefin from previous colleagues." Bridget Griffin, IS Programme Manager, Smiths News
"We had a kick-off meeting with the in-house team and presented several system options and cost models. It was a chance for them to do a 'pick 'n'mix' on the functional and reporting requirements." Natasha Robinson, Former HCM Capability Lead, Bluefin Solutions

Bridget was immediately impressed by Natasha's confidence in the project:

"Bluefin provided three options. First was a standard SAP solution. Second was a bespoke data entry solution. And third, continuing with Excel, but uploading the data into SAP. Given our users' preferences and our desire to get more from the SAP system, we chose option two – the idea being we could design the bespoke data entry screen to look like Excel." Bridget Griffin, IS Programme Manager, Smiths News

While getting the right solution agreed up-front was important, the project team faced another challenge: time.

"Hitting the deadline was crucial. We needed the new system in place before the start of the appraisal process. The Bluefin team was on-site very quickly, commencing project management, design and programming tasks." Bridget Griffin, IS Programme Manager, Smiths News

A tailored approach

The existing SAP system was set up to handle payroll, so the data entry interface was pretty stark. Functionality was used sparingly meaning data was not regularly updated and there were a few unusual authorisation profiles.

The new approach is designed with standard SAP at the back end, allowing the IS team more flexibility to enhance the system.

"Everything the users see is tailored to their own processes, so Smiths can easily upgrade the system and continue to capture the information they need." Natasha Robinson, Former HCM Capability Lead, Bluefin Solutions

HR business experience and technical expertise across all aspects of SAP's HCM functionality are consultancy pre-requisites but the critical success factor here was business acumen.

"This was an HR-led initiative. Smiths primary objective was to have sophisticated back-office technology but with a clear and straightforward front-end to ensure user adoption thus making this a really effective business tool." Natasha Robinson, Former HCM Capability Lead, Bluefin Solutions

Designing a user interface with a familiar spreadsheet look and feel was key to ensuring the new system was adopted quickly. Bluefin's consultants also prioritise excellent relationships with all client stakeholders to ensure projects are business-focused from the outset.

Business benefits

  • Centralised framework for Talent and Succession Planning
  • Company wide visibility of talent and recruitment requirements,
  • Visibility to motivate, manage and plan high potential individuals
  • Universal user acceptance and adoption
  • A greater retention and promotion of talent within the business

Why Bluefin?

"Natasha communicated brilliantly with us from the start and I was immensely impressed with the quality of Bluefin's teamwork."
"They were passionate about the solution and committed to delivering the project on time and to specification. They were all friendly and had a good sense of humour. This is imperative when you need them to integrate with the HR team to ensure the system delivers for the end users." Glenn Leech, HR Director, Smiths News

Above all, Bluefin's consultants recognise clients are buying functionality, not technology.

"They didn't let any technical issues get in the way of delivering a really pragmatic solution." Glenn Leech, HR Director, Smiths News

'Any project issues were always couched in non-technical language to ensure I could make informed decisions.'

Glenn and Bridget say Bluefin's straightforward approach to project management, unambiguous pricing and business acumen all contributed to the success of the project.

But what made the implementation so smooth was excellent relationship management.

"The team integrated very well. They worked closely with HR on the design aspects and ensured there was a strong IS perspective in all the discussions. The quality of the cultural fit was evident and any issues were always resolved immediately." Bridget Griffin, IS Programme Manager, Smiths News
"This project illustrates the importance of the client-consultant relationship. This was key to ensuring the system worked well. It also shows you don't have to run the latest version of SAP to deliver up-to-date functionality." Natasha Robinson, Former HCM Capability Lead, Bluefin Solutions

In conclusion

HR Director Glenn Leech can now haver richer and more purposeful conversations withmanagers about howtheir requirements are met and what they can do to manage their people. The availability of different staff and skills is obvious across the business, allowing for better planningand tighter control of HR.

"The solution has delivered a step-change in our Succession Planning processes. We've had very positive feedback on the simplicity of the system and, as a result, 100% of the Succession Planning forms for the operational side of the business were completed before the deadline." Glenn Leech, HR Director, Smiths News

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