Optimizing System Integration

Our process of system integration began with our vision to have a single source of the truth for both our people and financial systems. While our HR system stored all data related to people, we also wanted it to be the authoritative source of data for all other systems.

The vision was the easy part, developing the processes took a little longer. I would say it all started when we started using PDS back in 1999! Although not our first HR system, Vista was the first SQL database that made it easier for us to share data across systems.

Working with the IT department, processes were developed to pull data from Vista that would be needed in other systems.  With the use of triggers we created and then updated separate tables, that we called the “HUB”. The tables contained people data that could be used in the updating of other systems. Using the external table, we could prevent direct access to Vista by other user accounts/people. Of course we did this years ago, and now PDS has implemented tools to make these tasks a lot easier.

As we built and developed our systems and framework, whenever new personnel data was required, we looked to the HR system. We have many examples of how we leveraged Vista to help us maintain the people data in other systems. For example, the maintenance of our email and exchange distribution groups is a topic that came about in a meeting over 10 years ago. How do we keep all of those groups up-to-date? The groups were always out of date because information was not flowing to IT for updates. As we were brainstorming, we thought, why not use “teams” (groups) — with teams you can populate using SQL and that would allow us to keep groups current. All we had to do was pull the data and populate the Exchange distribution groups. Today we have over 1000 groups maintained from Vista. This is just one example of thinking outside of the box to come up with a way to solve a problem.

As the years rolled by, we continued to leverage Vista for anything personnel related. Today our Intranet and Internet all are populated using data from Vista. The types of information in addition to the standard name and phone number information that is displayed includes attorney bar licenses, education, various name formats, secretarial assignments, billing rates, etc. The flowchart below shows just how many systems that we update from people data in Vista.

We also leveraged Vista to develop a process to manage the maintenance of our building access cards. Each employee has an access card that allows them to use the elevators and access floors. We created a program that allows us to manage all access card information from within Vista on the company property page. If someone is hired the access card number is entered into Vista and immediately the security system is updated to grant access. The reverse happens when someone is terminated by automatically removing the access rights. Temporary card access is also managed through the system and our receptionists can add and remove temporary card access for employees.

As a law firm, we have billing rates for all of our timekeepers. Since this was a field of information tied to a person, we decided long ago to keep this information in Vista. The obvious question, was in what field. We took advantage of the user fields. These are really valuable fields that will really help you when needing to pass information to another system and it isn’t the typical HR field of information. Today we store 23 billing rates in different currencies that all flow into our financial system. The billing rates are updated by a stored procedure pulling the exchange rate that is entered in the country table.

Data doesn’t have to go just out of Vista to other systems. We also bring data in from other systems. By doing this you can provide employees a complete view of their personnel record. For example: In our version of “Company Property”, that we call “Firm Property” we store an individual’s laptop and Blackberry information. This information is inserted and updated in Vista via a stored procedure. Storing this information in Vista allows us to create reports such as our departure checkout report, where we include all firm property that someone has been assigned. We also update course information for IT courses that are tracked in an external system.

Having a single source for HR data, we have been able to continuously implement new features within Vista to enhance and populate data in other systems. The integration optimization between our systems has had a direct cost saving effect by reducing headcount for individuals maintaining data to our various systems and eliminating duplicate processes.

Whenever we encountered a situation where we were requested for people data that had to be maintained, our first action is to automate the processes. With Vista, the opportunities are limitless. A little imagination and creativity will go a long way in making Vista the single source of truth for all your people data!

Meribeth Carter, Co-Chair of the PDS UGA Steering Committee
Director of Human Resources
Norton Rose Fulbright