Touch Screens Solve Human Resources Problem
Touch screen kiosks give employees instant access to
benefit information, cutting one company's human resource department budget by 30%.
Business Solutions, January 1998
Cutting High Cost of Employee Communication
Applied Materials (Santa Clara, CA), a large semiconductor equipment manufacturer, had a problem: How to communicate employee benefit information to its 10,000 employees across the United States? The company, with net sales of over $1 billion in 1997, has more than 50 locations worldwide. Its human resource department annually sent each employee and new hires a 3½ inch-thick manual outlining benefits and company policies. The company also sent mail to employees' homes, posted information on company bulletin boards and distributed flyers. Applied Materials spent hundreds of thousands of dollars each year producing and distributing these materials. However, according to Mary Duffy, senior director of human resources automation for Applied Materials, the company had tested one possible solution. Two personal computers (PCs) were set up in the lobby of the company's U.S. headquarters building. The keyboard-operated computers, linked to the company intranet, allowed employees to check company benefit information. "Between 300 and 500 employees were using the computers each day," says Duffy. After testing these "mini kiosks" for one year, Duffy decided to use computers in kiosks company wide.
Kiosks Designed To Be Maintenance Free
Duffy evaluated four different PCs for use in specially designed, wall-mounted kiosks. "We wanted an easy-to-maintain, all-in-one unit with a touch screen, for ease of use," she explains. She chose Advantech's PPC-100T-T flat panel touch screen display with a built-in single board computer. What separated Advantech from its competition, says Duffy, was the unit's small size (342 mm (W) x 265 mm (H) x 61.5 mm (D). Howard Randall, western region sales manager for Advantech, explains that the unit features a 10.4" color LCD display. "It is easily read from the front or from an angle," he says. Applied Materials evaluated the flat panel display for four months and then purchased multiple units for less than $2,400 each, says Randall. Engineers from Applied Materials did the installation. The kiosk computers are integrated into the company's intranet, giving employees with PCs access to information from their desktops.
In addition to Advantech's product, Applied Materials used PeopleSoft software. This was enhanced using Edify Corp.'s Employee Service System Web-based interactive software. The kiosks are designed to be virtually maintenance free.
Employees Adapt Easily To New System
"The only knowledge employees needed was the location of the kiosks and their passwords so they could log on. On-screen help menus walk them through each selection," says Duffy. Prior to the kiosks' installation, Applied Materials posted maps of kiosk locations in each company building and a letter was sent to each employee's home explaining the new system.
Putting Kiosks To The Test
The kiosks were installed just prior to the company's two week "open enrollment" period for health care coverage. Open enrollment allows employees to change their health care coverage, including number of dependents and type of insurance plan. "In the past, employees filled out forms and returned them to the human resources department. All the changes were typed into the computer," explains Duffy. This process often took several weeks to complete, she adds. If employees had illegible handwriting or completed forms incorrectly, new forms were sent to them. It was not unusual to see 100 people standing in line, waiting to get into the human resource department to ask questions and make changes," says Duffy. "The kiosks changed all that." More than 18,000 "log ons" were reported during the open enrollment period. Employees spent an average of five minutes to make a change.
Reaping The Benefits
The kiosks have more than met Duffy's expectations. The peak times for kiosk use are between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. "Employees are accessing the system 24-hours a day," says Duffy, noting that an average of 50 people use the system daily between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. With the kiosks in place, Applied Materials expects to save over $100,000 each year on brochures, flyers, posters, and manuals. The cycle time for forms processing in the human resources department has been greatly reduced, she says.
Upgrades To Include Larger Screen Size
Applied Materials and Advantech are working together to upgrade the flat panel display. "The new unit will incorporate a larger screen (12.1"), CD-ROM and sound capabilities," says Randall. The new systems will replace the existing 20 units in the kiosks. Similar kiosks will also be evaluated for Applied Materials foreign locations, to serve all of the company's 14,000 employees.