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We’ll Build A Platform Comprising Of Available Technology With Necessary Augmentation: Swaminathan Subramanian, CPO, Reliance Capital

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Swaminathan Subramanian is the Chief People Officer at Reliance Capital, talks about key business and technical challenges within the organisation and more.

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Can you please describe the infrastructure (scale of deployment, applications etc.) that was in place at Reliance Capital before you decided to deploy Oracle HCM solution? What was your prior solution?

Reliance Capital and its group companies have always been very strong with business and customer applications. Our technology team ensured the deployment of the best-in-class infrastructure. We also had a very strong database of employees including their historical demographics. Business applications were closely connected to the employee database so tracking individual sales was never challenging. 

What were the key business and technical challenges confronting your organization? What obstacles did you need to overcome?

One of the most pressing challenges that we were facing was the lack of a single unified system for HR processes. There was no consolidated view available at the group level on talent. 

While some processes were automated using bespoke systems, most processes were handled manually which left a lot of room for errors. Again, these applications were not mobile-friendly. In this digital age, it is mandatory for HR to be agile and be available on the go.

Secondly, the hiring engine in BFSI runs at immense speed. We needed to have a robust talent acquisition system that helped not just tracking of applications but also built a resume bank over years where we could run analytics and identify profiles of our liking whenever we wanted to.

In short, we were looking for a solution that could make our HR more productive, accessible and agile.

A lot of planning and project management would have been required to make simultaneous implementation across 9 diverse business a success. Your comments?

The success behind any implementation is a clear blueprint of how you envisage the employee experience to be. Today’s employee experience is delivered through a network of services combining in-house governance and controls and drawing upon capabilities of outsourced service providers. Hence building an employee platform necessarily must factor in inter-dependencies to ensure seamless delivery. Else, a system may have all modules but still work in isolation of the overall HR ecosystem.

With that in mind, we began to build a platform comprising of available technology with the necessary augmentation and addition of complementary systems. For us, it has never been about Oracle being the end-state solution, but Oracle being a powerful core that connects seamlessly. Keeping that in mind, our HR platform is constructed (painstakingly) leveraging the capabilities of Oracle for the most part and coupling it with recruitment portals and background screening engines, eLearning systems, collaboration platforms and bespoke payroll applications. And of course, there are business systems that cannot be compromised.

What value resulted from the implementation of the Oracle HCM solution? Please quantify as much as possible. 

We are happy to say that we are seeing positive outcomes on all the parameters. 

We’ve completely automated our hiring process. Beginning from raising an indent to onboarding, the complete process is digitized now. In fact, documents are also collected digitally. This has brought down the onboarding time to 6 days compared to the earlier timeline of nearly 25 days. All offer and appointment letters are digitally created in less than 5 minutes which previously would take anywhere between 15-20 minutes. A downstream effect of this automation is seen in a significant improvement we are observing on background verification. We have integrated the Oracle HCM platform with our background verification partner and since documents are stored digitally, a copy of these is instantly transferred to them along with relevant employee information. We’re already witnessing a saving of 500+ man-hours because of this.

Automation of other critical processes like performance reviews, employee exits, leave management and transfers has not just enhanced employee experience but also strengthened the governance.

While you spoke of automation of multiple HR processes, you did not mention about payroll processing which is the most excruciating area. Is that still a manual process?

In our automation journey, there was no way to leave out payroll. Previously, payroll was processed centrally, and it was semi-automated. It still required manual intervention at multiples stages.

We took a two-pronged approach to handle payroll. Firstly, we outsourced payroll processing to a specialist third-party to mitigate risks associated with in-house payroll. Secondly, we integrated the vendor system to our database so that payroll inputs can directly flow to the target system with the appropriate maker-checker mechanism. Reduction of manual intervention here has ensured there is an audit trail for every input and exceptions are handled well.

How did you handle the impact on peripheral systems with a change in technology?

Interestingly, none of the peripheral systems were impacted due to the introduction of Oracle HCM. In the previous era, business applications were connected to an employee database for booking sales and expenses. The input to the employee database was either though some standalone systems or manually. What we have done is modified these input lines through Oracle HCM without disturbing the downstream integrations with business applications.

Yet this would have been a massive change for employees and managers since processes and interfaces changed. How did you manage this change?

Almost all employee and manager facing processes had undergone a change. To manage education we ran multiple campaigns, digitally and physically, to ensure correct information reached every employee. Videos, emails, demo sessions helped employees quickly adapt to a new way of life. Moreover, we also deployed a ChatBot on top of Oracle HCM to act as a digital assistant to employees and helped them understand the system and process nuances.

Do you believe that Oracle HCM will contribute to your digitalization journey? What advice do you have for others looking to put themselves on this path?

Oracle HCM (or for that matter, any robust HRMS) is not simply a product purchase – it is a project. The million integrations and interfaces that are necessary for seamless delivery - call for flexibility, tons of patience, and doggedness to solution the problem. The off-the-shelf Oracle product is not a solution in search of a problem! It is a canvas for scripting a blueprint! 

To fellow professionals seeking to build a robust end-to-end HR platform, my advice is that while making a choice of your partner, be aware that one product will never tick all the boxes. It will never have all you want, and, in the way, you want. This is a great opportunity to refine and harmonise your own processes; have a strong implementation partner who sees the larger goal and is committed to solving it and above all, it is your project and you will need to have a tight grip over it yourself. The in-house HR and IT teams play the fundamental role of steering it in the right direction. For us at Reliance Capital, running this project across diverse workforces and legal entities with their own bespoke business platform interfaces, it was 9 implementations – all at once!

Finally, there is no victory to be claimed at go-live unless there is strong employee adoption. And this in turn will give rise to newer needs, not envisaged at initial stages such as additional reports, changes in workflows, simplification of forms, et cetera. The change management required behind calls for great maturity across all constituents and above all to remain resolute towards continuous improvement. The biggest change management challenge lies in the adoption by the HR teams themselves and some real soul-searching calls to be taken – how many of the car keys are you willing to let go?

What is the way forward or future plans on acquiring new technology?

Till now, technology was taking a secondary position, supporting only the processing of transactions, however, future technologies will be more customer-centric and efficient and provide more targeted, secure and intelligent solutions. With technology as the driving force in the future, the BFSI sector will be able to redefine itself to be more competitive and responsive to marketplace needs.

The scope and speed of evolution in regulation, customer behaviour, and technology – mean that the future of the BFSI sector will not be a continuation of the past. New technologies will transform the sector as we know it, providing both opportunities and challenges for financial institutions. The Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) sector in India are driving market changes by focusing on emergent technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Automation and Blockchain, which will provide a renewed experience for customers. The use of these technologies in the BFSI sector will help in augmenting to the ever-changing financial environment, compliances and regulations, thus ultimately contributing towards the digital transformation of the sector and in turn the country.

How do you think emerging technologies are changing the face of HR?

Technology is no longer the future; it is the present. Digital Natives and Millennials expect employee experience in the same vein as they expect customer experience. AI with conjunction with chatbots has already drastically increased our ability to serve our customers. Our digital native employees expect to receive the same kind of service.  Thus, making the digital HR a necessity.

Employees want to access all the information on their mobiles, in the same way as our customers do. There will be significant use of cloud-based services; talent acquisition and learning management applications will see the maximum adoption in terms of the cloud, followed by onboarding, collaboration, and networking.

The digital wave should move organizations in the direction of the environment employees are looking for: mobile, app-based and fully integrated. Freeing up HR to focus on higher-value activities such as talent management and data analysis.

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