By Maj. Lee Baklarz, IPPS-AMarch 22, 2019
(Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.) Russell Broom, Vice President for Development at Oracle, visited Team IPPS-A and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., the first state in the Army National Guard to field the Integrated Personnel and Pay System - Army. Oracle is a strategic partner for the Army and the IPPS-A program. IPPS-A utilizes Oracle's PeopleSoft software as its backbone and its business intelligence analytics. Release 2 of IPPS-A is scheduled to complete fielding to the remaining States and Territories of the Army National Guard by Spring 2020.
Broom previously served as Principal Architect of Oracle's PeopleSoft Human Capital Management (HCM) module, which is the engine where all human resources and pay transactions in IPPS-A happen. The visit was an opportunity for Broom to see how IPPS-A has configured the software, share his insights and, most importantly, take ideas back to his Oracle team to inform future software updates.
"I think it's important for the Army to have relationships with key individuals such as Russell Broom," stated Colonel Gregory Johnson, chief of the IPPS-A program's Functional Management Division. "We want Oracle to shape their products to meet the Army's needs instead of IPPS-A customizing it."
For Oracle, the implementation with the Army, and the over 1.1 million Soldiers who will eventually use IPPS-A, is a significant opportunity. "We are their biggest customer," said Johnson, "and I appreciate the dialogue we have right now."
Broom was particularly interested with how the HCM module was configured to meet the Army's unique human resources needs. IPPS-A experts not only showed how IPPS-A employs the PeopleSoft HCM module, but also how the system is modernizing and transforming the Army's human resources and pay processes.
Broom was given a full demonstration of the system, beginning with the iHUB user interface, which contains three distinct pages for Soldier Self-Service, Manager Self-Service for commanders, and a human resources (HR) professional landing page. Each landing page contains its own distinct tiles and capabilities based on the roles and permissions granted to that individual. The landing pages can be personalized by the users by adding, removing, or re-arranging how the tiles appear on the screen. Major Josh Herr, chief of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard G1 Readiness Division, demonstrated his customized "Land of Analytics" landing page with its own analytics tiles for quick access and usability.
Broom also learned how Army National Guard HR professionals use IPPS-A to on-board new Soldiers into Army National Guard units. Major Erica Miller, the IPPS-A Release 2 Design and Development Lead, explained how IPPS-A has streamlined the process of validating newly hired Soldier data.
"Initially, it took an on-boarding specialist at Army National Guard reception units an hour and a half to review newly hired Soldier data," Miller explained. "Now, it is about a 20 minute process."
Miller described how the critical inbound data interface between IPPS-A and the Army Recruiting Information Support System-- the Army's system that manages data on new recruits -- reduces the time it takes on-boarding specialists to create IPPS-A Soldier records. Additionally, the HCM module enables IPPS-A to flag potential data errors, which assists on-boarding specialists ensure data entering IPPS-A is as accurate as possible. Less time spent on routine administrative actions results in cost-savings for the Army.
Broom also discussed Oracle's efforts to improve self-guided user activity guides based on the collaboration with IPPS-A developers. Broom suggested that a self-guided process can assist with IPPS-A's on-boarding procedures because these guides would assist Soldier's through processes step-by-step. IPPS-A developers currently participate in Oracle's on-boarding working groups, and are already working to incorporate activity guides as a key component to the future IPPS-A design. For example, self-guided activity guides are being considered as a way for Army HR professionals to conduct in and out processing when Soldiers are moving to a new location.
As part of IPPS-A's Release 2 capabilities, today's paper forms and manual data entry became extinct by IPPS-A's personnel action processing. Personnel Action Requests (PAR) are processed through an automated workflow, providing Soldiers transparency of their actions they never had previously. Broom was provided an overview of how Army National Guard HR professionals establish provider groups and workflow routing to ensure PARs are sent to the right people for action. While HR professionals receive notifications and can create reports that detail a PAR's status, the ability to quickly visualize actions in totality does not exist.
"HCM can produce a pie chart, for example, to display types of actions and whether it is approved or not," Broom said. "You could then click on a particular area you wanted to investigate and go straight to the individual action if you wanted to."
IPPS-A is currently working to refine the ability for HR professionals and commanders to quickly see where actions are and quickly identify friction points. IPPS-A also constantly reviews security controls on personnel requests to ensure requests are paired with the proper approval authority.
The goal of any software development is to keep customization to a minimum, in other words, stay as close to the delivered commercial product as possible. Customization complicates and increases the cost associated with incorporating new software and functionality updates.
"We are focused on keeping customization of IPPS-A to a minimum," said Johnson.
Broom and Johnson outlined future working groups to tackle customization challenges, increase usability, and keep upgrade costs to a minimum. These efforts will be especially important as IPPS-A finalizes its Release 3 build.
Another mutual challenge is standardizing the look and feel of the product across all areas of the system. "We are telling Oracle what we are seeing," stated Johnson. "And we want it to look consistent as the user navigates," retorted Broom. Just like IPPS-A, Oracle has multiple teams of developers working on different pieces and when they are joined together for the first time, invariably additional work is necessary to ensure it flows correctly.
This industry-government partnership helps Oracle incorporate the Army's feedback on the software, and allows IPPS-A developers to better incorporate Oracle capability updates in their build.
"Seeing what IPPS-A did with PeopleSoft makes me excited about the future," said Broom. "I can't wait to show my team what IPPS-A has done."