Real-time flexible reward Program – uFlexReward

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uFlexReward is a total rewards system for employees. TechiExpert had an opportunity to talk with CEO of uFlexReward Ken Charman – an enterprise software company that was spun out of Unilever, where he headed up the project to build a real-time total rewards system.

What‘s the problem uFlexReward is addressing

uFlexReward is a total rewards system for employees. It takes into account salary, bonus, pension, benefits, stock options, health plans (anything that’s considered part of a reward package) and gives both employers and employees visibility of it in real-time.

It’s a platform that was developed by Unilever for their own employees worldwide and is now being taken out to market under the name uFlexReward.

Without a real-time total reward system, HR departments would need to manually collate a number of data silos in order to give employees a total picture of the value of their own package. This is a time-consuming process, typically only done once a year, rendering the information out of date almost as soon as it’s completed.

The uFlexReward platform gives employees one real-time dashboard of their reward package and allows them to tailor their package depending on life stage requirements, improving employee satisfaction, productivity and ultimately employee retention. Whilst HR professionals can use real-time data to correct anomalies – such as pay gaps – and improve working practices, going forward.

2. The journey of founders on this Idea

Ken Charman is CEO of uFlexReward, having headed up the project to build a real-time total rewards system within Unilever that resulted in its creation. Between 1987 – 2006, Ken started UK and European subsidiaries of emerging enterprise software companies in the markets for financial consolidation and reporting systems. These companies went on to be bought by Hyperion, Cognos, Business Objects, IBM and Sungard. From 2006, Ken was CEO of a spinout start-up from King’s College London, which supplied corporate wargames to test business strategy and was sold to Deloitte in 2010.

Nicola Wells is the COO at uFlexReward as well as being Global Reward Director, Unilever.

Nicola is the Unilever lead on TRS.  She graduated with a BA in Economics from Sussex University and went on to complete an MA in Personnel Management from Kingston University. She worked with WS Atkins as an HR Systems Analyst working on HR systems covering all the core processes including reward, reporting and talent management. 

She became a specialist in Reward and Performance and has progressed into senior management through reward positions in GlaxoSmithKline, QinetiQ, and Unilever. During this time she has covered all areas of Reward including annual pay and bonus review, international assignments, salary surveys, flexible benefits, job evaluation, executive remuneration, share programs, recognition schemes, reporting, and modeling.

She is a widely respected senior in-house Reward practitioner with experience of running major change projects in Reward including selection and implementation of new HR systems (the most recent being Workday), the roll-out of new pay & bonus policy, systems and processes, implementation of flexible benefits schemes and reward policy transformation.

Her skills in leadership and people management connect all the relevant teams to deliver such projects at speed.   She is closely involved in the digital transformation of reward through AI and automation into a real-time environment than supports strategic decision making and employee freedom to choose rewards that best suit them.

Both Leena Nair, Unilever CHRO and Peter Newhouse, Unilever Global Head of Reward, are closely associated with uFlexReward, although not employed in the company.

3. How did they start working on this idea & motivation to produce? 

Eight years ago, Unilever had done away with the manual, spreadsheet-based process that it relied on to consolidate each employee’s single, annual total reward statement. It commissioned a bespoke system to automate the process of merging reward data from different silos. This replaced a static manual spreadsheet process with an “always-on” system that gave all its employees a real-time view of their rewards. They could access this data at any time from any global location over the Internet and it saved HR huge amounts of time and money in manual administration.

When Unilever selects a new solution, they always prefer to find something they could buy off the shelf.  After eight years they hoped the market could meet their requirements but when it became clear that there was still nothing available, they commissioned a specialist technology research firm in Silicon Valley to investigate if any new technologies currently being developed might provide a solution. When this also drew a blank, they realized that they would have to start again and build the system from the ground up. By creating agile working groups and adopting spread targets, the new system was built and thoroughly tested at Unilever prior to being rolled out to 68,000 employees globally in April 2018.

4. USP of uFlexReward?

uFlexReward’s USP can be seen in the results that Unilever has achieved as a result of using it. When Unilever looks at people costs, it looks at the full 100% of costs, not the 80% that is in the payroll system. There is no other system on the market that can cope with the unstructured data that must be processed to enable this.

Compared to normal enterprise system suppliers, uFlexReward focuses on physically proving that its system delivers benefits. This means ignoring flashy marketing and emphasizing building a working prototype. But the traditional IT sales and marketing approach hides away from providing this concrete evidence. This is worrying for businesses because adopting new enterprise software can be expensive and disruptive, and failure can be both visible and painful.

uFlexReward is prepared to put its money where its mouth is and offer tests areas within the prospect company, in order to demonstrate how the product works in practice and to give accurate ideas of cost and timings for a full rollout.

5. Early days struggle  

It’s still early days for uFlexReward, although it did have to overcome certain obstacles in developing the product. 

This involved developing within a new environment along with the added pressure of building to a standard that could be, ultimately, adopted by other organizations.  This would allow uFlexReward to share ongoing costs and benefit from a wider range of ideas in reward practice. As there was a lack of certainty about what the new reward system would look like, it was important that an iterative Agile development strategy was employed.  

The shortlisted three potential technology development suppliers and asked them to build a prototype of the system that had been envisaged. To ensure that they were getting the best possible partner, they funded each supplier to build a prototype Minimum Viable Product. Under the Agile system, the uFlexReward team was involved in regular, daily contact with all suppliers. They then chose the supplier that made the best progress across three Agile development sprints.  The frequency and quality of contact meant it was impossible for suppliers to operate in “sales” mode and uFlexReward had the chance to observe the suppliers’ real-world performance. 

6. Funding Details 

UFlexReward has received initial funding of £7m from Unilever, which owns the company.

7. User base achieved till now 

uFlexReward has already been rolled out to 68,000 Unilever employees worldwide and is actively looking for further users.

8. New Areas: Scope for expanding

uFlexReward has plans to roll out to other multinational corporations with similar total reward requirements as Unilever, specifically those with thousands of employees around the world, a need for local tax and reward coverage and consolidation, and a desire to view 100% of people costs in real-time.

9. Future plans

uFlexReward is taking an options approach to business development. It has options windows for Unilever or other investors to increase investment and accelerate growth based on the evidence of reality.

The business plan was approved on the basis of four potential sales scenarios over a five-year timeframe.  The most aggressive scenario envisages 1500 systems within five years, creating a company with a valuation of $1.5bn.

However, by virtue of its partner-based business model, it will deliver real value to clients and meet Unilever’s minimum viable investment hurdle with sales as low as 15.  uFlexReward believes the market potential for this new class of system covers the top 2000 firms around the world and reaches down towards all enterprise with international operations. 

10. Working with 3rd party apps /services like voice assistant (Amazon Echo/Google Home )

uFlexReward already integrates with Unilever’s Microsoft “Ask Una” voice assistant via Skype 

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