Ruralco: sowing the seeds for digital HR transformation success

Ruralco and digital transformation

A progressive digital HR transformation program within leading Australian agribusiness Ruralco has delivered significant business benefits, according to the company’s general manager of HR, who has helped position the business for its next phase of growth together with the executive team.

Ruralco is a business which provides agricultural products and services to Australian farmers including rural supplies, real estate, financial, water broking and services, and livestock agency across Australia.

In recent years the business has undergone significant digital transformation with the company’s MD and CEO, Travis Dillon, identifying a need to invest in HR systems to support the achievement of the company’s strategy.

Comprised of more than 50 local regional brands operating across more than 300 outlets with almost 2500 staff, Ruralco has had an ambitious growth agenda, focused on making strategic acquisitions to diversify the business.

A concurrent digital transformation program has been running across the diverse national business.

“There was a clear need to digitise HR in the same way other areas of the business had been transformed,” said Carly Brown, general manager of HR for Ruralco.

“We’ve been looking at opportunities to transform the way we do business and so we began a digital transformation project called ‘Program Elevate’ which used technology to streamline data and break down information silos.” she said.

Ruralco deployed SAP to assist with its digital transformation project “Program Elevate”, and Brown explained that it required a digital HR platform to drive similar outcomes across the HR function and deliver on strategic growth objectives.

Ruralco chose SuccessFactors for the purposes of simplicity, functionality and integration, and Brown said that this has delivered five clear HR and business benefits:

  1. Data-driven Insights
  2. Paperless processes
  3. Anytime, anywhere access
  4. Greater consistency
  5. Improved risk management

“There was a clear need to digitise HR in the same way other areas of the business had been transformed”

The benefits of going paperless
Brown said there was a need to move HR into the digital age by providing centralised access to insights and improving data transparency.

“We had a very paper-based system,” said Brown, who was speaking ahead of a series of events about how Ruralco is driving business growth through digital HR transformation.

“We noticed a lot of people weren’t informing us or communicating changes from a contractual point of view, and employment data wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Brown said that iChris also integrated well with SuccessFactors and did the job required, and Ruralco is now looking at possibly moving to SAP Payroll to reduce complexities.

The shift to SAP SuccessFactors has also benefited Ruralco managers, who operate across a wide and geographically dispersed business.

“Many staff are remotely located and do not sit at a desk in an office to perform their job, so, managers needed a system which was readily accessible anywhere, from any device, to complete HR activities or access staff information while on the road,” she said.

“They recognised the need to have access to workforce insights at their fingertips to simplify administration, improve performance and save time.”

Improving talent management
Ruralco operates primarily in rural and regional communities which often have a small local population, making it difficult to find staff with the right skills, said Brown.

“Improving people experiences throughout the employee lifecycle – from recruitment through to continuous training – was essential to support business growth,” she said.

“Improving people experiences throughout the employee lifecycle – from recruitment through to continuous training – was essential to support business growth”

Our candidates are one of the HR team’s most valued customers, and our priority is to ensure their experience with us is a positive one.”

Brown said this can be the difference between securing amazing new talent or losing them to a competitor whose processes allow them to move faster.

The old process to raise a recruiting request used to take a week or longer in some cases, and involved PDF forms, emails, several signatures and many phone calls.

Now, a simple 4-stage recruitment workflow is processed in minutes (usually from a mobile device) and Brown said managers can now access all the information about a candidate’s progress in their dashboard.

Improving the candidate experience was also an important part of this process, which flows through into engagement and retention of talent.

“It can be difficult for us to attract the right people into the industry, especially as we’re often competing for staff with niche skills,” said Brown.

“Improving the experience, from application to onboarding through to continuous training, was a key priority.”

Improving HR capability and performance
HR is a key player within Ruralco’s broader business strategy, and the HR function has expanded from a sole HR lead to a team of 25 people to help enable this.

“There’s been a huge investment in human resources and culture because our CEO, Travis Dillon, sees people as the key to success,” said Brown.

“But given how bare-bones we were, there weren’t any HR practices. We’ve had to start from the ground up.”

“It can be difficult for us to attract the right people into the industry, especially as we’re often competing for staff with niche skills”

Tying the next stage of Ruralco’s growth to the success of its people has driven the growth of HR within the business, and Brown said it is now seen as a key partner to drive business outcomes.

“Change management was incredibly important to the success of this project,” said Brown.

“It really gives our team a buzz that we’ve been able to add so much value to the business.

“Our senior leadership team recognise the value and contribution the system brings to the Company,” said Brown, who explained that the HR team receives positive unsolicited feedback from across the business about the implementation of SuccessFactors.

Keys to successful implementation and adoption
Ruralco’s CEO and executive team have been critical drivers of change within the business, and Brown said they have pushed the need for the adoption the new HR platform.

“That’s been a huge advantage,” she said.

“We also made the executives in our operational business part of the pilot group, and we engaged them, trained them and made them advocates from day one.”

“Building excitement was a big focus before the system was rolled out. It was a subtle way to engage the business and build desire for a system they didn’t know they needed.”

Brown’s team also spent three months promoting the benefits of the system with Ruralco management: “Once you get them on board, they’ll advocate on your behalf,” she said.

“Our CEO and executive team are the biggest supporters of this project and having them drive the change has helped make the implementation a success.”

Ruralco’s CIO Tom Hansen and GM of HR Carly Brown will share the business’ HR transformation journey at a series of breakfasts in Perth on 21 March 2017, followed by Melbourne on 26 March and Sydney on 28 March. Click here for more information or to register.