Workbrain Automates Employee Management

Its software tracks time and attendance and automates human resources activity

British Airways PLC, a London-based airline, flies high-tech airplanes that carry passengers across the Atlantic in less than seven hours. Calculating wages for its 3,000 North American employees takes considerably longer because of an inefficient system that processes time cards by hand, says Steve Pruneau, a project manager at British Airways' U.S. headquarters in Jackson Heights, New York.

Pruneau hopes to change that with the help of Workbrain Inc., a Burlington, Mass.-based vendor of employee management applications. After a three-month pilot project involving one airport and one call center location, British Airways is ready to roll out Workbrain Employee Relationship Management (ERM) Solutions to its employees.

Forms Add Function

Pruneau says Workbrain got the job at British Airways because its rules engine is flexible enough to handle the arcane wage-calculation algorithms based on Federal Aviation Administration regulations and labor union contracts.

WORKBRAIN CEO David Ossip says his company’s forte is handling a company’s “high-volume, high-value” transactions.

Workbrain Inc.

Location: 880 Winter St., Suite 130

Waltham, Mass. 02451

Telephone: (781) 890-3208


The technology: Web-based self-service human resources applications, including time-and-attendance modules. The software, built using Enterprise Java Beans and XML, also supports wireless connections.

Company officers:

• David Ossip, founder and CEO

• Scott Morrell, vice president of technology

• David Stein, vice president of sales


• Dec. 1999: Company founded

• April 2000: First product released

• May 2001: Raised $20 million in second- round funding

• June 2001: Version 2.5 released

Employees: 105

Products/pricing: Workbrain ERM Solutions; $50 to $200 per seat

Burn Money: $25 million from NB Capital Venture Partners, ABS Ventures, Accenture Technology Ventures and private investors

Customers: British Airways, Russell Corp., Tennessee Valley Authority

Red flags for IT:

•The product requires a significant effort to set up rules and forms.

• Established human resources software vendors are working on adding similar tools.

David Ossip, founder and CEO of Workbrain, says that flexibility comes from the product's technical foundation as a messaging application. Everything in Workbrain ERM is a form with workflow and business rules attached, he says. This approach means that the rules are separate from the form objects, so changing, updating or deleting rules doesn't affect the rest of the customer's application. Workbrain also integrates with back-end payroll and human resources systems.

Another key technology in Workbrain is its Java 2 Enterprise Edition-based Web implementation, says Paul Hamerman, research director at consultancy Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. This feature gives it the advantages of rapid deployment and the ability to work with many devices, such as PCs, kiosks, handheld computers and wireless phones.

The Workbrain ERM system contains several modules, including time and attendance, statistical analysis, self-service human resources functions and a community network. This is a much broader vision than that of competing vendors, which tend to concentrate on timekeeping, Hamerman says.

British Airways will eventually implement all the pieces of Workbrain ERM, says Pruneau. In the pilot project, Workbrain will eliminate nearly all the manual steps that now bog down the payroll process, he says. Tests have shown that using Workbrain improves the accuracy of the system as well; employee inquiries about pay have dropped. Pruneau also likes that Workbrain provides a permanent, easily accessible record of pay and hours worked, which has made analyzing expenses and overhead quicker, he says.

But companies considering Workbrain should be aware that the implementation phase is complex and requires an intense effort, Pruneau says. British Airways underestimated what resources it would take to bring the project to fruition. It required a full-time project manager, at least a few people to document work rules and user requirements, and a full-time user administrator to train users and handle questions.

The IT department has had it comparatively easy with Workbrain, Pruneau says.

Once the servers were up and running, IT stepped out of the picture. IT doesn't control the application; the business side of the company gets the problem calls and complaints first, then brings in IT.

Although Workbrain's forte is handling what Ossip calls "high-volume, high-value" transactions like clocking hours worked, the system also handles the low-frequency tasks that employees need to do, like updating personnel records.

Workbrain will eventually expand that side of the product and create "life event" workflow processes that guide employees through the human resources steps when there's a major change in their lives, like getting married.

The Buzz: State of the Market

Taking the Employee's View

When it comes to employee management systems, says Giga Information Group's Paul Hamerman, there are two approaches a company can take. One is to examine problems from the perspective of the company's human resources department and focus on improving the department's efficiency. The other is to take the employees' view in an effort to make them more productive in their jobs. Back-end ERM systems fall into the first category, while Workbrain's system fits the latter.

Established human resources software vendors like PeopleSoft Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif., don't yet have as good a set of employee-focused tools as Workbrain, but they're working on them, Hamerman says.

Workbrain faces the most competition from vendors with time-and-attendance products, even though its product offers broader features such as support for online vacation time and work scheduling, workforce communities, uniforms and equipment purchases, and advanced functions to support union-based work environments, according to Hamerman.

Kronos Inc.

Chelmsford, Mass.

Kronos is the dominant player in the time-and-attendance market, says Hamerman. Its core products, Workforce Central and Timekeeper Central, have been redesigned so they can run on any Web-enabled device. But Workbrain offers a wider range of applications that are important to employees, he says.

eLabor Inc.

Camarillo, Calif.

ELabor is most competitive with Workbrain with the time-and-attendance capabilities of its Workforce Suite, says Hamerman. The other modules handle areas that Workbrain doesn't touch, such as recruitment and project management. ELabor also has a hosted service that's more attractive to smaller businesses than the large, global enterprises Workbrain targets, he says.

- Amy Helen Johnson

Johnson is a contributing writer in Seattle.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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