Ascent:: Transforming HR Process
Date: Wednesday , September 07, 2011
In May 2007 when business information company Thomson took over Reuters it had a huge challenge of merging the different processes at Reuters with in its own. Of all the process the most tedious was merging the HR and Payroll processes. While Ascent was the vendor for Reuters for Payroll and Benefits; Hewitt Outsourcing in India was the vendor for Thomson. The combined entity Thomson Reuters floated a global RFP for selection of the vendor for the combined entity. And amid stiff competition from vendors in India and abroad, Bangalore based Ascent won this RFP for around 8,000 employee account. The clincher was certainly the quality and flexibility of service coupled with Ascent capabilities of in house application development / management.
Founded in 2002, Ascent specializes in providing small, medium and large companies with all the services surrounding HR and Payroll processes. The company initially started by offering services in Accounting and Book Keeping, Legal and Secretarial Services and Compensation and Benefits administration. But by 2005 Ascent had built a strong domain practice in the compensation & benefits, compliance management, consulting and related HR practices which enabled it to decide on focusing only on these services. Thereby it realigned its focus to services like Payroll and Benefits Administration, HR delivery Systems, HR Consulting Services, Compliance Management and Labour Law Management and discontinued the accounting and book keeping services.
There was a huge gap in the needs of the marketfor HR related product / services depending on the size of an entity. What a large business of 20,000 employees need with regards to H R services may not be applicable to the needs of a small business of 100 employees. There is an abundant opportunity for an appropriate product that can be customized to an individual organization’s requirement. Though there are different companies who have released several products to solve the challenges, there was still a need for a single product that could be customized to every segment as the businesses demand. Clinching this opportunity, Ascent initiated proprietary application development as a practice during the year 2005.
It enlarged its technical team strength and started building its own products for HR delivery. The key business focus however on Payroll & Benefits as a service continued and today Ascent has emerged as one of the leading Payroll and Benefits firm in India and is counted among the top three players on this space.
The current market landscape in the industry is split on the basis of size of the entity. For small businesses, employee headcount is a key parameter and anyone with less than 300 employees prefer product over the service. While the medium and large business handle it as a combination of Product and Service i.e. while the HRIS is an application they would deploy; Payroll & Benefits would be outsourced as a service. There are many companies engaged in the business, however the organized players are few both in India and across the globe except the developed economies such as U.S. / UK. “We are engaged in what we call as People Practice collectively and specifically in HR delivery, HR consulting and HR technology. When an employee is recruited - his on boarding, his performance analysis, payroll details, and everything that has to do with an employee, until separation is managed by us,” explains Subramanyam, CEO, Ascent. The company does this through a combination of services that the client chooses Ascent to provide. In case of small companies, Ascent provides to them its HR solutions that they implement within and the internal HRs manage it all. But in case of medium and large businesses, they mostly have an existing application which already delivers some of these services. Ascent integrates its solution with the companies’ existing HR framework and the client companies outsource a part of the services to them. “Companies outsource a portion of HR work for reasons which include — enhanced HR delivery efficiency, data confidentiality, reduced cost, scalable services, value added services etc... These are typical thoughts that go through the mind of the HR Head when it comes to outsourcing,” explains Subramanyam.
In terms of H R outsourcing as a market India is quite segregated. Medium and large companies are the major focus for customers for companies like Ascent, which have services for HR. Also they practice what is known as shared services. In this companies share the common services across the different accounts/processes and set up a common application, a center and manage the services locally. Between the medium and the large companies Ascent is trying to tap the market in this space by developing applications for shared services. “We also support companies for broader features such as information systems througha service oriented approach. We build a top layer on to the existing industry generic applications like SAP or PEOPLESOFT framework and integratetheir payroll as well as the HR interface, which essentially is the employees’self service interface. But never the less, we have the complete suite and we try to service it as a platform for the customer. That is where our entire strength comes in,” says Subramanyam.
In the past few years, the company has time and again proved its mettle in this fiercely competitive space. Last year Ascent won the mandate for managing the Provident Fund Trust of the largest employer in the Staffing Industry close to 100,000 employees and migratedthe account within 6 months from RPFC to a Trust. Similarly, this year it won another stiff competition and took over to leading IT company Accounts at Bangalore with large employee accounts, both the customers had huge requirements in customization, security, controls and measured service deliverables.
Subramanyam attributes its strength in quality assurance and meeting customer expectations, in house application development and maintenance and knowledge base in Compliance and Taxation (the leadership team consists of hard core professionals in Legal and Tax services). But these achievements do not come without the challenges on the way.
The company continues to face challenges that are mainly related to knowledge management and man power. “Knowledge management itself is a huge issue as with our services we are crossing cultures and crossing countries together with the challenge of manpower retention. Most of the countries we operate in call for high level accuracy as opposed to India and hence it is that much more important to get high caliber talent and retain them,” he adds.
Today, the company’s client engagements span across several industry verticals addressing the needs of 200 clients covering about 250000 transactions every month.
It operates in Payroll and Compliance Services market in India which has a high competitive intensity with more then 80-90 players with no entry barrier. The players present in the market are small and fragmented and mostly compete on prices. However, Ascent has developed a strong market lead, solid customer base, and is considered a formidable player in the Indian market.
Given its capabilities and brand today in the market,it can sustain and grow its market share through organic and inorganic growth. The company is tapping into new opportunities in less competitive geographies and achieves the status of a leading regional player within the next two years organically and considering the opportunity of entering matured markets through inorganic growth.
Today Ascent has a pan India presence majorly through its office and datacenters in Bangalore, and sales and client services offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Pune and Kolkata. In addition to this the company services three regions. In South-East Asia, it has a strong footprint in Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. In Latin America currently it’s just Guatemala but the company is adding Columbia (South America) and Costa Rica (Latin America) to its service regions. It also has a presence in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “This is our broad spectrum of geographic coverage. We did not target the U.S. and the Europe because these are very crowded markets as far as HRO is concerned. There are already a lot of existing and established players in both these areas. So we continue with Asia along with a few places that are not really covered well,” says Subramanyam. The company is currently going strong with a strength of 250 people, majority of who are based in India. With a strong technology expertise as its backbone and a strong presence amongst small, medium and large organizations, the company is going great strides. Going by the company’s tremendous performance record till now, Subramanyam’s vision to be a leader in this space does not seem unattainable.
THE ASCENT CULTURE
For Ascent, its employees are the premium asset and the company’s culture reflects how it values them. Being a people practice company, the company therefore strongly believes in empowering people internally in the organization. Since its core assets are ‘people’ therefore sourcing the right person who suits the culture of the company and training to be fully committed is a big challenge particularly so in the Knowledge industry where people migrate out once they feel they accomplished training. But the company is doing its best it can to tackle this. The executive team at Ascent understands the language is a tough barrier as the systems are a means of interaction with the employee and the employer. This is overcome using firm’s assisting translation and language training. It is also ensured that communication across the organizational level is transparent there by fostering a healthy environment. Having its presence in varied countries, the employees are taught to respect and be sensitive to the culture of different nations and communities. A set of expected method of work pertaining to different cultures is carefully imbibed and integrated in the process of client management. This is a foundation that the team at Ascent develops itself there by creating a happy work environment both for the company and its clients.