SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - Two years ago, Syntel, a Troy, Mich.-based enterprise software consulting and outsourcing firm, found itself in a perplexing situation. Its business was taking off, but to keep up with demand the firm had to increase its use of foreign IT consultants.
As many U.S. businesses know, supplementing IT staffs with foreign workers is increasingly becoming a common practice because of the labor shortage in the IT market here at home. And while this tactic solves one problem, it creates others. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services, which oversees the visa and passport processes for using non-U.S. employees, requires a mountain of paperwork and coordination among legal, human resources, and recruitment staffs.
Syntel's legal staff alone has to keep track of many kinds of authorization documents, such as the H1-B, a common visa document for qualified workers.
There are also special visas for the spouses of H1-B visa holders, Canadian and Mexican citizens, foreign students, and permanent residents. Syntel has a workforce of 2,000 employees, spread out among customer sites and global offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Singapore.
With such complicated processes being manual in nature, Syntel faced the possibility of missing deadlines and leaving potential employees waiting.
Meanwhile, the consequences for allowing INS deadlines to slip are severe -- the government can slam companies with "significant fines," according to Mandar Kulkarni, senior director of global delivery at Syntel. But the firm's greatest fear is "the bad press that goes with it," he says.
An opportunity came along in 1998 to automate this process. An internal Syntel team was deploying the ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite from PeopleSoft when Syntel officials realized that, with their internal staff and the PeopleSoft Tools development environment, they could develop a work-flow module for the HR, recruitment, legal, and accounting departments, Kulkarni says.
However, it was not going to be an easy consolidation. The HR staff compiled employee information in spreadsheets and stand-alone databases; the finance department used an outdated accounting system; and the legal and recruitment departments each had a separate system.
Syntel put together a team to do the analysis and design, and to create the module. "The immigration module development took around seven months from conception to going live," Kulkarni says. The PeopleSoft suite and the visa work-flow module went live last October, he added.
"The communication among the three departments has become a lot smoother," Kulkarni says. "It has eliminated a lot of delays."In all, the new platform serves approximately 35 users, he says.
Now, recruiters are informed of approvals from the INS, and receive the input and needs of the HR and accounting departments much sooner than before. The module also has links to the back-end PeopleSoft suite. "Every time you have to do visa processing, you have to cut a check [from accounts payable] to the INS, and that whole process is automated now," Kulkarni says.
The recruitment-to-hire process now takes days instead of weeks, Kulkarni says.
There has also been a 40 percent drop in the time that the legal staff needs to track its immigrant workforce (the approximately 25 hours per year has shrunk to about 10). "It's one, single, integrated database, eliminating all the redundancies," he says.
The automation also helps ease the process of moving an H1-B consultant to a new work site.
"When you hire an H1-B employee, it's for a particular location," Kulkarni says. "So, when they finish a project and they move, there is legal work involved. The system ensures that the company is in compliance with INS regulations."Another clear benefit is that Syntel didn't have to expand its legal staff to handle the increased usage of foreign workers, Kulkarni says.