Alexander von Humboldt Institute – HIIG

DATEV, Data Protection and Digital Affinity

Industry: Education & Research

About the company: Founded in 2011, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) is the first institute in Germany to focus on researching the development of the internet from a social perspective in order to develop a better understanding of the digitalisation of all areas of our lives. The HIIG is an independent privately- and publicly-funded research institute characterised by its strong interdisciplinary, relatively young team with a high digital affinity.

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Carina Breschke Human Resources Manager
Carina Breschke

HRM and programmes

The Challenge

At the HIIG, international scientists research the dynamic relationships between the internet and society in the digital era.“This is why we continue to be open to the pressing questions raised by digitalisation and innovation in HR – while being careful to maintain our scientific perspective. Digitising HR just for its own sake was out of the question for us. It has to make sense,” says HR manager Carina Breschke, explaining the starting point that led to the introduction of Personio.

We already had digital HR – but not within one coherent system.

HR work at the HIIG involves particular challenges for the HR department, as everything revolves around the employees and their research interests. Carina elaborates: “Everyone is very intrinsically motivated. There is less interest in HR topics such as hierarchy and management. We in the HR team wanted to free up our researchers as much as possible to enable them to focus on science.”

There were some digital systems, but they could not communicate with each other.“We wanted to introduce a holistic HR tool that would integrate everything, giving us help and support with the automation of typical administrative tasks. In HR, we view this in terms of the service it enables us to provide – the more we can take care of the researchers, the more intensively they can press on with their own work.

Other hurdles included a high level of employee fluctuation, which is inherent and desired within the scientific system, especially among student employees. This was coupled with strong growth – which had a huge impact on all the administrative work, for example, complex contract management processes and payroll accounting.

In addition, there were documentation and reporting obligations, for example, to the Federal Statistical Office and third-party funders. The extent of the administrative work allowed very little time for topics close to Carina’s heart such as recruitment or HR development because, before Personio, all this was left to her and one student assistant.

The task for the institute was thus to bring in an all-in-one HR system that would not only facilitate HR work but also make the professional lives of the scientific staff as easy as possible. Data protection proved to be the greatest challenge – which, as this is a key research topic at the HIIG, is no surprise.

  • Several digital systems were unable to interface

  • Employees did not have access to digital employee files

  • Insufficient time for HR development and recruitment

  • Time-intensive contract management without a coherent digital process

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HR Manager

Personio’s DATEV interface played a central role in our decision.

The Decision

Holistic HR software for the HIIG would need to fulfill two basic technical requirements: a DATEV connection and a high level of data protection.“We, as an institute, are sensitive to data protection issues, and it was important to us to involve our data protection officer in the decision-making process. After all, this was about the centralisation and aggregation of personal data. We had numerous consultations,” explains Carina.

Once it became clear that Personio would be able to fulfill these two critical requirements, the HIIG decided in their favour in early 2021. Along with the technical hurdles, there was one further obstacle to overcome. As the HIIG’s funding structure is based on donations and third-party funding, it was very important to have the option of renewing the contract annually.

“We were not in a position to commit to one provider for ten years. Both the NGO rate and Personio’s flexibility in terms of contract termination and renewal were an excellent fit,” explains Carina, adding, “The Personio team dealt with this sensitive area in a way that inspired confidence. It was a negotiation between equal partners.”

Alexander von Humboldt Institut Robot

A Successful Implementation

The high level of technical affinity and openness to innovation at the HIIG meant there were virtually no problems during the Personio implementation. During the internal rollout, the management team placed great emphasis on having a structured process that would enable clear and transparent communication. There were weekly internal notes and updates as well as personal communication with team leaders and presentations for the institute.

In terms of the internal rollout, it was tremendously important to have a structured process that allowed us to really get the employees on board.

The introduction of the software was staggered across several test phases, starting with a small test group that was then gradually expanded until, after seven weeks, the system went live for everyone at the HIIG in August 2021. Despite coronavirus-related restrictions, the launch went smoothly.“Sometimes I still receive sick notes the old-fashioned way – but that is gradually tailing off,” reports Carina.

The Result

Even though the software has only been in use for a short time, the first successes are already evident. Now that the first project phase has been completed, all employee management and the preparatory payroll are carried out via Personio.

“We are already gaining a great deal of time because the high level of communication previously required for employee management has been significantly reduced. I no longer have to maintain lists. Personio does all that for me, including vacation days and sick notes. And my former student assistant is now free to perform other tasks for the management team."

It has been a huge time-saver: "We have gained almost 60 hours of additional working time per month. Personio has taken the administrative burden off my shoulders. Now I can finally focus more on the strategic topic of HR development, having more discussions and closer contact with employees."

Carina sees the increased transparency for employees that came with the introduction of Personio as a further, already noticeable success. They can now not only access their own documents and information via their digital employee file but can also make changes themselves. The system has in general been well-received and much praised.

In the second phase, the entire recruitment process is now on the agenda.“With the Personio service team’s high level of responsiveness, this will also go smoothly,” Carina is convinced, “because everyone on the team is so helpful. They did a wonderful job of helping me through things, especially at the beginning.”

For Carina, the preparatory payroll is a particular highlight.“And the way the process now works between me and our external payroll office – it is all so much easier and more efficient. I am really very impressed.”

The introduction of e-signatures has allowed her to optimise contract management workflows, in particular with the student assistants.“I can simply create contracts via the profiles in Personio and no longer have to print out and post them in order to get a signature. That is taken care of with an e-signature.”

What else is Carina looking forward to? “I am very excited about the reporting. Instead of spending a lot of time manually compiling a new list on the basis of the previous lists, it is now just a matter of three clicks – and the new list is compiled. I find the system very intuitive and target-oriented. It is a perfect example of how easy digital HR work can be while still making perfect sense. And that is exactly what we wanted.”

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