Taking HR to new frontiers with one of the UK’s most revolutionary organisations

The Satellite Applications Catapult is at the heart of the UK satellite services revolution. Based in the thriving UK heartland of Oxfordshire, the organisation strives to innovate for a better world empowered by space.

They provide opportunities for businesses to gain access to space by reducing risk and building relationships with UK-based service providers. However, space isn’t the only frontier the organisation operates in. The Satellite Applications Catapult also does vital work in the creation and development of sustainable global Agri-food supply chains, as well as bringing about transformational change in the way that healthcare and wellbeing services are delivered.

However, although the organisation is at the forefront of technological innovation here in the UK, their HR team was in danger of being left behind. Their unique projects create exceptional challenges for their HR team: challenges that required the support of great HR software solution to overcome.

We sat down for a chat with the Catapult’s Human Resources Manager Christopher Reeve, to discuss how implementing Cezanne HR has taken their HR operations to fantastic new heights.

Hi Chris, your business sounds really interesting. What does the Satellite Applications Catapult do?

It’s incredibly interesting! Back in 2013 when Boris Johnson was Culture Secretary, he wanted to bring the UK up to speed in nine key markets – one of them being space applications, which is what we specialise in. We’re here for ‘UK PLC’, and we’re also a not-for-profit organisation.

We work primarily in the high-risk area of putting satellites into space, space applications and writing computer programmes to help achieve that. We recently worked on the successful Astroscale launch (a mission to prove the core technologies necessary for space debris docking and removal), and also work collaboratively with other organisations on high-risk, high reward ventures – such as the Virgin Orbit launch. It’s an interesting mix!

What’s your day-to-day role with the Satellite Applications Catapult?

I do a bit of everything – it’s a very generalist HR role. With our Cezanne HR system – which we’ve re-named Atlas – I look to make sure that we have all the information and data we need on the workforce to guide our decision making. I’m also doing a lot to bring the new Cezanne HR system up to speed, developing the document templates we need, and ensuring our modules are being used to their fullest potentials.

Are there any unique HR challenges your business experiences compared to other sectors?

Recruitment is probably one of the hardest aspects for the business and our HR team. The nature of our industry means we’re looking to recruit people who are satellite solution architects, nuclear space analysts… super-niche roles that require exceptional levels of expertise. Even our more ‘standard’ roles – such as those in finance and HR for example – require a broad skillset to be able to work within the Catapult.

One of our core remits is to support and ‘funnel’ people into the UK space industry for the benefit of ‘UK PLC’. That means those people with unique skill sets will work with us for 18 months or so, develop further abilities and experience, and take them to other roles within the UK space sector – helping to drive innovation and energise the market.

It’s also the case that we employ a number of doctors and geniuses at the Catapult – really smart people. This creates its own challenges for us in HR, mainly because they expect our internal systems to be on-par with the systems they create to help get rockets into space!

What modules do you have with Cezanne HR?

At the moment, we’ve got the core People module, together with the Absence and Onboarding modules.

What were the original pain points that the Satellite Applications Catapult was experiencing that bought you to investing in Cezanne HR?

The first 9 months of my time here were mainly spent looking at improving employee relations, and both planning and implementing new workforce policies. My remit was to understand the day-to-day challenges, get a grip of what was going on and evaluate how we could manage things more effectively.

It became quickly apparent that the organisation needed an HR system and a better way to manage our employee data. Many of the issues back then revolved around absences and staff sickness. But, we had no view on any relevant staff data – everything [before Cezanne HR] was done through Outlook and Excel documents.

Also, all our employee records were kept in files on an MS SharePoint site, and there were often 15-odd folders within each employer folder – it was disorganised and often, we didn’t have all the information we needed. For example, if we were reviewing our staff benefits and someone asked me ‘I need a list of people’s bonus details’, or ‘can we have a list of all the people on private medical?’, we’d need to approach our benefit providers and ask them. Thankfully, with the [Cezanne HR] system, all that information can now be stored in one place.

Did you look at any other software solutions on the market?

Yes, we had to put our requirements out to tender as we’re a not-for-profit organisation. We looked at CIPHR, Bamboo and Personio… but what stood out was that the level of functionality of Cezanne HR far outweighed what the others could do.

How have your chosen modules helped with your HR team’s day-to-day operations?

Having Cezanne HR has really helped raise our credibility within HR because we can provide key workforce metrics and we’ve got the dashboards and the widgets that make it all simple. Managers can self-serve meaning they don’t have to ask HR to get involved, and our employees can manage their own holidays easily… it’s a world away from the days where we used SAP

We used to manage holidays with SAP and it wasn’t user friendly! It wouldn’t record holiday accruals, which made it difficult to work out annual leave allowances. So for instance, if someone left the business, we’d have to do a manual count to work out how much holiday they were owed, how much they’d taken… just so much admin.

With the new [Cezanne HR] system, we just add the leave date to an employee’s record, and the system automatically calculates the remaining holiday entitlement; plus, we’ve got our leavers letter in there, our employment terms, working time schedules… it’s all in the same place and does all the working out for you.

How has the Onboarding module helped your HR team?

Due to our turnover, bringing new employees into the business is an ongoing challenge for us – it’s also very hands-on because of to the number of pre-employment and checks we must perform. Onboarding is another area where the Cezanne HR system has saved us so much time.

Before we had Cezanne HR’s Onboarding module, we had this massive spreadsheet with 30-odd columns. It had all the different tasks along the top, and all our new starters down the side. It was someone’s job for half an hour every morning to go “Right. What new joiner tasks are there to do? What needs chasing up? What have I got back?” Manual admin like that was crippling us, it really was.

Now though, we have our onboarding checklists and we’re also working on new document templates that means we can auto-generate things like contracts and new starter forms in just a few clicks.

All the stuff that used to be a manual task contained on a spreadsheet is now (or will be) automated. That’s allowing members of the HR team to get more involved with more value-added projects, like developing our Learning and Development offering, for example.

And how have your new starters found your onboarding processes with Cezanne HR?

From our new joiners it’s been ground-breaking, and we’ve had such great feedback from them.

They often look at what we’ve created for them in their onboarding portals and comment how impressed they are with how self-managing it all is. And, when they’ve passed through their ‘new joiner’ phase, we can switch the onboarding portal into a familiar-looking general self-service view for anything HR-related they may need – such as logging absences. It’s great.

Are there any features you find particularly useful?

What took me really by surprise is how customisable the system is – we’re able to capture so much data on various aspects of our workforce now that we just couldn’t even dream of before. The general ease of use is something I love, too.

I am also a fan of the help guides. The documentation that’s available for each aspect of the system’s functionality is fantastic.

How has the system been received with your staff?

The Cezanne HR system has been really well received by all our employees – including senior management, the manager and employee self-service has been a real hit. Our employees have better access to manage their data than ever before and the system is really intuitive

Would you recommend the Cezanne HR system to others?

Yes, absolutely. I’d have no hesitation in recommending Cezanne HR to others.