Ernst & Young standardises global HR in the cloud with ServiceNow


Professional services firm Ernst & Young advises that to get standard HR processes globally, you need to ‘lock everyone in a room’.

© Christian Schwier - Fotolia.comOver the past two years Ernst & Young has been undertaking a huge project to globalise its HR processes in the cloud with ServiceNow, following a corporate objective to dramatically increase the professional services firm’s workforce from 150,000 to 300,000 people, across 200 countries, by 2020.

Speaking at ServiceNow’s annual user conference in Orlando last week, Ernst & Young project leads Carol Harris and Nigel Arbery explained that the company had been using BMC for its HR processes, but needed to provide a more consistent experience globally – supported by mobile and cloud technologies.

Harris said:

When this came out, we were sitting at a firm that was about 150,000, By 2020, we expect to double that size with an attrition rate that has to be factored in as well. Clearly, the need to make for a consistent global HR process to handle that kind of growth was quite important to the firm overall. Making sure that our mobile workforce was able to get a consistent HR experience around the world.

[For example, if someone] needs to go from the US to the UK because he’s on assignment at one of our clients in the UK, he should be able to access HR support the same way he did back in the US and expect the same kind of result. That was the goal of our HR transformation and the goal of globalizing our concept center. It was to make for a consistent scalable support situation.

As well as this consistent experience, Harris added that Ernst & Young was experiencing lengthy upgrade times with the BMC solution – 12 to 18 months – and that there was a high cost of ownership because it was all on premise at the time. The company saw cloud as a solution to this.

ServiceNow is providing the end user portal for employees across the company, but Ernst & Young plans to implement SuccessFactors at the back-end.

Getting everyone on board

Harris explained that one of the key challenges for the ServiceNow rollout, and when more broadly thinking about global standardisation, was that each region had its own way of doing things – and each believed that was the right way of doing things, with a broad set of tools.

One word of advice from Arbery for those undertaking a similar project, is to think about the security and data protection implications from the outset of design. He said:

Bring security into the discussion as early as possible – understanding the regional, local, security requirements that you’re going to have to adhere to. You need to bring those local security teams into that discussion when you are talking about the design of the solution to ensure that when you are passing cases [safely] between groups that may go out of HR, because they touch on others like finance or IT – you need to make sure that it supports the data that is being transferred outside of that.

However, beyond security, in order to get everyone on the same page, Harris and Arbery said that it was essential to bring everyone together. Harris quipped that “you will get agreement if you lock them in a room and don’t let them leave”.

Arberry explained that Ernst & Young initially focused on five processes within HR and brought global teams together in a room to decide what the processes and workflows should look like together, for consistency in each region. He added that bringing IT into the design process helped too. Arberry said:

Having IT and technology participation in those design workshops mean the processes, the work flows, the design solution built on the technology – we weren’t going to cause ourselves problems later on.

Bring technology into listen and understand what you’re talking about from a process design perspective. They have ideas about how that can be leveraged in the tool. Don’t be surprised if IT come up with some really smart ideas. Sometimes we are smart, in IT, about the delivery of some of these.


Ernst & Young carried out the technology selection in March of 2015 and by April had kicked off the design process. By January it was carrying out user acceptance testing, and then 10 months later the first region went live.

Ernst & Young didn’t take a big bang approach to the go live, nor did it do consecutive region by consecutive region. Instead it scoped out what was required for each region, tried to understand what was acceptable in terms of each region’s timeframes and then carried out the implementation as and when was appropriate – as a result, some regions went live in parallel.

However, key to the success of the project was the use of agile methodologies, said Arberry. He explained:

This is something that we’ve leveraged across many of our ServiceNow clients. A sound waterfall design will require the design, build, test, deploy sequential set of traditional project management methodology and deployment methodology – it is not necessarily the right thing on a cloud platform like ServiceNow. If you can do it and you have the ability to do it, we strongly recommend a user centric, iterative, agile, scrum based deployment methodology.

This lets you do things like prototype and review and tweak and change as you go and not have to wait until the end to get user acceptance testing and unit testing to actually get those signs in place. We run small iterative, sequential sprints within this agile methodology. That enabled us to stand up the technology that the process needs, get the organizational buy in and tweak and change as we went. If we couldn’t fit it into one sprint, we moved into the next sprint.

We could then design and decide, strategically, whether we needed to drop functionality out of a spread out program at all, if we couldn’t get it in in time.

Image credit - © Christian Schwier -

Disclosure - ServiceNow is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.