5 practical tips from the Workday customer coalface

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright September 3, 2015
Large-scale implementations of enterprise applications have got faster under the SaaS model but watch out for these pointers from Workday customer stories

Worker got hands dirty © krista74 – Fotolia.com
The cloud model has made it possible to roll out enterprise applications much faster than in the old days of client-server, but such projects still require careful management. There are important differences from the old model that can trap the unwary — along with all the traditional perils of scope creep, user resistance and integration snafus.

I recently reviewed some notes of Workday customers speaking about their experiences earlier this year at HR Tech Europe and at Workday's own Elevate event, both in London. I noticed several key themes emerging that seem relevant to all large-scale SaaS roll-outs.

Here are five key pieces of advice that stood out as worth paying attention to when preparing an enterprise SaaS implementation.

1. Plan for a different kind of project

It sounds appealing to learn that a large enterprise can look at just 12-18 months to complete a global implementation project as opposed to the 2-5 years or more this might have taken in the past. But that compressed pace brings its own challenges.

The lengthy cycles of old gave internal stakeholders breathing space that they won't experience in the new model. They'll also find that the new tools and methodologies that go along with SaaS require more frequent attention throughout the project. They need a "mindset shift" to adjust to this new style of working, warned Mark Rotheram, global head of HR technology at Imperial Tobacco:

Now they're being asked to be involved in the project right the way through. It's a lot more intense in terms of their involvement. They're expected to be a lot more involved in the development of the system.

The outcome will be fantastic, but getting that mindset shift is difficult.

2. Get behind standard processes

Most enterprises see a global SaaS implementation as a valuable opportunity to standardize global processes. That was certainly the case at Imperial Tobacco, which is replacing 65 separate systems and several hundred spreadsheets with the Workday system.

But people need persuading of the benefits of standardization. It's important to have enough flexibility in those standard processes to accommodate variations where they're really needed. At the same time, constant vigilance is needed to make sure business units are adhering to the global standards.

At games developer King (the maker of Candy Crush), finance project manager Kevin Isaac sees the continuous upgrade capability of a cloud application like Workday as the payback for giving up the ability to customize processes.

I use it as a selling point. If you don't customize, you don't have to worry about upgrading those customizations.

They're always going to be standardized because the system is going to drive them down that route.

3. Prepare for new ways of working

This is perhaps the most important takeaway. Don't allow the ease of use and online convenience of cloud applications to lull your colleagues into expecting an effortless transformation. Going digital is going to shake things up, as Jackie Wilson, people services manager at telecom provider TalkTalk, explained:

It's not as simple as you'd think, automating a manual process. We didn't just lift and shift. We certainly tried to go as vanilla as we could with Workday and configure it rather than customize it. We think that's the beauty of Workday as well.

But actually getting people to think future focus — instead of, 'I do this on a form' or whatever, to see it in the system — was quite a challenge.

Taking the HR team along on the same journey and helping to manage them through the change curve was something that we had to keep at the front of our minds all the time.

It's not the technology that will trip you up but the change management, explained Gerard Hussey, vice president of HR transformation at pharmaceuticals giant GSK:

All the issues we had post go-live were around the end-to-end service model. So if you only focus on the technology, you're dead.

We find that first six to nine months after you go live is really challenging, because you now have a very different service model, where much more is online.

It's important to prepare carefully and then monitor adoption and usage metrics after go-live to see where problems are arising, he said.

4. Play a long game

Even though the implementation cycles are faster, it still takes time before you see results. People have to get used to the new ways of working before they appreciate the benefits. At GSK, Hussey said his team avoids raising expectations ahead of go-live.

Within the team we're really positive about what we're doing, but we've tried to not make a big deal of it. We call it silent running. We haven't made a big deal about the launches, and then customers get happier because it hasn't been overpromised.

Some of the benefits of GSK's implementation will only become visible once the final tranche of users come online later this year. This will be a landmark moment, said Hussey.

On that day, every single employee in the company will be connected with everyone else through Workday.

There's great opportunity to progress, once everyone is on one system, which will make a big difference.

In a complex landscape, there's only so much you can do at speed.

5. Manage the update roadmap

The biggest difference with a cloud application compared to conventional on-premise solutions is the continuous update cycle. This means that customers always have access to up-to-date functionality within the application. It's a huge benefit compared to the old model in which implementing new functions required a massively disruptive technology upgrade. But customers do have to track what's coming up and manage their response, advises Hussey.

You have the advantage of always being up to date, but you've got to be watching all the time. There are some changes quite often — weekly — and then there's the two big releases a year. Somebody has to be managing and mapping that.

We have a small team who are our guide and advice as to what kind of functionality, let's say in Workday 24, we should be looking to enable.

Also it helps us think about some of our strategies, so if we know what's going on, what Workday are likely to deliver, then we'll stop building something else completely independent of it that Workday will produce a solution to in two years' time.

That release role we think is actually really key. I suspect for most companies, and certainly as you have big, complex companies, you definitely need it.

My take

The increasing sophistication and maturity of enterprise SaaS implementations is starting to throw up valuable learnings based on the experiences of those who have been through it all.

There are many advantages compared to the old, on-premise patterns of software implementations, but there are also new ways in which things can go wrong if you don't know what to look out for.

Disclosure: Workday is a diginomica premier partner.

Image credit: Worker's hands dirty © kristo74 – Fotolia.com.