At Point Loma a collaboration mindset makes for an easy Workday

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett October 10, 2016
A strong collaboration environment can deliver a strong result. Here is how PLNU did just that.

Midsection view of students sitting on steps using smartphones © kalim - Fotolia

I'm always interested in hearing stories that successfully combine elements of collaboration with technology implementations. Such is the case with Point Loma Nazarene University, (PLNU) a liberal arts establishment of some 4,000 students which has completed a Workday HR and financials project and is in the throes of implementing student related functionality.

I spoke with Corey Fling, CIO, and Maria Zack, Ph.D. Professor and Chair Mathematical, Information and Computer Sciences and also the Chair of Physics and Engineering. They told me that many decisions that impact the college are taken on a collegiate basis. Collaboration among colleagues is commonplace since PLNU has a strong basis of institutionalized trust among staff.

In my experience, while trust among team members is a critically important factor, making collaborative decisions about technology is difficult. Different constituencies have different needs which invariably drive different agendas. That is true even where, as in this example, the business case for replacing a 30 year old system is self evident. How did PLNU solve this problem?

People tend to be very hands on with projects but they are all relationally driven. We know that in our environment, it is important for people to believe in their involvement, that their voices are heard. Even where there are big issues under discussion, we don’t tolerate people digging in their heels, so the limits of collaboration and trust are well understood. It helps that we have an extraordinarily good leadership that does not have to impose decisions.

It is often difficult to capture the full essence of these situations but as I listened to this explanation, I was reminded of a project in which I was involved some years back where we were geographically dispersed. There was no need for overt leadership as such and we were able to divide the required tasks relatively easily.

Letting people run with their piece of the puzzle while at the same time ensuring that help was at hand played a big part in that project. I got a similar sense of that way of operating in the PLNU project. The key, as PLNU pointed out, was in effectively communicating the extent to which each team member had done their homework.

On the question of decision taking, PLNU was very clear from the outset that it wanted a business led project. It didn't want to be IT heavy, if anything, it was trying to remove IT resource from a complex landscape that had evolved over time. Zack says:

We had a tremendous amount of software bolted onto our ERP so there was a constant battle to keep systems talking to one another. We needed to significantly reduce that problem while modernizing.

Fling adds:

We were able to get rid of those software that we identified as problematic during the selection process.

Workday HR and finance was the chosen solution and I was keen to understand what this brings to the education establishment table.  Zack explained one of the problems it is solving.

One of the fundamental pieces of our model is knowing how many students we admit. During our admissions process we’re looking week by week into the funnel because we are continually building and adjusting the model for both income and expenditures. When we’re recruiting students in adult programs for example, we need to know whether to adjust marketing or make personal contacts as we move students through the funnel. That has to happen pretty much in real time because as you can imagine, the situation changes frequently.

Equally though, PLNU needs to know whether students are likely to be successful or drop out. Zack told me how they discovered factors that point towards retention rates.

We had a research project running using multi-variant regression analysis to see if there are related factors that could point to retention issues. The degree to which students use the cafeteria and the choices they make popped as a significant factor. So having the ability to analyze in real time is an important win for us.

I consistently hear that education establishments are 'going mobile' and wondered how that element of the project has gone:

We can see pay and benefits on mobile so when we're thinking about adoption, those kinds of information help make the choices we made self reinforcing because people like what they see and find it easy to use. And on the back side, configuration is pretty straightforward so yes, this works well.

When I speak to Workday finance customers I like to understand how they're getting on with Worktags because to me, this is one of the most important business value drivers. PLNU finance staff 'get it' and according to Fling:

Worktags allow us to look at information in a multi-dimensional way and you already know that analytics is important to us so yes, the finance team and analytics people really like this idea.

As we closed out the conversation I wanted to get a sense of where the project is up to and what advice PLNU offers others:

We're about half way through. We've hit the milestones we set for Workday and ourselves so we've been live on HR/payroll since the beginning of the year and live on financials since July. The work on student will likely take another couple of years to fully finish - there are a lot of parts to that. We have technical backgrounds and operate inside the organization so we were able to work both the IT and business sides but you really need both sets of skills to hand.