Big bang or phased roll-out? Cloud adopters speak out

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright May 24, 2016
Should global IT implementations be done as a big bang or phased roll-out? Cloud adopters don't like the phrase but recommend a single co-ordinated project

Workday Elevate London 2016 panel by @philww
Mark Judd, Helen Gowler at Workday Elevate

Can we at least call it 'controlled explosion'?

Mark Judd, HRIT & service solutions director at Rolls-Royce successfully co-ordinated what's been widely called a 'big bang' global implementation of Workday last year to over 50,000 employees in 46 countries. But he's not comfortable with the term.

Speaking on a customer panel at today's Workday Elevate event in London — the first of an 11-country global tour by the vendor — he points out that the term is misleading.

We didn't do it overnight. It took 15 months.

Tribal memories

There was a time when the notion of big bang IT implementations was synonymous with sky-high costs, massive disruption to the business and crushed ambition when the reality failed to live up to the anticipated outcome. Of course, that was back in the bad old days of client-server computing, but it's still no surprise when people feel nervous of using a phrase that invokes such traumatic tribal memories.

Rolling out a single HR or ERP system across a global organization is quite an undertaking under any circumstances. At least there are fewer moving parts to juggle when it's a cloud-based system. Instead of implementing a series of on-premise servers across various geographies along with the necessary infrastructure to keep master data and software versions in sync, that's all taken care of within the cloud application vendor's own infrastructure. In principle, you pay less but get a better result, since the provider shares the overhead across the entire customer base instead of each enterprise bearing the full burden.

With the technology infrastructure taken care of, the enterprise can focus on its processes and people. One of the most impactful characteristics of a cloud application in such circumstances is its ability to bring global consistency to data, definitions, and processes. That consistency then enables accurate data and analytics that can deliver further benefits. But careful preparation and change management is needed to ensure that people will accept a single, globally agreed framework.

Phased compromise

With that in mind, Judd is firmly of the opinion that a single, co-ordinated roll-out is a much better idea than going one country at a time. The problem with a phased approach is that whichever country goes first gets to define the system the way they want it, and then each successive country finds some problem with what the previous countries did, and so resources are wasted on cumulative adjustments.

Iterative approaches are a massive compromise to what you can achieve, and whilst you're readjusting you're not paying attention to the latest functionality that's being deployed.

Others on the Elevate panel today concurred. Avon Cosmetics rolled out Workday to 44 countries in April 2014, only delaying a further tranche of countries to a second phase because of integration considerations. But doing as much as possible in one go is always preferable, says Helen Gowler, commercial business and global HR portal lead.

It does cause complexity to have a phased approach, and it's costly.

The key to making a global roll-out work is to establish the common framework in advance, the panelists agreed. That means bringing stakeholders together and having them focus on what the new system can enable, rather than trying to preserve the way things have been done in the past. Then the work of what Judd suggests calling "controlled explosion" begins — rolling out the predefined framework with a team of advocates and training tools already in place to smooth the way.

My take

Sensible advice from people who speak from experience.

[I originally wrote that Judd's suggested term was 'controlled exposure' but have now corrected to his actual words 'controlled explosion'. Blaming autocorrect.]