CustomInk prints better results with Workday

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy June 29, 2017
CustomInk jumped from QuickBooks to Workday AND replaced HR plus payroll all on one go. That's some achievement. Here's the story.

It is very rare that I hear a customer success story where the upgrade was from an SME solution to one that is enterprise grade. That's exactly what happened at CustomInk, which transitioned from Quick Books to Workday for both HR and financials in one big bang project.

A couple of years since the implementation completed provides a good period over which to reflect on what happened and the changes that have occurred since the original buying decision.

Putting this into context, CustomInk is a rapidly growing online retail company that makes custom apparel such as T-shirts and sweatshirts. Customers can upload their own art, or use the site's design tools to create a design and order the customized product. It works with familiar brand suppliers like Champion, Adidas and Eddie Bauer among many others.

At the time CustomInk decided to make the switch, the company was trading at around $50 million in annual sales. A few years on and revenue has ballooned to $350 million with a workforce of some 1,700 FTEs. That's quite the rocket ship so how did this project start?

A broken system

Kaylan McDuff, Assistant Controller of Subsidiaries explains:

We were honestly just afraid we were going to break QuickBooks because we were feeding so much data into QuickBooks that just wasn't meant to be there. We would have this guy come in periodically - we called him the QuickBooks doctor - just to review our files to make sure that we weren't going to lose all of our data. I think the thing that pushed us towards Workday was that it was unlike any other platform that we had seen. It has a great search feature - we really loved that. I think why we went with Workday is because it was pitched to us and it's true, it's fully configured - I wouldn't say customizable because you can't change anything and everything that you want - but you can configure it in a way that works for your company and for your business processes. We just had to move.

So good so far. So how did CustomInk go about preparing for the implementation?

We had a small implementation team as in the fact it was myself, another person on our own finance team. We kind of co-piloted the payroll/finance side of the house and then we had our director of HR spearheading the HR benefits side, and then we had a technical lead. But that was pretty much it internally. We did leverage the help of a professional services firm. At the time it was Meteorix.

Meteorix is a specialist Workday implementation business that was acquired by IBM.

CustomInk goes all in

What about scope? This project was a full HR and financials implementation that covered every main module Workday offers i.e. financial management, HCM, time tracking, payroll, procurement and expenses. What's more, the project was designed to go Big Bang rather than by module. CustomInk worked on the theory that its relative small size at the time coupled to an opportunity to rethink processes would allow it to heft the entire Workday suite implementation inside an acceptable timeframe.

While this sounds like a risky strategy, that's not truly the case, provided that everyone is on board and willing to accept the inevitable changes that come with this style of approach. In the case of finance, the team is small enough that training and onboarding is relatively easy but in this case, it is also coupled to a very clear set of objectives:

We thought 'in a perfect world, how do we want these systems to work for us so that when this thing is live we know we can go home at five o'clock rather than sweat over something covered in band-aids? We wanted to simplify every single process from payroll to accounts payable to your month-end close to everything. And for the most part we accomplished it in many different ways. That translated into an easy sell. We told finance that they're not going to be here working 10-12 hour days once this thing is in place and that it would provide a much better outcome for finance helping the business.

HR was different but having a Google style search capability combined with Workday's drop dead easy to use interface was a good starting point. Nevertheless, that alone doesn't make for success. Here, McDuff is clear about the impact that training and self service had on the outcome.

When we went live it wasn't just like, 'here's a system, figure it out'. We spent weeks and weeks of training end users and training managers, and so we had very little resistance because we were thoughtful with how we rolled it out. I'd like to think we've rolled out every portion of self service that we can. I think a good example would be on the payroll side of the house. Our old payroll process was very painful, very manual, a lot of paperwork, a lot of expenses and filing and space for those files. Everything's digitized now. The onboarding process is easy. Fill in your I-9 details, select the tax things that apply to you and your done. No paper required.


I am always interested in discovering how Workday customers use Worktags, one of the defining features of a financial system that overcomes the limits of the accounting code block. While early adopter customers had some struggles with the concept, I am finding an increasing number for whom the tagging concept makes sense as an alternative to systems that might involve complex ledger arrangements or sub-accounting. CustomInk have solved for this kind of complexity while expanding Worktag use:

In the old system. we essentially had a chart of accounts for each business line and location. Now we we have one chart of accounts but then we tag it for those attributes and many more. Let's say it was a screen print order or this was a digital order. Those are two printing methods, but then we also do embroidery, so that could be another work tag. And then obviously you have all of your location work tags so I can see what's going on in Reno vs. Dallas vs. Charlottesville. And then other departments use work tags as well. Our marketing department has a ton of different work tags that they're using for different attribution levels and that sort of thing. We have probably about 20 or so total custom work tags that we're using.

How about controlling Worktag use? Workday customers employ different tag management methods but the idea is the same, ensure that a Worktag really is required before it is approved.

If anything we've trimmed back on Worktags to ensure control. So if you come to me, I'm going to try to find a dozen other workarounds to get you what you need before I have to create that Worktag for you and that's because I know I will have to maintain that Worktag throughout the system because Workday is a unified system.

Outcomes and recommendations

Apart from achieving the initial outcome outlined above, Workday has supported CustomInk through a couple of acquisitions, has dramatically reduced physical paperwork and reduced the periodic close from hours to minutes. With Worktags, the chart of accounts has been massively compressed by some 75%. All of that translates into administrative functions that have not needed to grow significantly while the company grows.

As we came to the end of our conversation I asked McDuff to share his top tips for a successful implementation:

  1. Set expectations correctly. Do not undersell the scope of work because the project will take more out of you than you imagine.
  2. Challenge the historic process. New systems will help you streamline but you have to get out of the 'this is the way we've always done it' mode of thinking.
  3. Be prepared to reframe functional questions such that you discover how to achieve outcomes along the way without worrying about customizations.

My take

I went into this case study expecting to hear how much CustomInk compromised in order to move from QuickBooks to Workday. The answer was a surprising 'nothing.' It was more a case of bending to Workday processes.

As I considered why this might be, it became clear that apart from running a tightly disciplined project that included 'cannot be missed' milestones, McDuff's team worked hard at sloughing off the baggage of institutional memory that goes with any systems change. That is much easier in a small project environment where the number of stakeholders is limited and where there are widely shared objectives than is the case in large projects where pet peeves surface and empires are threatened. Even so, I'd argue that CustomInk has plenty to teach its larger peers about effective project management.

The confidence with which this story was told suggests to me that a combination of a broken system, a will to succeed and a vision for a better future gave CustomInk the kind of edge needed to make these often difficult and complex projects deliver the desired outcome in what was an aggressive project timeframe of 9-10 months.

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