Large enterprise must dare to transform - an Airbus & Workday perspective

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright November 14, 2017
Large enterprises in aerospace and engineering such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus are daring to digitally transform as they transition to cloud HCM with Workday

Airbus Clean_Sky_Electrical_environmental_control_system 370px
Established industries such as aerospace and engineering have a reputation for being slow to change their IT systems. But the doctrine of incremental change is falling out of favor, according to experienced HR director Mark Judd, who has recently joined cloud applications vendor Workday as Vice President of HCM Product Strategy, EMEA.

In his prior role as HR IT and Services Solutions Director at engine maker Rolls-Royce, he had overseen its implementation of Workday HCM. He recalls weighing up with the CIO and CHRO the choice between incremental migration versus a more radical progression.

The evolutionary path is there. It's low risk and ultimately some aspects of it will be cheaper — but it might take longer, and then we could get the funding pulled at any time and we won't catalyze a transformation process. Or we could do a complete revolution. At the time, circumstances were such at the company where it actually resonated better to do the revolution.

I think increasingly business is realizing that the small incremental changes that they've invested in end up being quite a drain on funding. They don't tend to demonstrate to the business a concerted effort to change, and the businesses themselves can't move any quicker. It just becomes a frustrating kind of smorgasbord of different technologies, processes and solutions.

The alternative of radical change is more of a leap, but is actually a safer choice in the long run, he suggests:

Yes, it's scary to go through this form of transformation but it's now reached the tipping point where I'd be more scared to be an HR [leader] not thinking about this form of transformation. I don't think it's just HR, it's happening in other functions too — procurement, finance, communications.

Transformation at Airbus

At HR Tech World in Amsterdam last month, Arnaud Raffray, VP of HR Transformation & Digital at aircraft maker Airbus explained why his company had chosen a transformation path for its Workday roll-out to 134,000 global employees. The organization had been very hierarchical, very 'command and control', and needed to be bold to introduce a new system that would be more global, standardized and employee-centric, he says:

We believe it's just in changing the entire ecosystem that we can achieve this.

Raffray outlined five lessons learned at Airbus from the project:

  • Take time to step back at the beginning. Speak to peers, build a solid plan.
  • Take the chance to onboard people during the change.
  • Involve security from the beginning.
  • Don't underestimate the work required to migrate core data from SAP to Workday.
  • If you do not make the transformation you will not make the change.

Workday as 'generational change'

After 30 years as an HR professional, starting out in the days of green screens and dot matrix printers, Judd believes the transition to cloud applications is a much bigger step than previous transitions.

I think moving to the cloud in Workday is a generational change for business solutions. Probably the most significant generational change.

The expectation of constant evolution underwriting innovation, being there and evolving, it feels very different to me now. I do feel that businesses that move towards a product like ours are making decisions for the next generation there. It should be a 20 or 30 year investment and it will evolve. It is the beginning of [continuous] change.

That puts more responsibility on HR business partners to manage that continuous evolution and to work together across every aspect of the HCM lifecycle, he believes.

Expectations need to be managed. Custodial responsibility to make use of that technology becomes part of the accountability for a function.

The connectedness of processes of recruiting, learning and talent opens up a new idea of delivery of HR services, in a way that previously we tended to subdivide for the convenience of delivery.

My take

Mark Judd's description of incremental migration rings true. Experience shows that introducing change too gradually proves counter-productive and costly. Although it takes more courage and determination to embark on a broader transformation, the payback is worth it.

It's telling that even very large global organizations in established industries are now taking the plunge into more radical digital transformation. It's no longer the pioneers doing this. It's mainstream.

A grey colored placeholder image