New York Public Library continues digital transformation with Workday

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer June 8, 2015
As NYPL continues its digital transformation journey, the desire for cloud functionality in its back office was key.

The Parallels

There’s an interesting parallel between what the New York Public Library (NYPL) is doing with its back office technology and with its video archive: they’ve both gone digital in powerful ways.

NYPL is digitizing its images, audio recordings and movies into a digital archive. The repository already contains over a petabyte of data in these digital assets. Many of the assets are brittle and may deteriorate badly in the very near future. If they aren’t digitally saved now, they may no longer exist.

Like any good ERP or back office initiative, funding for this digitization effort is the key limiting factor.

As these audio/video/image files are created, there is a tagging practice that must accompany each work. This enables an accurate curation of the asset and it also expedites the research efforts of students, researchers and citizens around the world in perusing these materials.  A somewhat different tagging effort is also an element of a Workday financials implementation, too.

These digital assets are being stored in local data stores as well as on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.  These assets have gone from being on library shelves to cloud-based. And, like many new ERP and back office systems, they’ve gone from on-premises to the cloud.

Access rights to these assets are a complicated matter with different copyright laws in effect in different countries around the world. NYPL has a legal team that researches each item it contemplates digitizing as well as to determine which other global research libraries can have access to the files. And, like in the cloud ERP world, there are data sovereignty rules for this, too.

The explosion in the kinds and amounts of data being created and stored these days is old news. In the case of the NYPL effort, there is simply so much material that can and should be digitized. Think of the innumerable songs on 78 RPM disks, filmstrips, educational videos, local hometown newspapers, radio broadcast recordings, etc. from defunct firms alone that could be lost forever if not preserved digitally.

For this reason, other large libraries/library systems are coordinating efforts to digitize these items as it is simply too much work for any one entity to accomplish on its own.  Genealogy searches have benefitted massively from earlier digitalization efforts. Think of the gains to be made in historical research with more information now available.

The Financial & HCM Implementations at NYPL

NYPL had implemented the Workday HCM suite previously and has recently brought up the Workday Financials applications. Specifically, the newest applications installed include: General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable and Purchase Order. Fixed Assets was not installed.

The selection of new financial applications involved a review of the prior incumbent solution vendor, a major Workday competitor and Workday. Financial benefits or cost differences were not a huge factor in the decision making process. The desire for cloud functionality was key as the organization had been moving to a cloud technical architecture for over four years.

workday frankensoft
Workday's Frankensoft Monster

NYPL needed a solution that could handle complex endowments and budgets.

NYPL has a number of systems that must interface/integrate with the Workday Financials. Some are custom applications, some are best-of-breed library solutions and some involve third parties (e.g., commercial banks). A major systems integrator and NYPL staff did much of this work. Workday integration tools were used for some of this integration work.  Interestingly, much of this work was able to be completed virtually (via cloud access). Only key process re-engineering work needed a lot of on-site assistance.

Experience to date

Jane Aboyoun, CTO of NYPL oversees an 85-person team that manages the technology infrastructure for 92 locations, 17 million patrons a year, and 51 million items. She shared a couple of statistics with me:

  • Onboarding a la the new Workday HCM modules went from weeks to seconds, and is now fully automated between three different integrated systems.
  • Expense processing is now 100% automated and paperless. Reimbursement time has improved and available via mobile technology.

Workday Expense Management Dashboard

When Hurricane Sandy impacted the New York City area in October 2012, it not only brought extensive flooding and wind damage to the city, it also caused prolonged power outages. Aboyoun reported that the Workday cloud solutions never failed in that event. Access to the cloud was never lost.

Aboyoun sees cloud based apps, including Workday, as helping the library’s finance team ready itself for the next chapter. Through their use of Workday, the NYPL is seeing benefits due to ‘one system of truth’ that make internal financial processes more efficient and teams more productive.

My take

  • This customer’s experience is indicative of the changing landscape of organizations. EVERY entity is confronting a digital existence in whole or in part for their firm/industry. Luddites will not stop the march to a more digital future. Laggards will get steamrolled if they don’t move fast. Waiting around is not an option or luxury.
  • When an entity pursues a digital future, it puts old technology decisions into a new light. Out go the older on-premises, relational data stores, etc. of yore as organizations will want information, vast amounts of it, accessible globally, via superfast in-memory technologies and served up to mobile devices via cloud computing. It’s time to retire those old 3270 terminals folks!
  • This begs the technology strategy question: If a more digital future is looming large for an organization, then what technology should its operational and back office systems be built on? Do these systems run on a more digital-era appropriate platform/stack or should they continue to operate on the technology stacks of the older, industrial age? My money’s on the former. It’s time for IT organizations (and ERP vendors) to quit looking (fondly) backward at the Golden Age of internal IT solutions and start looking forward to a New Age of digital-relevant business models and technologies.

Image credit - Techventive Inc.

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