Oracle Live 2021 - how Marriott and Vanguard made an Oracle platform shift under a COVID cloud

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 25, 2021
Executing an enterprise-wide cloud migration during a global pandemic? It can be done, say two flagship Oracle customers.


The COVID crisis may have seen an acceleration in digital take-up across business sectors, but a pandemic, with its resultant work-from-home impact, might still seem to many to be a daunting backdrop against which to tackle an enterprise-scale cloud migration.

That said, it is possible to execute such a tech journey under those difficult circumstances and reap the rewards, as two flagship customers at the Oracle Live event have proven, with Marriott and Vanguard sharing their transformation stories.

At Marriott International, the move to Oracle Cloud centered on HR. As the world’s largest hospitality hotel brand, with over 7,600 properties in over 130 countries, Marriott has inevitably been hit hard by the COVID outbreak and the collapse of non-essential travel. But this didn’t knock an ambitious HCM upgrade, set in motion prior to the crisis, off course, says Karen Nelson, Senior Vice President, HRIS and Compensation at Marriott International, explains:

One of the things that I think makes us extraordinarily special is our 'take care of' culture. It's our global commitment to ensure that our associates are afforded opportunities to develop skills, to build meaningful relationships and to have a positive and sustainable impact on the world. And the way that we do that frequently is through the use of technology…With our associates we have hundreds of thousands of employees around the world who wear the Marriott name badge and it was our goal to retain as many of them as possible despite the realities of the COVID pandemic.

Marriott’s move to Oracle Cloud actually began in the Spring of 2018, she recalls:

At that time we were faced with legacy systems that were nearing end of life. We knew that the platforms that we had in place were just not going to meet the long term demands of our global workforce and their expectations. So we chose Oracle to proceed with because we knew that there was a flexibility and capability in the platform that would really serve us well as we were seeking to engage our associates. Combine that with the synergies that we felt that we would see with our financial systems, and then just confidence in the partnership, that with Oracle and Marriott working together, we would be able to overcome any challenges.

Even at that point, before anyone had heard of COVID-19, there was a recognition that the implementation timetable that Marriott set itself was indeed going to be challenging to meet, with a planned ‘Big Bang’ global go-live within 20 months. And then came the virus. Says Nelson:

We basically, like so many other things in the world, came to a screeching halt. The project was put on hold for about four months. We were actually within 100 days of going live when we shut down the project. Then when we returned about four months later, we had smaller teams and we were completely virtual.

But the implementation progress carried regardless and on 26 December last year the ‘Big Bang’ happened, aided by the efforts of over 700 Marriott staffers sitting in their kitchens and home offices around the world. Several months on, Nelson says that the feedback to date has been “tremendous”:

We launched in 15 languages so that we could engage our global workforce. For many of them, this was the first time that they were actually able to interact with our HR tools and programs, so, [we got a] really strong positive response.

She points to the firm’s staff discount program as a case-in-point to demonstrate how employees have engaged with the new platform, with over 650,000 forms printed in just over two months. Marriott staff are clearly optimistic of a return to normality. As Nelson notes:

[That] is that little green shoot of hope that we're going to start to see the travel industry come back…Thankfully, today we have over 95% of our hotels open again, ready to receive guests, and we are just continuing to be optimistic about the impact of the vaccine on the future of travel.

With that in mind, work continues to build on the early success of the Oracle migration, she confirms:

We have high self-service utilization in the United States for our managers and our associates and now that we have a platform that's ‘in-language’, we're really looking forward to expanding that capability outside of the US, so that our associates globally can seek opportunities, learn new skills, and so that their managers can also engage with them in a different way to build that talent for them. We're going to be looking towards our annual performance cycles, incentive comp cycles and then hopefully we're starting to plan for trying to find that unicorn which is Global Payroll.

Cloudy assets

Meanwhile over at asset management giant Vanguard, which looks after $7 trillion of assets in over 20 countries worldwide, market conditions may not have been impacted as adversely as in the travel sector, but there were still pandemic challenges to be faced when migrating its financial systems to the cloud.

The firm maintained operational resiliency throughout the COVID pandemic, with 95% plus of its workforce operating remotely, according to John Bendl, the firm’s Principal, Funds CFO & Chief Accounting Officer, and as such was still able to execute on its migration to Oracle Cloud. That cloud shift as a direction of travel had been underway for several years, he notes:

One of our firm-wide strategies is to move to a modern architecture in the cloud. That’s a broad Vanguard-wide strategy. Moving to Oracle Cloud was a natural extension of that. Running our business in the cloud has a lot of benefits over on-prem data centers. There's resiliency that is much better [in] the cloud environment, availability and when you just think about the cost aspects of running on-prem data centers versus the cloud, it's a much, much more important consideration for us and one of the real reasons we went on the journey.

We had a highly customized on-premises solution that hadn't been updated in a number of years. Because it was highly customized, it was expensive to upgrade. We were many years behind on both the upgrades and how we looked at our on prem solution, so we took this as a chance to step back and look at what are the best practices. We found out not only would adopting the Oracle Cloud technology drive a lot of efficiency and effectiveness, it would also help us with our business process changes that we wanted to make.

With those aspirations in mind, the firm settled on a strategy of using out-of-the-box tech, with no more customization, and Oracle was chosen as provider on the back of validation from other enterprises which had made similar choices, with Bendl noting that:

More and more people are migrating to the [Oracle Cloud] platform. There’s a really rich user community that's very willing and open to share.

Vanguard’s own Oracle Cloud move began a few months prior to the onset of COVID, recalls Bendl, and when the pandemic hit, a key decision were made:

As we thought about the pandemic and the remote work environment, we wanted to keep the pedal down on the implementation of Oracle. The Oracle team helped us do that and we really didn't miss a beat. We moved to a remote work environment and elevated our ERP PM [Project Management] cloud solutions for our FP&A [Financial Planning and Analysis] teams in the summer of 2020. We elevated our ERP platform shortly thereafter and continued to elevate our procurement module. So we didn't put take the foot off the gas, even with the pandemic.

The benefits of the cloud move have been tangible. Closing Accounts Payable cycles that used to take half the working day now take minutes, while procurement has also been streamlined, says Bendl:

When you think about some of the procurement modules, we used to get requests to approve different invoices or work orders that would take multiple clicks in and out of different systems; now it's a one click shop. It's so much more efficient for many, many users across Vanguard who need to interact with procurement, but maybe don't need to interact with the core EPM or ERP platforms.

He also points to transparency of information via the new platform as a major asset (pun intended!):

That end-to-end solution, when you look at it from planning and EPM [Enterprise Performance Management] all the way through to ERP and procurement, that ability to see the data and to look at that across all the finance functions and have self-service capabilities for our business, [that] has been really powerful.

The end-to-end aspect of the Oracle platform has also made decision making easier, he concludes:

When you have that access to the data end-to-end, you're able to make better decisions in a more rapid fashion. When the data is fragmented, you're dealing with a lot of manual intervention, a lot of manual processes; when you have it all in one integrated platform, the visibility that the FP&A community has and the accounting community has into the data can just help them serve the business partners and help accelerate that journey in order to improve our goals and objectives.

A grey colored placeholder image