Ensono split from its parent company Acxiom and is now an independent, private equity owned mainframe, infrastructure, and cloud services company with plans for aggressive growth in the mid-market. The company says that the PE owners are in for the long haul and investing for growth. However, that doesn't mean taking their eyes off the cost ball. Asked how the selection process went, Alan Cole, Vice President & Controller at Ensono said:
We had a choice to look at different systems. We’d looked at PeopleSoft and could have fallen back on that. We chose to move forward with Workday to create efficiencies that legacy could not provide. So for instance, using project capability in the Workday system saved us an entire systems we would have otherwise needed. Users look to their one Workday 'inbox' and can find whatever approvals and actions that are needed.
As we talk to customers, it seems that while Workday is a highly configurable system, it supports different technology landscapes and user preferences. In this case, Ensono implemented ADP for the payroll back end but used Workday for payroll front end. It also created a bonus program that is tied to the review process. Since Workday financials and HR are tightly coupled, managers can readily see the impact of proposed changes in bonuses. On succession planning, Workday replaced a Taleo system. Again, since there is a tight coupling. the impact of succession plans are immediately available to decision makers.
I was especially interested to learn whether there are functional gaps or sacrifices that arise from using a single and relatively new system rather than a collection of mature, best in class applications. That choice often creates a dilemma in both software selection and implementation phases. But increasingly we are seeing customers who are not reporting those problems. In this case Cole said:
Deloitte got us up and running in seven months so we were quickly into production and could start looking at improved or changed processes very early in the implementation cycle. We've not given up functionality and I'd say we’ve gained. When i think about what we have done and what we could do with this system, we’ve really just touched the tip of the iceberg. So for instance, historically we were recording and managing revenue recognition manually. With the customer contracts module those tasks are automated.
The motivation is easy to understand. Ensono's owners are investing for growth but they don't want to see general and administration costs grow. Cole says that using Workday allows them to bring on more functionality at minimal cost while saving for the long term. Ensono pairs that cost and savings requirement with the theme of using a single system but Cole says you have to continue ensuring people understand the value of what you're trying to achieve because they're the ones that have to make the systems work.
Communicate, communicate and communicate. In the UK, they were planning to go with NetSuite but we already know that a single HR and finance system has huge benefits. NetSuite was a stand alone and that really didn't make sense. But you can't simply impose something. We demoed Workday to them and did a high level overview based upon our experience. Now, the UK team are doing a series of training exercises in advance of the implementation.
Successful implementations are often characterized by the extent to which the software is widely used and the degree to which people like what they're using. Ensono reports success on both fronts:
Everything worked - it just doesn’t happen; it was unbelievable! The new management team were pleasantly surprised and yes, people do like using Workday.
As we closed out our conversation I wanted to hear Cole's thoughts on some of the new capabilities that Workday is bringing to the finance function and especially the Planning module as well as hearing about any gotchas
Planning? We'll yeah, there’s some work to be done. We do all planning in Excel today and I can see it would be an improvement but I'm not sure I want to be an early adopter at this stage In any event, I need a bit of time to condition people. We're probably looking at mid-2017. I don't know if we've been fortunate but the only issue we ran into was a change to the way Workday handles depreciation. They made some change and it caused an error but it’s the only problem we’ve run into and they addressed it quickly.
Cole's final point is interesting as it relates to the topic of support. While Workday pushes two big functional releases a year, it is constantly running updates and fixes. These are system wide and in normal operations should not adversely impact customers. However, software isn't perfect and problems will arise. System wide issues affect everyone at the same time so the service provider will find out about problems much quicker than if it is fielding disparate support questions from on-premsies customers who, by definition are working upon multiple isolated instances of software and who may or may not have applied patches.
All of them have particular points of reference and are sufficiently nuanced for me to understand that while software as a service is often characterized as 'vanilla,' deep configuration options allows different customers the opportunity to achieve what they want for their users in much the same way that legacy software did but without the costly customizations. Crucially, no customer reports having to sacrifice functionality. Rather, they talk about improved processes.
It's not that long ago that the idea of moving finance to a software as a service environment seemed unlikely for many enterprise class customers. The naturally risk averse and conservative nature of finance meant there was an understandable degree of reticence. HR systems were on the move but finance? While it may have seemed logical to me that finance should go to a service based system, I was left wondering about the pace of adoption. Something has changed. I suspect that success in HR implementations has removed many barriers.
Now that we are starting to see that shift come through from customer stories, it is clear that the tight integration between HR and finance that Workday has always been adamant about offers the kind of benefits that companies appreciate. As Ensono demonstrates, there are multiple points of productivity improvement that can be achieved and especially at the intersection between HR related tasks - like time recording - and finance functions like billing. The fact that Ensono is prepared to push Workday into fresh locations relatively early in the overall implementation suggests a degree of comfort that is becoming commonplace among customers.