The HR fat lady sings for Opera Software

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne November 4, 2015
The fat lady has sung for Opera’s old HR system as Workday hits the high note.

Live Leer

Opera Software, the company behind the Opera web browser, is obsessed with making its products easy and quick to use. Unfortunately, its internal HR system was anything but easy to use. Live Leer, vice president of global human resources at Opera, recalls:

It starts with a story. It starts with a person who has an exit interview and who says, ‘Do you know what? This system demotivates me. I die a little every time I go there’. And if one person says that, there’s probably a host of other people too. Of course, I can admit that I found it pretty difficult too.

Opera’s HR system wasn’t really fit for purpose. Instead, HR was making do with an ERP system that was really designed for finance. HR features, such as a vacation system, had to be added on top.

The fact HR was so tied up with finance and unable to make changes independently made the HR team prize the idea of autonomy highly and became a key reason behind the decision to choose Workday as a replacement. Leer explains:

The fact that we could do so much on our own was a very different model from what we’d had before and what others were trying to sell us. The others were trying to sell us perfect solution – we could just see the consultant hours ticking away.

Hands dirty

Although Opera did rely on the help of consultants to implement the new system and will use partners for projects, wherever possible, Leer’s aim was for HR staff to take responsibility themselves and get their hands dirty:

We basically took the whole project on ourselves and we’ve run it.

Senior management backing was key and something Leer had to fight for. Finance had already implemented Oracle, so it would have been natural for HR to follow suit. But after closely evaluating Workday and Oracle, Leer decided Workday was the better match for their requirements. All she had to do then was persuade the management team:

It means we had to argue the case and really involve the HR team and the executive team, so they could really see where we were coming from.

One of the key reasons for choosing Workday was because of its user interface and accessibility from mobile and other devices. Just as important was Workday’s ability to cope with multiple currencies, for as Leer points out:

We may be small, but we’re very global. We have 1,500 employees but they are all over the world.

Opera’s biggest market is Indonesia, followed by Nigeria, Russia, Bangladesh, but employees are dotted across many other countries too, and it is adding to the mix with three or four acquisitions a year.

Self-service was also crucial for Opera. Bothering someone in HR to make address or other simple changes is frustrating for both parties and “very yesterday”, according to Leer, who adds:

It’s also about what type of people do we want to work in the organization. It’s about culture change. We don’t people who expect someone to do their administration for them.

The fact that there are six-monthly updates, which Leer acknowledges may not be on every company’s wish list, also appeals, because it means the company has access to “the latest and the best of what’s out there and that’s what employees expect”.

Keeping it simple

While most companies are keen to stress their unique challenges, Leer takes the opposite approach. The aim is to keep things as simple as possible and to put in place a straightforward system with little customization. Rather than a “special” system, Leer suggests that it’s:

so much better to learn from what a lot of companies find useful as best practices because you also have to think about these people that you want to employ they look at what other companies you compete with are using.

Leer wanted the company to be able to learn from the experiences and best practice of others. The fact that Workday had a large community of customers that Opera was encouraged to speak to, was a major plus for Leer, and was something that stood Workday apart from the other major vendors.

This openness fits well with the company culture, she says:

We’re used to working more open source and sharing – sharing is caring – and that’s what we couldn’t see the others were providing us.

Leer adds:

Workday is all about one code for all and that’s something I know a lot about because Opera is also about one code for all. We found out pretty early at Opera that it’s not good business to make all kinds of different branches that you have to maintain – and no one finds it easy to maintain them – but if you have one code, you can learn best practice from others.

Opera now has a single source for all employee records, ensuring a high level of data quality. Leer adds:

It speaks to finance systems and any other things we might be doing – everything goes in here. That was the premise for making the change. And we are constantly trying to get rid of systems in the organization and unify them into one and we’ve done pretty good so far.

The way it constantly maintains best practice is having open lines of communication, with user groups to talk about frustrations. If these frustrations can’t be solved internally, they will feed that back to Workday.

Implementation was in January. Minimal training was required. Managers didn’t need any handholding and Opera’s many developers would have seen it as teaching them to suck eggs. Their attitude is, either they understand it intuitively or it’s “crappy code”, because those are the standards they apply to their own code.

Since then, the most popular aspect of the new system for managers is having access to organizational charts, which were on PowerPoint before.

And what about Leer and her team? She says:

It means you can start making HR strategic, because you have time. You’re not entering an address for someone or spending three days doing headcounts. I don’t know if anyone’s ever been there – I have.

This was not only an opportunity for the HR department to put its HR processes under the microscope with the implementation, but also to keep on doing that. The HR team can look through the Workday logs and see where people might be getting stuck and abandoning things. Then the HR team can then go in and fix things.

The fact that the HR employees themselves can fix things, without calling on help from IT, Workday or consultants is “pretty cool”, believes Leer. The whole HR department has stepped up to the plate to become experts.

One of the ways it does this is to use the Workday Sandbox, which is an environment that looks exactly the same as the live system and is renewed every week. The HR team can test out new changes and their impact in a safe environment before unleashing them on the live system. Leer expands:

I was probably pretty techie, but the rest of the team are getting more techie. They have a bigger responsibility, but they’ve also grown on it so much because they’re the ones responsible for it. They are the ones who show how it’s done and tell other people how it’s done, and, that’s very powerful and it communicates something to the organization as well.

I see other organizations and they say, ‘oh it’s something the IT department chose’. If you don’t have the ownership, it’s really difficult to communicate to the rest of the organization that this is important. That’s maybe also why we’ve been able to keep HR resources at same or lower level, because they’ve risen to the occasion and worked hard. Now they are much broader in their skills.

Tasks that used to take a few days can now be done in a few minutes, leaving the HR team to spend more time helping the company achieve its vision. It’s still early days to calculate return on investment, but it has meant that the HR team has been able to see through this massive change an have more time to get involved in strategic issues, despite losing two members of the team. Leer concludes:

It’s all about putting HR in the driving seat. When we started this project I was so fed up of having to do everything for someone else. It’s not about doing something for finance or doing something for operations. No, now it’s about thinking what our employees want. That means we can also be empowered and have time to do other things. And at the end of the day we can also be part of the decision making and we have the data to do it.

Live Leer was talking at the HR Tech Europe Conference. 

Disclosure - at time of writing, Oracle and Workday are premier partners of diginomica, 

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